Non Technical People using SmartThings

I have tried having a novice set up Smartthings and they have nothing but trouble. There really needs to be step by step PDF style tutorials that explain the functions. The people I tried with jusgave up on using the software. This shouod be designed so anyone can use it. We also have a Nexia system here that I tried with other people. They were able to work it out.




Yes, the process isn’t as obvious as it could be. I was showing my dad some of the things that can be done and he was excited until I began showing him the app. Understand, when he got his new Velocity PC, he couldn’t even do the Export/Import of his Outlook data successfully. Setting up the SmartThings would have him tossing the system out a window.

Thing is, he’d have no problem wiring up the devices (even a 4-way switch setup) but the software baffles him. And the fact I was using the tablet to do one thing and the iPhone to do another just put the icing on the cake for him.

I hope that once the initial development is over, the SmartThings at SmartThings can bundle up a doc/process that would get the less technical up and running a lot less painfully.

My trials with the whole Z-wave bit frustrated me to no end. I can just imagine someone who doesn’t have the desire to be geeky just giving up.

I’m also worried about the SmartApps. There is no way anyone in my family would ever develop an app. I’m a .NET programmer, so I don’t see any issue creating my own, but if every customer had to rely on another to set up their needs, this won’t be going anywhere. And the current method of finding an app to do what you need is painfully difficult and there aren’t that many yet.

Going to be some growing pains I think. I just hope that they don’t cause the product to fail or be stigmatized as being too hard for anyone but a professional to install. That would seriously hinder growth.


I am also worried about the success of the product when sales go mainstream. I’ve been working with computers for over 30 years so it’s not an issues for me but when someone who is not technically inclined purchases this; I am afraid they will be left frustrated and will return the product. I even had a friend, who is an engineer designing software and hardware for aircraft weapons systems, become confused with the interface. I personally feel the software needs to be more refined more. There are too many swipes up and down and left and right. The interface looks nice but it can be confusing for a novice.

When I did heavy corporate developing we would also get a panel of testers from different backgrounds. We wanted people with no technical background up through people who were very technical. We would allow them to test the product for several weeks and get their feedback. Maybe SmartThings needs to setup a discussion board with Kickstarter supporters to obtain feedback on the operation of the software. We ALWAYS had moments where we someone gave us feedback and we had an Oh Sh*t! moment when we realized we didn’t even think about that.

However, I do feel that the Android software and HTML interface needs to be available before any true brainstorming should begin.

I think a big issue is they have a ton of apps that do the same thing, but with different titles to fit the situation the person may be looking for. I feel this is overwhelming and confusing.

I’m really not much of a fan of the “apps” model either. I feel it could be good to augment the capabilities…but isn’t right for the only method of configuration. I think there needs to be a “master” app that walks people through a easy to follow wizard to set something up.

We are working on a lot of this as you may imagine. We are working on more scenario-driven setup with better step by step instructions in the app. We know our current customers are not the same as the mainstream customer. We are prioritizing and getting things out and iterated upon as soon as we can. That is our approach - work, release, iterate, release, forever. The app you see today will be drastically different that the one you see a year from now.

@Ben Edwards:

Please take under consideration competitive “high-end” products that have been in the market longer.

The dilemma is these are designed to be sold only through Custom Integrators (VARs / installers), and, SmartThings is not aiming for that channel – or should they?

Crestron, etc., of course…

But I am also impressed, at first glance, with the “drag-and-drop” modular GUI of RTI Panel:

RTI Panel Sample Image

As a guy who does that for a living, RTI is awesome, but for ease of use and simplicity of the complex, download the Savant App and give that a look. And again, as a Custom Integrator…Yes! Aim at us!


Thanks for the additional suggestions. Indeed, there are lots of good and bad UI’s (and control systems) out there… I just “feel” that SmartThings hasn’t really considered what some of the best features of those competitors that could / should be rolled into the SmartThings UI. The current SmartThings app looks good at first (but so does everything, I suppose)… but drawbacks are showing up as more SmartApps are added, and just wait until exotic Things are added, etc.


This link, I presume:

At very quick glance – it looks great…
The sample app is iOS only, I think… I’m more of an Android guy (though have an iPad for testing), so I’ll give it a try sometime.

The Keypad Studio and Savant Lighting really show potential with even a couple of screen shots. And, honestly, some of this is pretty similar to SmartThings App. Yet there is also the whole concept of a separate environment for the Custom Integrators to create and maintain control configurations for their end-Customers.

To me, this is incredibly intuitive and attractive:

"True" lighting control like no other With Savant’s TrueImage™ Control technology— use an iPad® to simply touch an image of the actual light in the room you desire to control, and not only will the light in the room turn on/off or dim when pressed, but it will also illuminate on the iPad to confirm the command.

It would be interesting to come up with some way to compare and contrast the various existing professional / Custom Integrator platforms and see if that could be distilled into a prioritized “wish list” for SmartThings.


Agree with the similarity part. Frankly, there are only so many ways to get it done, and good ideas are “borrowed” and reused until somebody really breaks a mold. Savant is “currently” iOS only…this is not forever.
My own experience as a technical guy who deals primarily with non-tech folks is keep it simple. The engineers habit to add every possible function is not your friend in 99% of the cases. My favorite quote is from a federal judge when asked about his touchscreen remote. “I only want one button” me-“what do you want that button to do” him - "I don’t know, whatever I need it to do"
My suggestion, and ST seems to be heading in this direction, is to stop thinking about solutions. Ask questions about the “problem” or desired outcome, and the solution is there. Something more conversational. "I see you have a dining room lamp, an entry light, thermostat, and security system. Would you like these to come on or be adjusted when you come home, or leave?"
Don’t get me wrong, I love the apps and options now, but I see it being daunting for a lot of folks. Too many options, and they’ll choose none.

Formix, you said, “Ask questions about the “problem” or desired outcome, and the solution is there”. I wish ST would have taken this approach during the development with Kickstarter participants. I know you were speaking about the software doing this, but as a company, ST should have been asking customers what they want to do, how they want to do it, and when do they want to do it. They should have also asked for feedback about the design of the interface. I bought this system to use in my home. I want my wife to be able to use it. We currently have Nexia and she understands it but this interface has got her baffled and she has a doctorate degree.

Hmm, I don’t see how general use of the interface could be confusing. if anything it’s almost too simple. Now when you get into installing smartapps it could get to be a bit much for most.

I’m also worried about the SmartApps. There is no way anyone in my family would ever develop an app. I’m a .NET programmer, so I don’t see any issue creating my own, but if every customer had to rely on another to set up their needs, this won’t be going anywhere.

Thankfully, they never will. They will instead rely on the apps that are already created. There will be tons of those. Which brings us to a more relevant point…

And the current method of finding an app to do what you need is painfully difficult and there aren’t that many yet.

I agree, and this is surely on the to-do list for the developers. I can’t imagine that they see this as the long-term solution; there will need to be a better way to find apps, not to mention there has to be some method of dealing with SmartApp duplication.

Echoing @coryds, I’m not sure what’s so complicated about the current setup. I’m pretty sure that my non-technical relatives can figure out how to turn lights on and off by clicking on the appropriate buttons. Adding Things is kind of a pain right now and could definitely use more documentation, which I’m sure is on the way. And as mentioned above, there needs to be a better way to find the SmartApps you want. But other than that, what is so confusing about SmartThings?

I would love to hear some examples of what your wife is finding baffling, @btmec.

Oh, and:

And again, as a Custom Integrator…..Yes! Aim at us!

I don’t think this is at all a goal of SmartThings, and I hope this remains the case. There are plenty of setups aimed to custom integrators. The real growth is going to be in aiming a tool toward regular users. I could already pay someone thousands of dollars to install a proprietary solution in my house. What I–and thousands of other users–want is a solution that will allow me to buy off-the-shelf components and customize my own home install. With a UI simple enough for my non-technical family members to be able to put it to good use, of course.

Not really what I meant by aiming at us. What I meant was, "OK, I have a client who spent a lot of money on their system 10 years ago, and would like to make it smarter. Wouldn’t it be great if I could get them some SmartThings, and the ST and all the other systems could talk? If they already have lighting control for their whole house, and I can make it smarter by adding ST, that’s a great value add. And these are folks who have proven that they’e interested in automation, and want it in their lives. It is a small niche (1%??) but a already on-board one. So by aim at us, I’m saying make the effort to integrate with an already installed and ready to go user base.
As for the complicated part, I imagine my mom opening this box (and she’s pretty savvy). Okay, I’ve turned it on, added my things, now what? This is where I imagine the conversation part comes in. A little predictive scripting based on the devices, or even a “other folks who have these things like these apps” kind of thing. I can tell you, my wife, my mom, most of the folks I know, would get frustrated at trying to choose which app to use to make sure their lights come on when they get home.

Great discussion!

I agree with @Formix on the role that CIs play and how SmartThings may both substitute and complement them.

Is it just me, or does SmartThings not even (currently) include the concept of “Scenes” (ie, arbitrary and overlapping sets of lights and other Things along with their desired brightness, volume, and other applicable state setting) for activation with one touch or upon another trigger?

If true, then I find this as major an oversight as the delay of the Android or Web UI…

In other words, aren’t “Scenes” a rather fundamental feature of HA ?

I think the SmartApp interface does not make Scenes implementation easy, for quite a few reasons (Things can only belong to one Group, config forms don’t allow an arbitrary long list of Things + States, a SmartApp can only be instantiated once per Location (or am I wrong about this?! :-)).


You wrote:

Formix, you said, “Ask questions about the “problem” or desired outcome, and the solution is there”. I wish ST would have taken this approach during the development with Kickstarter participants. I know you were speaking about the software doing this, but as a company, ST should have been asking customers what they want to do, how they want to do it, and when do they want to do it. They should have also asked for feedback about the design of the interface.

With respect, BrianH, you seem to have made the same mistake made by many “purchasers” on Kickstarter: We are NOT customers! All payments made on Kickstarter are completely disclaimed and meant solely as FUNDING for the “Project”. We are “backers” of SmartThings (and not even funders of “Physical Graph Corporation”). Everyone who creates a Project on Kickstarter gets to decide what “Rewards” they offer to their funders/Backers. Once funded, they are NOT obligated to fulfil these rewards or meet the expectations or desires of the backers.

Of course, ever since the Pebble Watch Project beat their fundraising goal by $10,000,000 (TEN MILLION DOLLARS), I have always believed that this “funding” concept is complete BS: A vast majority of Projects on Kickstarter (particularly “gadget Projects”) are perceived as “pre-sales at discount prices”. This means that sales tax should be charged, and if the “sellers” do not meet reasonable delivery projections and basic quality expectations, then this is mail-fraud and all sorts of remedies could be sought (from credit card chargebacks, lawsuits, or criminal charges). Kickstarter is making $ millions off of these “pre-sales” and they really don’t give frack, though. In my opinion, a lot better controls could be put in place: a Project should not be allowed to exceed 2x it’s goal – this would encourage the realistic setting of goals and ensure that a Project does not result in the creation of a whole new Enterprise. There are differing opinions, but Kickstarter is not supposed to fund new companies (it’s in their guidelines…).

<Start Rant>
Focusing particularly on my experience so far with SmartThings, though, and absolutely no offense to all the creativity and hard-work that they are putting into this, and with due respect to the developer community here: My biggest beef is not that we are really only BETA TESTERS for SmartThings, and we have PAID for that privilege. Yes: It’s up to you how much to test, what to report to SmartThings, how heavily you press support for issues, how much you spread the word to future customers and competitors: But still…

Since this is my first Kickstarter backing, I was not quite sure what to expect. Is the current situation unreasonable? No, I guess not. Kickstarter has lots of visible warnings and the cost wasn’t too bad, and I’d have to be pretty dumb not to consider early-adopter risks… Could it be better? I wish, but – I’m not sure: The concept of “buying” the privilege of being a Beta Tester is becoming more and more common (even if the price is free…). How long are Google services (e.g., Google Voice, Google Glass, …) in widespread “public Beta” mode? – For ages!

I seriously long for the old days when release candidates (ummm… VERSIONS) had a high-degree of stability before being SOLD. All updates were optional and explained what bugs were fixed or features added. Constant updates to Cloud based products, which I cannot opt-in or opt-out of, is incredibly risky. All such services should have distinct Alpha, Beta, and Production channels, with Production having a very high degree of stability and a highly functional featureset. As it is, I have all my Android Apps set to NEVER “auto-update” since, as a generalization, every-other-update breaks an important function or causes crashes. Each time I decide to consider updating an App, I have to read both the release notes AND all of the recent user-reviews. This is NOT AN OPTION for web/cloud based services with only one channel.
</End Rant>


Cosmic, reading many of your posts here it seems to me there would be no way to make you happy. You have a different vision than SmartThings does and there’s not a lot they can do about that. Also, the idea of Kickstarter is to fund betas that otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to become a beta, I don’t have an issue with that and I’m not sure why someone would buy into it if they did.

I paid 175 for my kit with 5 things. Even if there was no Hub that’s 35 dollars per thing which isn’t a bad deal on its own. Toss in a Hub and a cloud service and I’d say it was a steal.


Yup – You know me well. :wink:

Nah … my writings tend to be in the voice of devil’s advocate. I spend a great deal of time seeking to fully understand the breadth of a problem, while not dwelling on what is actually good and working.

It certainly does not give a good impression, I know.

(a) I think a lot of us are happy, enthusiastic, and enjoying being early adopters, backers, bargain hunters.

(b) And some of us have mixed feelings.

© And some, as with many Kickstarter backers on many Projects, are extremely disappointed; justified or not.

Despite my negative writing, please consider me somewhere between (a) and (b): i.e., having fun, mixed feelings, realize this was a bargain, and also being optimistic and trying to contribute to solutions and success!

I sort of fall in the middle. I fund with very little expectation, other than that the project will eventually do something close to what was advertised. The desire to see the project succeed means nit-picking. It’s kind of what I do. If a customer can’t easily use their system, then I did not do my job. So I use that experience to “help” ST. Now, maybe they don’t want that “help”, don’t need it, or have a totally different vision. But I can’t stand by and not share my 15 years of experience in this arena. And, you’ll never get anything if you don’t ask for it.
Also, Beta testing is about nit-picking, and pointing out things the founders can’t or won’t see themselves. A free focus group combined with tech enthusiasts.

I originally posted my comment to show some concern about the future of the product. I want to see SmartThings succeed. I would like to see ST listen to this community and also establish an end user community to further the refinement of the product. They need to listen to people who know the difference between an AND and NAND gate or know the difference between an NPN or PNP transistor. As a KS backer I consider myself to have been an investor in their venture and want to see them become more successful.

Glad to see the discussion continuing…

I would observe that there are various types of early adopters here, even if these are the “Build” Forums. It may be helpful to clarify and even moderate specific Topics in a slightly modified Forum structure to recognize the different areas of focus. Physical Graph Corporation could then detect and indicate which Topics they are prioritizing, and even share a roadmap as it solidifies.

Some of us are indeed the AND/NAND, HW power utilization, etc. types, and others are more of the “What colors make sense?” type of people…

Distinct topic areas, just offhand, could include:

  • End consumer GUI (including whether this will be consistent between platforms: iOS, Android, other smartphones, and web based).
  • API for developing fully customized GUI (if permitted?). I bring this up because I have shared numerous examples of user-experience from competitors that seem significantly different from SmartThings App; but which still share the underlying paradigm. Could this bullet be merged with the first? i.e., Could the primary SmartThings GUI be sufficiently end-user "Customizable" so that there is no desire for a from-scratch GUI?
  • API for integration of SmartThings with other platforms. SmartThings is promoting "cloud-to-cloud" approach, but should be open to discussion of whether or not direct control of the SmartHub hardware is permitted locally.
  • SmartApps: Probably has sub-topics, since this encompasses everything from the API, IDE, programming language, callouts, as well as front-end (i.e., GUI) integration. Can a SmartApp include actual FRONT-END code (random examples; (a) the ability to depict a graph of temperatures over a time period, (b) the ability to define and depict a universal remote control for AV equipment...).
  • Smart configuration: Can SmartThings anticipate consumer needs and suggest SmartApps based on its knowledge of all the devices in the network? Are there really various scenarios that make sense to pre-program out of the box (i.e., Security vs AV vs Energy Savings). Can there be an artificial intelligence engine to make this easier on the end-user? What makes sense to actual Consumers?
  • Thing (control or sensor node) integration. Sub-topic by protocol (Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, IP, sub-1gz). How to hack an apparently non-compatible device and make it compatible? Does this apply to complex things like Z-Wave or Universal Remotes? Perhaps spills into next bullet...
  • Intelligent devices: Integration of stuff like TheUbi (ubiquitous affordable Android based computer which we currently hope provides speech recognition and voice response + some additional sensors and perhaps a place to locally execute complex logic); NinjaBlocks, X10, Crestron (other major systems). Yes -- some of this is in the Hub-to-Hub or Cloud-To-Clound space.

Please feel welcome to comment or suggest other ways to consider this.

Have fun!