Smartthings Existential Crisis - Is it time to leave? (April 2021)

I haven’t seen a heck of a lot of optimistic posts around here, lately.

I wouldn’t consider myself as technical as some people on here, making small Webcore scripts is about my limit. I’ve had a smart home for about 4 years now, I have the 2nd generation Smartthings hub, and I’ve reluctantly gone through the transition from the Classic app to the messy Broken app that they INSISTED we use.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to build a smarthome that is unobtrusive, for example:

  • My house doesn’t light up at 3AM because the power flickered.
  • I can still turn on all my lights with or without the cloud.
  • 2 or more Z-wave devices can talk to each other without a hub (still got my minimote).
  • My thermostat/sprinkler timer look and work with/without the cloud, etc.
  • I don’t have to change batteries around my house every 3-12 months.

I found Z-wave, especially direct-wire is still the best protocol when you want smart devices to Just F’ing Work.

So when it comes to Samsung Smartthings, why do I feel like we’re all moving backwards? Several of my devices, that used to work, particularly my Honeywell 9000 series thermostat, are no longer supported by Smartthings. Devices that are compatible are often absolute crap to look at or use without having to break out your smartphone.

I’m also disappointed by the growing number of 3rd party manufacturers that have decided to create their own tiny little ecosystems, particularly because Samsung isn’t doing enough to bridge that relationship. Instead of using everything through my Smartthings app (which is still a mess, BTW), I find myself downloading more apps and moving further away from an unobtrusive and ubiquitous smart home experience.

I now have 5 apps that used to do the job of 1:
Smartthings, Rachio, Honeywell, Wemo, Alexa.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at. I’m probably going to keep my Z-wave stuff and start with a new ecosystem.

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I’m sorry - I’ve been holding this post back a long time and you are the happy individual where I finally get to post these thoughts. Grab a frosty beverage - I’m writing a thesis here…

So first - everyone has to do what is best for them - and if you change I hope it works. For me I’m staying - for now. (no I’m not even going to entertain those who’re about to slam my inbox to try to convince me “Hubitat’s better - come over here” or ‘you’re just a ST apologist.’ If you think that - great, have fun - I’m not trying to convince anyone to stay - use what’s best for you.

So what if I told you, you’re going to have a platform that has local control, major brand support from the top players in the industry and both be able to have ‘just works’ AND heavy customization capabilities? Sure, sign me up!

Ok NOW, let me add you’re going to have to put up with about 12 months of COMPLETE and TOTAL SUCKAGE to get there. Wait… uh, not so fast.

That’s basically where we’re at now.

I can very easily see a future now where I have local control of all of my devices (Local device control / automation - in beta now), and have an API for complex scripting (Rules API), Wide device support, major brands backing, all good stuff! BUT… (ominous music)

I think the cardinal sin SmartThings has committed here is piss poor expectations setting. They treated the migration to the new platform as ‘no big deal,’ ‘it’s going to be fine’, ‘don’t worry, we got this’ and (in perception at least) seemed to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the reports coming in from users about difficulties. (I completely put that one at the foot of the SmartThings ‘support’ and as a person with over 25 years in IT support, most of that inside IT support orgs, it’s as bad as it gets. Bar none - worst support experience I’ve ever experienced. And I don’t take what I put there lightly, if the Support VP/Director whatever for ST wants to call me - I’ll talk his/her ear off - DM me and I’ll give you a phone number and a two hour appointment with no interruptions.)

That’s not how you win the hearts and minds of your user base.

If instead they had come in say October 2019 and said (VERY PUBLICALLY) that, “Hey, you know what? We have some big plans for the platform but all this stuff over here (Groovy API - I’m looking at you) is REALLY holding us back so we have to phase it out. It’s going to HURT (A LOT), and a lot of stuff is going to feel VERY broken for 6-8 months in the middle of it so we’re telling you NOW and we’ll help you through it. We have a year before we even start the process so let’s all roll up our sleeves and start prepping…”

Imagine how user sentiment would have been different. Yes I know hindsight is 20/20. I also know how hard that version would be to sell to Execs. But this is basic IT modernization 101 here. My firm has a saying: “avoid a technically successful failure” What this means is you can implement all of your systems 100% to the letter but if the end user doesn’t like / adopt / use it. You were better off putting your money elsewhere - it was a technically successful failure. What prevents these? Organization change management (OCM) or also known as the art of how you prepare and communicate with your end users to ensure you’re working on the right thing at the right time and making sure the right people have the right resources to adapt to change.

The wrong way:
‘We analyzed the top 100 smartapps and we have a handle on how you’re using the platform so when we send out the notice to move you can rest assured you’re ready to go.’ (Yes that’s almost a direct quote out of one of the early notice emails… We all know how that one worked out.)

Instead:
OK here’s the new platform, we’ve set it up where you can play in both without damaging your install. PLEASE PLEEEEASE USE both and give feedback here (to this special channel we setup for just this) when stuff doesn’t work. We’ve hired these extra developers/engineers here to tackle these requests as they come in.

Wrong:
Here’s our new integration with Alexa / Google isn’t it great? We made it easier for you so you don’t have to make installation decisions.

Right:
End user feedback / requirements gathering sessions that highlight the use cases. We learned we need to UPDATE the existing skill instead of replacing it with a new one because otherwise we cause havoc in an Alexa install, AND we need to keep the ability to filter devices for privacy and safety concerns.

(I’m THOROUGHLY convinced the ability to filter devices would have been in the top 2 requirements)

Wrong:
Here’s how we present devices in the new app. See and it shows your old stuff too! The UI is pretty right?
No - you can’t customize that yet. Well ok yes I agree that one of the reasons you came to SmartThings was the ability to customize - That’s coming in a beta feature sometime next year.
But - see? Dark mode!

Right:
Our end users rely on customization of the platform. If many devices stop working day 1 because they rely on custom UI elements, we need to accelerate the feature that provides that and it is now CRITICAL PATH to production deployment.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s not the what. Heck , the what (if it turns out as I expect in a year or so) looks pretty darned attractive. It was TOTALLY the how. There’s a way to deal with difficult migrations, there’s a right way to set expectations with end users. Frankly - most of it was flat out missed, so now we have a few really solid individuals like Blake and others - I’m going to forget people so I’m not naming them all) left trying to do damage control. They do their best, but it’s really difficult to put Pandora back in her box. I take my hat off to them all - it’s NOT a fun job. Trust me, imagine working for Microsoft support management, dealing with security and patch management in the mid 2000’s I feel their pain, VERY deeply.

Each platform has its warts. Hubitat has a horrid UI, Hass.io needs an engineering degree to operate, HomeKit is a walled garden, etc. For me ST was and still is the best flex between ease of use and ability to customize. Choice is good, right, JD? Through careful selection of mainstream devices that I can force to run somewhat locally and configure to work outside of outages. Because of this MOST of my stuff keeps trucking through most outages. I’ve never had my alarm go off in the middle of the night and not be able to disarm it because I do not use STHM as a primary alarm system. I used SmartLighting for most of my base automations (especially if there was a safety element involved) because I generally use default DTHs and can therefore do local control. Everything that goes out to the Internet is usually ‘nice to have’ and not mission critical. So I haven’t had the painful experience a lot of folks have had, so I haven’t hit my pain threshold yet. (Don’t worry, it’s very close)

Here’s what has to happen to keep me: (This is my MUST HAVE list)

  • The Alexa / Google integrations need to be updated to allow device filtering - this one’s not negotiable.
  • SERIOUS effort needs to go into the Custom Capability/Presentations feature - it needs to just work and it needs to do so 6 months ago. Various issues, especially with this caching issue where new DTHs don’t show all the customizations right off, make device customization still very much feel ‘Alpha’ or proof of concept - not even beta. (This would let devs be able to rely on building stuff for ST again. The number of DTH devs I’ve spoken with who are 'not currently writing / updating devices right now because the tools don’t work and they don’t have a clear understanding of how things look after Groovy leaves the picture" is sickening. If Microsoft taught the Tech community anything - SUPPORT DEVELOPERS FIRST, if you don’t have people building for your platform, you don’t have a platform anymore. So sayeth my old trusty Windows Phone…)
  • PUBLICLY document the big blocks of the platform systems architecture with notes about which piece is responsible for what so when something breaks I can at least tell if it was me or not, we’re lost out here troubleshooting because we don’t know what the platform looks like anymore. Heck, people are still giving advice on how to do stuff as if Groovy is still in charge (guess what, it’s not.)
  • Disclose the future of Zwave / Zigbee device handlers. We know Groovy is going away , how are we handling device handlers. Uhhh really? Why do we not already know? A year out from retirement is too late. 6 months is criminal. If how the custom capability feature has been handled is any indication we’re going to need a FULL YEAR to stabilize whatever comes next.
  • FIX THE DAMN MISSING SCENES / BROKEN AUTOMATIONS with RULES API already. (FULL STOP)
    When I was in support orgs for the companies I worked with - this would have been a Sev 1 issue, round the clock until the hotfix is in the app OR it would have been rolled back.

MOST of all… ST support needs to remember with smart home tech, all of this is very personal. When you break something - you’re messing with someone’s home. It gets personal very quickly. The next support agent that tells me to ‘uninstall the app’ ‘clear the device cache’ or ‘just reset your hub’ on the first contact needs to lose their job. Destructive intervention needs to be moved to the last resort branches of the decision / call tree - not the beginning. (I’d also feed a public knowledgebase with up to date issues and bug /feature requests, but that’s nice to have.) I didn’t include this one in the MUST have list because honestly it would mean completely restarting the service desk at this point - but it’s right up there.

How much more patience do I (still) have?
I’m looking at my next hub now. I’m on a v.2. (2015) Now that it’s the oldest supported hub, I need to look at being on a supported platform for the future. I will never run smarthome tech in my home that’s not supported by the vendor and can’t take security updates. I want a plan in place before they stop sending firmware to v.2 hubs. So is it a shiny new v.3 cough Aeotec or something else? Don’t know yet. I do know I’m probably moving my ~190 Zwave /Zigbee devices and countless cloud devices, integrations, automations, etc. to something later this year and before I do I’m looking at traction against that list above.

Finally on to the

Sorry - you probably still have at least 5 more years of that. Same syndrome that’s causing everyone and their uncle to try to build a streaming platform. Owning the consolidation portion of the smart home is key to monetizing it. (Yes monetization, publicly traded companies don’t do things to be kind.) Why do you think Amazon is in there?

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@nathancu - the best post what I have read recently here. I see a few things differently, but I fully agree with you.
I am going to tag @blake.arnold, and hope that he might going to read it, and bring it to one of the next meetings. It would be nice if things would be documented and users would feel better that things are communicated clearly, but it might be too late. The damage is big and it will be hard to heal.

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I had to un-like this several times just so I could like it again!

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Very well written, and I agree with much of it, but I would argue once again that the people in this forum (and any other power users) are just not the target of this architecture change. Even hub users are not the target.

The target is people buying expensive smart appliances and smart televisions, and not using any custom code of any kind, nor the rules API. That’s who they want to make happy. And judging by the reviews in the app stores, they are mostly succeeding. Not perfectly, and there are still reliability glitches to be addressed, but mostly.

Clearly they haven’t set the expectations appropriately for power users, as you noted, but they just may not have that much motivation to do so. :disappointed_relieved:

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I was using ST for 3 years until the Alexa debacle convinced me to move to Hubitat. Whilst that platform has its strengths it’s quite clunky to configure, and even with the local processing, I find it less reliable than ST in its heyday (my internet is pretty bulletproof!). I get what is being said here, and if/when ST gets local processing and Alexa is sorted I will be back. Samsung have had nearly 12 months to sort the Alexa thing, time enough to re-write the whole App several times over, which demonstrates the level of priority it has. I fear you are right, JD, they are now focused on the high rollers and the HA platform seems to have less and less importance, and in time will maybe be allowed to wither away, which would be incredibly sad…

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@JDRoberts, I have to argue with this. Dropping support for a 2-3 years old appliance is not what people expect, especially for the extra cost what a “smart” appliance costs.

Glitches…

  1. Samsung Washer - Cannot automate at all, when turned off it loose connection. Recently I added to my account 3-4 times again and again, because it loose control, it shows status on the dashboard tile, but not on the main tile. Samsung Washer, DH developed by Samsung.

  2. Side-by-side Fridge - Limited automation to turn on and off power cool or freeze if temperature changes, no option to turn on or off Vacation Mode, which would make sense regarding a remote function. (The option to register what you have in the fridge, is a great idea,
    maybe for a wine fridge or a minibar fridge, but for a side-by-side fridge, who has time to catalog everything there…) Samsung Fridge, DH developed by Samsung.

  3. Samsung TV - I own a 2015 or 2016 model, there is no integration to Samsung SmartThings, there used to be to SmartThings until Samsung released a firmware update to TV and introduced the PIN authentication. SmartThings never reproduced the feature. It supposed to work with SmartView, which has been implemented to SmartThings, I haven’t tried it, as it shows up only ad a “Directly connected device”, but I have serious doubts that it would work.

4,5,6… Samsung Oven, Hob, AC, Robotic Vacuum etc… I cannot count how many people complained recently that they cannot automate these devices or access some features, which are available through the consol or remote, all DHs are developed by Samsung.

New features… Android Auto, I cannot get any of my Scenes to show up, then what is the point to be able to select them.
Nest integration, all sort of complains regarding features and options to automate on them.
C2C integrations, disconnected cloud connection, status changes not reflected in one or the other app.

Then who is the target, if the basic requirements cannot be met for anybody?

And the reviews, I love when an app pushes a pop-up, do you like the app, rate us… No comment. Samsung did a campaign when things started to go seriously downhill regarding reviews. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do buy reviews as well…

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I also get the impression that the team handling the app is a very different team than handles the platform, hub firmware, etc. I think I’ve seen mention that the app team is in South Korea, while the rest I believe are in the US. Who knows where support is actually located. Due to the difference in teams, things get communicated poorly internally (and externally) and you end up with an app that doesn’t properly support what’s underlying it. The app updates also seem to be pretty slow to come out, I think they’re only doing about one a month and there’s barely any changes/fixes in each update.

My stuff works and has been working well for a while now. I use mostly webCoRE which I’m hoping a suitable alternative will come out of all of this.

The current built in rule engine has caused many issues and I believe it’s the source of most people’s pain. It’s just unreliable…Every time I try to use it, it lets me down.

It’s going to be a complete “to-do” switching all of my devices and rules to another platform so I’m sticking here because I to, can see the light at the end of this tunnel.

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Yeah, it’s the Hubitat UI that keeps me on Smartthings. That and being too lazy to start on a new platform.

As it is, in a way, using WebCore is another platform integrated to Smartthings, but the idea that something equivalent, or dare I hope better, might be on the horizon, is what keeps me around. Well, and the laziness.

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I use webCoRE almost exclusively too and like you, have avoided a lot of the current pain points that many have justifiable issues with. I sure hope that there is a suitable webCoRE replacement eventually - because otherwise I feel I may be just putting off all the pain for a little while.

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I think a replacement is here and I’m surprised not to hear more about it, using the Samsung Automation studio and Node red. I moved all my automations off Webcore and onto Node Red over the past two weeks. There’s a learning curve, but there was for Webcore at first too.

What’s possible in Node Red really blows Webcore out of the water. I’m doing it through a Home-assistant to Smartthings integration, but I think there is an easier way using the Samsung Automation studio Samsung Automation Studio
Which has an active and supported Node Red palette node-red-contrib-samsung-automation-studio-nodes (node) - Node-RED The pallette looks like it can bring all your Smartthings devices over to Node Red, where you can run all sorts of automations and link it to other devices and services.

Most run Node red locally, on a raspberry pi. Or you can pay $5 and download it from the play store and run it on an Android tablet. There appears to be a free way to have it run online I just posted about here Node-Red and Smartthings - #41 by mwav3

I can’t see Webcore working in is current format without the IDE though, and it’s future was just too shaky for me. This palette on Node Red is API based so will continue working after the IDE is phased out.

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Wow… that’s news to me. Thanks for that!

If they want to sell appliances they need to improve their reliability and quality, as well as their customer service outside of Korea. I don’t think most users care about smart features. How many regular fridges does Samsung sell for each family hub fridge?

The issue is that large appliances (fridges, dishwashers, etc) from samsung are not reliable. Maybe not more unreliable than other similar brands (i.e. LG, GE, Whirlpool) but when they do break their customer service is only tolerable if you live in Korea.

Their priority should be customer service, not smart features. Samsung has by far the worst customer service in the entire industry in North America.

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While I agree with most that you stated…the Honeywell 9000 is most certainly still supported by Smartthings…the dth has even recently updated to show the temp on the tile and a refreshed device page as it did in the past

Totally agree…and my guess is the family hub will go the wayside within the next 2-3 years…while it looks cool at first glace, its nothing more than a gadget that is only moderately useful which 99.8% of people don’t care for, don’t want, and definitely will not pay the extra money for… so what’s next Samsung? the family hub toilet?

I don’t see why. The UI (using any web browser) is responsive and comes directly from your local hub. I use it for add devices and automations. I don’t use the UI for anything day-to-day – that’s what automation is for. You can add a dashboard to show status and control in a pretty way, and I have a few, but I don’t use them. All of my house is automated; lights respond to sensor inputs (motion, contract). Manual control is done by voice (we use Alexa) and/or switches with bindings (e.g., any double press in the kitchen acts on all the kitchen lights). I never used the SmartThings app for day-to-day purposes, and that continues to with Hubitat.

And when debugging something (e.g., is this contact sensor all the way at the limits of Zigbee range working) it’s invaluable to see exactly just the device/hub interaction in real time, without random delays or cloud-based back-end lag. History doesn’t randomly take time to show up.

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I’m not hating on Hubitat. Essentially, I’m prejudiced about something I’ve not really explored.

It has always been my intention to get started with HT at some point, but figured with the pace of improvements, I need not be in a hurry. The mobile UI is the thing I hear most people complaining about, and that has really stuck with me, regardless of the reality of it.

If I couldn’t run my critical devices locally with Smartthings, I would have already been there, but the more good things I’ve hear about HT, the more I feel motivated to give it a spin.

I don’t feel I would need to abandon ST when I do, as some people suggest they do, with dramatic farewells etc…

So, I guess it boils down to laziness, and waiting on a sale…

Thanks for the info!

The spring sale is happening right now. :wink:

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I’ve not abandoned ST. I still have my hub active and a large number of passively monitored devices on it. E.g., contact sensors for all my doors and windows, and a webCoRE piston to tell me if the HVAC is on while a window is open. In fact, some of those sensors being used in that piston are actually on my C-7 and are exposed to SmartThings via the HubConnect app (making them usable in all the ST infrastructure).

But all my actively controlled devices and the automations controlling them are on the C-7, using devices on the C-7. Everything is fast and reliable. No cloud outages. No lost automations or devices disappearing. And most importantly, my wife doesn’t complain that she can’t rely on the automated lights to go on and off as they should. <<<< THIS IS IMPORTANT.

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