The Wink Non-Technical Consumer Experience Observed

Finally seeing some impressive journalism! I hope someone subjects SmartThings to the same test and publication…

What we learned from the Wink Hub
The Wink Hub looked promising. What worked, and what didn’t.

In order to learn about the experience of using the Wink Hub we recruited a non-technical participant who was not a frequent user of connected device products. We then shadowed her through the following activities to learn about the Wink Hub product experience. …

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Good review. And the conclusion is not surprising: the connected/smart home is still for geeks only, not for “normal” people. :slight_smile:
I don’t think SmartThings would fare any better in this regard, likely worse.


That’s a homework assignment, not a consumer study. The motivations are wrong. As described, the non-technical person have no real idea why they would want home automation and what they would do with it.

It’s the same thing people said about smart phones, that only computer geeks would persevere because they were too complicated.

The whole thing will happen because it’s turned around. Fact, it’s already happened with both nest and Phillips hue.

There will be a cool commercial demonstrating a specific use case. And people will go yeah, I want to do that. how do I do that?

Then they will go buy a kit that does that. Just that. And they may need help getting installed and they will spend time on a helpline maybe but they will set it up to do that thing.

And have no real idea what else it can do. And then they start to break up into the groups, explorers, trendsetters, tinkers, etc. and take different paths from there.

But it starts with a 30 second commercial use case. With enough juice to pull the person through that first initial set up.

The woman in this article knew she could turn a light on with her phone, but she had no idea why she would want to.

Apple is starting out with one of the classics: lights turn on when you get home. Lots of home automation companies use that one. Because it’s something you can put in a 30 second commercial, it’s something they couldn’t do before, it’s something that’s easy to set up as a specific kit.

We’ll see what happens.


Philips Hue is one of the best lighting automation kits on the market today. My wife and I both have Hue’s in our night stands. When I installed it almost a year ago, she kinda liked the idea that she could adjust the color and brightness. I also showed her how to set up schedule and use Alexa to turn it on and off. However, she hardly ever uses it. If I replace it with a regular bulb, she probably won’t even notice it.

Sure, consumer electronics industry wants to sell us an idea that smart home technology will change our world as we know it and our lives will never be the same. But it doesn’t seem to be working. Most people outside of the “geek circle” are just fine without it.

Introducing mobile phones (and later smartphones) into the market was much easier and faster, although there also was a fair share of skepticism. However, most people embraced the idea of instant communication fairly quickly. With smart home technology, despite of all technical advances made in recent years, they are still struggling to explain to consumers why they would have to have it.

What they seem to fail to understand is that people want less hassle in their lives, not more. Unfortunately, smart home technology, as it is today, is more trouble than it’s worth for almost anyone who’s not home automation junky. Yeah, it looks cool in the commercial when the lights turn on as soon as you enter your home. But they don’t show you what happens when the lights don’t turn on when you expect them to. With dumb lights it’s simple - if the lights don’t turn on when you flip the switch, replace the light bulb. With “smart” lights you never know. Is it the light bulb? Is it a hub? Is it the Internet? Is it radio interference? Too many points of failure. Too much hassle.


^^^ this ^^^
is the exact reason I’ve limited my lighting HA to smart switches and dimmers, versus smart lights. As much as I would love to have Hue integration running when 12 Monkeys resumes in January, it’s just too much effort to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. Maybe I can convince someone that it’s a good idea, and watch it at their house. :wink: I’ll even bring the beer and snacks!

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I think at this time, you have to be motivated to engage in smart home innovations. The cost is not trivial, especially if you get Philips light bulbs, or the ST outlets (ouch). And though the technology is getting very simple, it’s still a bit intimidating for the absolute tech newbie.

Where the smart home companies need to focus for new consumers is people who are interested, but aren’t necessarily geeks. In other words: they need to provide excellent how-tos and recipes, superior communication with the consumers, as well as intuitive UI for their apps. At a minimum, a visual graph of the app’s UI (menu, options, etc) would be helpful.

From this “study”, which only followed one person and is too limited to be useful, we never get the impression this person was ever that interested in smart home technologies. Well, you’re never going to make anything smart enough to help the disinterested. Wait until they see the fun all their friends and family are having, and they’ll come around eventually.

But the companies do need to make the integration and set up easier for the “non-geek but still interested”.

I found the new Smart Things hub to be easy to set up, but the interface isn’t necessarily intuitive. The documentation at this site is hard to find. The site is too focused on sales, not enough on support. Videos demonstrating how to do things are a must, but are missing.

Best practices should be listed. There are at least three ways I know of to get a light to come on at sunset–so which is the best way, and why?

The whole thing–wow that is not the best way to help the non-geeks. But I can see it as being the best way to block the user from using potentially unworkable apps, until they’re familiar enough with ST so they can recover if need be. But still…the process to do something that could be fairly common, like create a virtual switch to group lights, isn’t non-tech friendly.

Where ST shines is in this community. Hands down, one of the best consumer communities I’ve ever seen–and I’ve seen a lot. The community has helped me discover everything I’ve needed in order to set up all my devices, and more importantly, integrate across systems.

ST’s employees are also exceptionally easy to work with, and helpful.

Still ST needs to improve access to documentation, including providing simple to follow UI graphs, as well as how-tos and recipes, for doing fairly common tasks. You can’t depend on consumers, only, to help other consumers. And it isn’t necessarily efficient use of resources to have employees hand-hold folks through commonly occurring tasks.

It isn’t just the non-geeks that need these things, either. One isn’t born knowing how to use the ST app even if one has been working with tech for many years.


I don’t want to vier off topic here, but this very thing is what confused me in the beginning! With ST the platform is so flexible that there are many ways to reach the same conclusion.

What makes something attractive for someone who likes to tinker has the exact opposite effect for someone whom just “expects it to work”.

…that is what is wonderful or terrible about SmartThings depending on viewpoint.


It just so happens, the community came through again for me, and demonstrates some of the issues consumers can have.

I’m adding new Hue bulbs. Normally I would go to the Marketplace and add devices. But ST couldn’t discover the newly added bulbs. So I went into the connection via the Lights->Philips->connect, but ST couldn’t find the bridge.

I didn’t think to go into the SmartApps in the Home menu option to add the bulbs using the Hue (Connect) Smart App. I’m used to connecting new devices one way, and it was the way I used to add the Bridge in the first place.

Two completely different routes to add new devices from the same manufacturer, and the only way you know which to use is previous experience, or helpful community member.

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Let me tie this back around to my Topic :wink:

I’m frustrated that there haven’t been any deep dive reviews of SmartThings (not counting blogger unboxing videos, sorry guys). The gadget journals (CNET, etc.) spend a few hours over a couple days, often with a special package provided by the vendor (SmartThings in this case). The journalist isn’t really providing an “average consumer perspective” for various reasons: (a) They are not an average consumer, even if they are not IT or HA professionals, and (b) As @JDRoberts points out, they are not starting with a typical and valid “motivation”.

Regardless, I’m willing to live with “(b) invalid motivation” flaw for now – just to get the raw, fresh-eyed perspective of a hypothetical consumer. The perspective of the majority of Community members is not that of a “average consumer” (my assertion – perhaps I ought to use the term “target market consumer”; i.e., I assume that SmartThings hoping to target the same sort of non-technical people that buy a DVR. They like gadgets, but have no interest in taking a college class into how they work).

So this article piqued my interest.

Yet it also highlights the sad situation we’re in: If the Home Automation / Smart Home value proposition is already too weak to overcome the minimal effort to install a few basic features that are actually functioning as designed, then the hurdle to overcome a system that is frequently malfunctioning is insurmountable.

I’m having trouble being concise here… Try analogy:
We all know the cliche of the forever blinking “12:00am” clock on the VCR (if you don’t know what a VCR is, then don’t tell me … it will make me feel way too old). If based in reality, the message was that consumers were insufficiently motivated to learn how to set the clock. The clock was required to program the VCR to time-shift record – a useful feature, but not the primary use case for a VCR. The primary use case … the most common motivation… for buying a VCR was to watch rented movies. To time-shift record, you not only needed to set the clock, you had to go through an awkward user interface to painfully set each slot with channels, start time, end time, days of week, etc… But it had 90%+ reliability. If programs started late or ran long, folks got frustrated, but couldn’t blame the VCR manufacturer (well, they could try, and would say “why can’t the dang thing figure that out?”).

So if folks can’t even be bothered to learn how to set the clock on a VCR, which, when set, would just lead to more work before finally delivering the value of time-shift recording… then how can we expect the same sorts of “folks” to install SmartThings and program Routines … and complicated SmartApps and Virtual Buttons and Pollster…

Now replace “VCR” in the above analogy with “Programmable Thermostat”…
Ah – bingo – the success of the Nest thermostat is finally explained (:wink:). Actually, I’m 100% serious. Nest doesn’t deliver a huge incremental power savings over simple programmable digital thermostats that have been around for 30? years. It’s just that too many folks never bothered to program them. Maybe a few frustrated that it was too cold if they got up early, so they’d set the heat to turn on earlier every day and wished the thermostat would read their Fitbit to figure out they woke up early… Nah.

And as to the Topic of deep dive consumer-focused reviews? If short reviews like this of Wink are lukewarm, then a deep dive revealing bugs and unreliability might be downright frigid. Can anyone point me to professional consumer product reviewer (like Consumer Reports) that has detailed the problems that we regularly experience and express about SmartThings.?

Just as Nest has done with the thermostat and smoke alarm … and, a while after that, web cam.

I totally agree that it is a very good strategy for mass consumer marketing. Lots of the Community folks pish-posh on Nest (and even Home Kit), saying they are not Home Automation “systems” and not open like SmartThings, etc., etc… Well… the average consumer isn’t looking for an HA system. They discover they want a #ThoughtfulHome (tm, Nest); bit by bit.


To your well put / placed point…

My fear is that I currently feel I / we have the swiss army knife of HA systems…and the “why shouldn’t it be a cake walk to setup and execute flawlessly” crowd is going to swing that development into a wink / staples connect type of architecture…the proverbial single bladed pocket knife.

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That’s a good point.

I would think a Smart Home would have devices that can walk about of the box (figuratively) for those who want basic services, but then can be tweaked for those who want to go the extra mile.

The Philips Hue Go bulb is a good case in point. Out of the box, you don’t even need the bridge. It comes hard coded with seven different routines and you can use it immediately as a portable light. For more, connect the bridge and then you can use any number of not-always-easy-to-use apps to really have fun.

Think of it like a single bladed knife with a compartment labeled,“open when you have time to play around”. Or “open at your own risk”, which ever works.

I don’t know if my parents would let me subject them to a video, but they are completely non-technical and have a smart home. My dad does not even carry a smart phone. They have the SmartThings hub, ecobee 3 thermostat, z-wave switches, plugs, and the key fobs. Motion sensors trigger lights. They have no idea how any of it works. They rarely even notice that it is there, until there is a problem. They have a tablet that they can control things with inside the house.


I love to hear success stories like this Jody!

Did you set it up for them? Do they tweak the configuration, add new devices and Routines / SmartApps?

What do they do “when there is a problem”? Do they email support, or just assume the problem is temporary?

Do they use :wink:? Would it provide value?

Yes. I set it up and take care of it.

They call me. Or they just use the switches. They don’t ever mess with the app. They adjust the thermostat occasionally but not much more than that.

They do not use SmartTiles. They use ThingLayer for control very infrequently.


Well… that’s the key, isn’t it? SmartThings isn’t selling a network of offsprings to install their product for parents. SmartThings is a DIY platform, not DIFYP (do it for your parents).

This could a huge opportunity for VAR/installers here (e.g., SmartDots by @ashutosh1982), but SmartThings does not have a solid dealer partner program, because they are avoiding going into the Control4 / Crestron / Savant sales channel model.

Perhaps the Best Buy “Geek Squad” will be a good fit. Or a company like “Enjoy”.

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Xfinity’s new home automation program is aimed at the “do it for me” market. We’ll see how that goes.

Did the following ever actually get offered, or was it just a blog announcement?

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I presume it rolled out – but this was “physically install and add to SmartThings” only – no configuration of Routines, SHM, SmartApps or ongoing support of software issues. There’s fine print somewhere that details it.

I tried calling them up to get an idea on their cost structure etc for installation. I told them that I need help installing switches and some other stuff to work on SmartThings platform. The response I got is - “Smart…what?, I am not aware of SmartThings”. I tried to explain to them that ST has announced that they have a tie up but they were more interested in selling their warranties.

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No but that is a market. Personally, I would much rather install and maintain a system that let’s my parents live autonomously in their own home rather than put them in a retirement home. Ageing in place is a market that will be ran by the DIFYP crowd. They don’t have to know how it works, it just needs to work.

For the middle class there will be a cottage industry of people that install and setup home automation systems that can be purchased at the local electronics store. There are still services that will come over and take care of the PC/Tablet you purchased at Best Buy.