Respectfully, since it’s now 4 years after the acquisition by Samsung, nothing happening with SmartThings now is “growing pains.”
Instead it’s a design philosophy, which you describe very well in the rest of your post: stay open to as many things as possible, and try to stay at the front of the headlines. The old “run fast and break things.”
As far as whether they need to do that, again, respectfully I would have to disagree. There’s a lot of competition out there now showing that that’s not the only way. Apple HomeKit is one. The new Toshiba Symbio is another.
Both of these are slick, sleek, and much easier to use than SmartThings. Both will meet the needs of people seeking “plug and play,” or at least “set and forget,” home automation with simple rules much better than SmartThings. Neither will require professional installation. Both are going to appeal to busy millennials who want the newest tech but don’t want to have to work so hard to keep it running.
And both got their stability in the same way: by significantly reducing the complexity of the offering, both in the number of devices that work with it and in the rules you can create.
That’s not the only market segment buying home automation, but it’s one that’s SmartThings is now going to have to work very hard to win. They really need both camera and television integration if they’re going to keep up.
THE 2017 SENSOR ISSUE
It seems pretty clear that something has been going on with zigbee sensor reliability on the SmartThings platform over the last 12 months or so.
It may be coincidental that it seems to coincide with the introduction of the “device health” feature. Or OTA firmware updates. It may have to do with the fact that there have been at least three and maybe more Zigbee platform changes in that time. It may just have to do with some particular brands and models.
But it’s definitely happening. Not because of the number of trouble posts, but rather because of their nature and the fact that so many of them say that they had sensors that worked really well for months and then stopped working. And that the person has been working with support who has not been able to solve the problem. (And the fact that at least in some cases the same sensors don’t seem to have the same problems if they are moved to wink 2.) And that we aren’t seeing the same trouble posts for Z wave sensors.
Put all of that together, and something more is going on than user error. I don’t think anyone knows what yet, and I’m sure that in many individual cases we could start with one device at a time and make quite a bit of improvement, but there’s still an underlying issue which is affecting many people. But since it’s also not affecting everyone, there have to be some local issues involved as well. Which could be something as simple as the number of hops. Since SmartThings doesn’t provide us with any network diagnostic tools, there’s no easy way to compare reports for these kinds of details.
IF YOUR OWN SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING FOR YOU
If your own system is working for you, that’s great, and I’m happy for you. May it be so for all of us as soon as possible.
If your own system isn’t working for you, my suggestions would be first to contact support and see what they say. If the troubleshooting they suggest just seems like it will take too much time and effort, maybe it’s time to move onto a different system. There are a lot of alternatives out there now. Each has its own pluses and minuses, but there may will be one which is a better match for you. As long as you buy from someplace with a good return policy, there’s no harm in trying something else to see if it gives you a better experience.
MY OWN SHIFT IN PHILOSOPHY
In early 2016, I had reached my own maximum frustration point with Home automation. I am quadriparetic, so this wasn’t just a fun hobby for me. Everything I was investing time and money in was for practical reasons. The high maintenance requirements were killing my budget and the instability was driving me crazy.
I made two big changes, and since then, I’ve been quite happy with my Home automation projects.
First, I realized that in the low-end price range, there are three big features driving home automation systems: stability, supported complexity of the available rules and devices, and low cost. The problem was you could only have two out of three of those.
So I needed to be honest with myself about what my own top priorities were. If I wanted greater stability and I still wanted low-cost I was going to have to give up some of the support of complexity.
If I still wanted the support of complexity and I want to stay low cost, I was going to have to accept a higher degree of instability.
If I was willing to give up low cost, I could have both stability and greater complexity.
So it was up to me to decide what my real priorities are. Most of the people in this forum who have stayed with SmartThings as their primary home automation system since 2014 value support for complexity over stability. People like me who have decided that stability is a higher priority than support for complexity have moved critical use cases over to a different platform.
You can be happy either way, but the first step is to decide for yourself what your own priorities are.
THE RATE OF CHANGE
The second thing that made a huge difference in my own satisfaction with my home automation projects was to change how I looked at my investment.
Up until early 2016, I had thought of home automation as being similar to home improvement, where I would invest quite a bit of money upfront and then I would have features that would work for 10 or 15 years.
The problem with that was how rapidly everything kept changing. there were no voice assistants for low-cost home automation that actually worked when I started buying stuff. But within two years that had become a minimum requirement for me. There was always new and shiny stuff to buy, and it was impossible to “futureproof” what I had.
I made the decision to begin budgeting for home automation the same way I budget for mobile phones. Any individual piece I buy, including the hub, I expect to last for three years. And I set up a monthly budget for how much I’m willing to pay for the overall project. So when I go to buy anything new, I look at how it will fit into that monthly budget given that I expect it to last three years.
And whenever shiny new stuff comes on the market, I look at where I am in my expected replacement cycle for my existing stuff, including the hub, and that factors into whether I’m going to buy the new stuff or wait.
This approach has saved both my wallet and my sanity. I don’t go crazy buying all the new stuff, but I watch trends, and I plan potential future replacements. I don’t feel I failed if I do have to replace something, even the hub, as long is I came close to my initial cost projections. And I don’t expect any of these technical devices to last for 10 years. If they do, that will be great, and it will be a bonus to my budget. But all I need it to do is to be a satisfactory purchase for three years and then if I want to move on, I will.
None of the companies providing goods and services in the home automation space are going to stand still. Some of their offerings will get better from my specific point of view – – some of them will get worse. But I no longer feel locked in.
And I no longer even care very much whether it’s a proprietary technology or an open standard. If I will get my money’s worth out of it with three years of use, that’s good enough. If then there is something better on the market, I can move.
I suspect that’s how a lot of millennials will look at home automation technology. We know they’re more willing to replace streaming boxes and even televisions for models with new features than older generations.
But regardless of your age, I think thinking about home automation technology the way we think about mobile phone technology will make it easier for us as individuals to come up with personal strategies to deal with the rapid rate of change in the industry.
And because so much of this depends on our own personal priorities, as well as the specific needs of our households, I definitely agree that no one company/system is going to make everyone happy. Choice is good.