The enormous gap between what homeowners want from smart homes and what companies actually provide has come starkly into view. Spectrum, which formerly operated a home security service, has decided it doesn’t want to continue to do so. All current Spectrum security equipment will brick on February 5. Existing customers will be offered discounts on Ring and Abode systems, but will not receive refunds.
In theory, Spectrum’s security products should be compatible with other hardware, given that they use the common Zigbee protocol. Unfortunately, Spectrum has firmware-locked its own security products. They can’t “see” other Zigbee devices nearby, and other Zigbee devices can’t see them, either. Spectrum’s customers are understandably upset and have been calling on the company to release an open firmware before shutting down the service.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a high-end tech company pull a move like this. The problem, I think, is the fundamental mismatch in how customers think about these services versus how companies think about them. According to this site, the average urban homeowner moves every 9.7 to 12.5 years, depending on location. When you put in an appliance, you expect it to last a while. Humans being what they are, I’m certain somebody out there upgrades their washer every year, but most of us take an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach.
Despite being run by ostensible humans, many tech companies haven’t figured out that longevity and consistency are features customers prize when they are installing products into their homes. The problem isn’t that Spectrum is shutting off its service — it’s that thousands of perfectly useful sensors and cameras are going to get dumped into landfills because Spectrum didn’t want to enable a feature.
This is a colossal waste, and it’s burning the very group of people a nascent market depends on in order to thrive: early adopters. At least one unhappy user spent $1,200 outfitting his home with sensors and equipment. Another reported that Charter / Spectrum had been pushing customers to pay for the entire service up-front when they signed up for service.
Legally, Spectrum is absolutely within its right to terminate services and throw the hardware away. This is a fine example of how something can be both outrageously stupid and completely legal. But this kind of capricious treatment runs the risk of souring people on the idea of smart homes in the first place. The hard truth is, there aren’t a lot of vendors you can trust. Some shutter, like Spectrum, while the successful ones break their word to the very adopters that helped them succeed in the first place.
If smart home companies continue to throw their own users away like garbage, they’ll quickly find themselves without a product to market. Homeowners expect these sorts of products to work and interoperate over a decade or more, not 1-3 years. Homeowners aren’t going to be willing to keep shucking out top dollar for incompatible systems. Hopefully, Spectrum will do the right thing and unlock its hardware before it goes dark.
But don’t hold your breath.
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