Insteon shuts down abruptly, users no longer have smart homes

Insteon shuts down abruptly, users no longer have smart homes

Insteon shuts down abruptly, users no longer have smart homes

In “predictable things that have happened before and will definitely happen again,” Insteon, a smart home company benefiting from Insteon’s ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communications standards, shut down its servers without warning. For nearly two decades, Insteon offered products such as smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all tied together in one comfortable system. Scrolling through the history of the Insteon subreddit, there were signs of the company’s decline for a good half year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network had stopped working, the mobile app was unresponsive, and company resources and infrastructure were down. Additionally, C-rank management removed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of the page Instantly, the Insteon subreddit came alive. People, rightly angry at being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if to mock them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were up and running. Others, expecting the shutdown to happen, began collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing material, helping each other maintain their technology in the meantime and researching alternative platforms. It has proven imperative that users do not factory reset their Insteon hubs, as these must communicate with current Inste-Gone servers as part of the initial setup, diligently verifying SSL certificates. Unfortunately, many users, ignorant and going through the usual solutions to get their network working again, now end up with mostly bricked-up hubs, except for a lucky few.

screenshot of an eBay auction listing for an Insteon modem, going up to $386
A modem capable of connecting an Insteon network to a Raspberry Pi – its original price being $80

A week after the services went down, Insteon released an update that surprised no one and didn’t address anything users didn’t already know; blaming the pandemic for the company’s financial downfall, and offering no solution even to those most affected. The proprietary parts of the ecosystem — code, certificates, and documentation — are firmly stuck in liquidation limbo, and it’s clear that there’s no foreseeable return to normalcy for people who relied on Insteon to operate their home.

Users moved and smart home platforms, open and closed, welcomed refugees from the Inste-off. HomeAssistant made an intro putting users at ease and guiding them in their relocation to another platform. They even currently have a dedicated developer working on improving the documentation and software integrations for Insteon – and users are already sharing success stories with their HomeAssistant migration! Other platforms, such as HOOBS, OpenHAB and HomeSeer, have followed suit. Raspberry Pi shortages don’t help and the integrations aren’t perfect, but they seem to be miles ahead of what users expect and light years ahead of the flawed systems they’re stuck with. Of course, moving the platforms is not the only problem to be solved. Why do such things keep happening? Why do we keep coming back to smart home designs based on proprietary technology? And what should we do differently so that such scenarios are no longer possible in the future?

Every once in a while, the infrastructure of another smart home system is shut down, leaving its users stranded, their hardware stack rendered useless. Even big companies aren’t safe – we’ve seen it with Google-affiliated Revolv in 2016, Charter (known as Spectrum in the US) in 2020, and Samsung’s SmartThings in 2021. When Best Buy closed its smart home offerings on short notice, we had an in-depth conversation about why this is happening and what lessons we are bound to learn from it. After all, it’s not just smart home systems that are prone to this, it’s even devices like prosthetic eyes.

We thank [Andrew] to share this with us!

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