Enlarge / The v1 SmartThings Hub from 2013. It dies at the end of the month.
Samsung has spent the last year or so turning its SmartThings ecosystem upside down. SmartThings was founded as an independent company in 2012 when it launched one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns of all time: a $ 1.2 million funding program for the company’s first smart home hub. Samsung bought SmartThings in 2014, and in June 2020 the Korean giant announced a plan that would basically shut down everything it bought and force everyone to use Samsung’s internal infrastructure. Much of that plan is happening at the end of the month, when Samsung gets rid of the first-generation SmartThings hub.
The SmartThings Hub is basically a Wi-Fi access point – but for your smart home stuff instead of your phones and laptops. Instead of Wi-Fi, SmartThings is the access point for a Zigbee and Z-Wave network, two extremely low-power mesh networks used by smart home devices. Wi-Fi is great for loading web pages and videos, but it’s extremely overdone for things like turning on a light switch or activating a door sensor. these things just need to send a few bits for “on or off” or “open or closed”. Zigbee and Z-Wave are so energy efficient that you can operate the devices for months with AA or button cell batteries. The hub connects your smart home network to the internet so you can access a control app and connect to other services like your favorite voice assistant.
You might think getting rid of the old hub might be a ploy to sell more hardware, but Samsung – a hardware company – is actually no longer interested in making SmartThings hardware. The company handed over the production of the latest “SmartThings Hub (v3)” to the German Internet of Things company Aeotec. The new hub typically costs $ 125, but Samsung is offering an upgrade price of $ 35 for existing users.
For users who need to buy a new hub, migrating between hubs in the SmartThings ecosystem is a nightmare. Samsung doesn’t offer a migration program, so you’ll need to unplug each and every smart device from your old hub in order to pair it with the new one. This means that you have to do some sort of job on every light switch, lightbulb, socket, and sensor, and you have to do the same for every other smart thing you’ve bought over the years. Doing this on every device is a hassle which usually involves finding the manual to look up the secret “exclusion” input which is often an arcane Konami code. Imagine holding down the top button on a paddle light for seven seconds until a status light starts flashing, then opening the SmartThings app to unpair it.
Samsung is also killing the SmartThings Link for Nvidia Shield dongle that allows users to turn Android TVs into SmartThings hubs. We are now in phase two of Samsung’s SmartThings Armageddon. Phase one was in October when Samsung killed the Classic SmartThings app and replaced a self-developed app with a Byzantine disaster. Phase three shuts down the SmartThings Groovy IDE, a great feature that allows members of the community to develop SmartThings device handlers and complex automation applications. Even if a hardware did not officially support SmartThings, the IDE let the community develop their own support for the device. There’s no detailed schedule for phase three, but shutting down community device handlers is definitely going to ruin things.
Samsung’s goals in all of this upheaval are unclear. The company isn’t just killing the OG SmartThings Hub; it takes away a lot of the appeal of the SmartThings ecosystem. Before Samsung started wrecking the store, SmartThings represented the largest smart home community out there, and complicated but powerful tools like the Groovy IDE left the community to fill software blanks. With Samsung proving to be an unstable administrator of the platform, many users are switching to the self-hosted Home Assistant.