Adding a few smart home gadgets can help you automate your day-to-day life in useful ways, but they aren’t as foolproof as a good old-fashioned light switch. People who invested in Insteon’s smart home gear are learning that the hard way today, as the company has apparently killed its cloud service without warning. With the servers shut down, the company’s smart switches, sensors, and outlets have lost all their smarts.
Insteon, which is a subsidiary of Smartlabs, is ancient by the standards of a smart home company, launching its first products way back in 2005. It made big promises about its proprietary “dual mesh” communication protocol, which uses a combination of wireless signals and powerline networking. Allegedly, it made the devices more reliable than those connected over Wi-Fi. While there were connections to services like Alexa and Assistant, users needed an Insteon hub to communicate with the company’s servers. That’s a problem now that the servers appear to be offline.
Users began reporting problems earlier this month, and the company disabled its support forums around the same time. However, the company’s status page still claims all services are online. That may be because no one is there to change the status anymore. The company’s leadership appears to have checked out — LinkedIn profiles for Insteon executives either indicate they have left the company or have simply been scrubbed of any mention of Insteon.
Many Insteon customers have spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on the company’s products, and they probably regret that now. Some Insteon smart switches will work as a traditional light switch, but the bulk of its products are now bricked. The reliance on cloud services is the Achilles Heel of the current smart home ecosystem — when a company goes away, the hardware you own can suddenly become useless. Insteon is not the first smart home platform to vanish, but we usually get some warning. Replacing smart home devices because of service closures is always going to be a pain, but Insteon customers didn’t even know their smart homes were going to stop working before it happened.
Those affected by the unexpected shutdown have limited options. They could simply replace all their Insteon products with dumb hardware or devices for another smart home platform. But after being burned like this, relying on another cloud service might seem like too great a risk. Insteon was originally designed as a locally managed system, and that means users can regain some of the lost functionality by adding an open source platform like Home Assistant, provided they’re willing to tinker. It’s a bad situation to be in, but it’s inevitable some of these companies will close up shop. We can only hope the next one to bite the dust does it more responsibly than Insteon.