Back in 2014, Google/Alphabet’s Nest bought a rival home automation company, Revolv. Prior to the acquisition, Revolv had focused on building a smart home automation system that could control lights, open doors, and even brew coffee on demand. Post-acquisition, Revolv stopped selling its own products, though it pledged to continue supporting its existing customer base. Now, Nest is pulling the plug on that promise, despite the fact that Revolv hardware and software was sold with a “lifetime subscription.”
Let’s be clear on this point: Nest isn’t saying “We won’t support the existing software or infrastructure with future updates.” Nest is pulling the plug on Revolv, period. To quote from the Revolv website: “As of May 15, 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work.”
The Internet of sh*tty Things
Revolv only had a small customer base, though its products reviewed reasonably well. But there’s a stark disconnect between how Internet of Things and other “smart” devices are marketed to people, and the reality of how products and services actually function in this day and age. The “lifetime” guarantee that Revolv offered turned out to be meaningless, even though Google/Alphabet could afford to support these devices throughout their entire useful lives. Cloud backup companies that sell data protection plans to consumers always include verbiage that deny said users the right to recognize any value from said data in the event the service loses or destroys their backups. The security issues raised through poor IoT devices is large and getting larger, and that’s before we get to the privacy implications.
There is no reason why shutting down Revolv should automatically disable both the app interface and the hub itself — except, of course, that Revolv was never designed to operate independently of a centrally located cloud service. Companies love to talk about the benefits of these products in terms of ease-of-use and simplicity, while never acknowledging the downside. The Revolv, which ran $300 just 17 months ago, was expensive enough to include the local processing power required to do its job.
Writing on Medium, Arlo Gilbert, CEO of Televero, notes:
The concept of planned obsolescence is nothing new; the term was first used in 1932. In the past, planned obsolescence was conceived of as either a marketing effort (convince people they need something new before they actually really do), or as a deliberate design methodology that ensured products would break and need to be replaced on a fairly regular basis.
Revolv, it could be argued, is a third type of planned obsolescence. Instead of designing the hubs to break or aggressively marketing Nest products as a replacement for Revolv hardware, Google/Alphabet can simply shut down the entire product family at will.
The Internet of Things is often marketed as enabling products and solutions that couldn’t exist otherwise, but all too often these products are used to limit consumer freedom, not expand it. Vanity Fair has a recent profile of Juicero, a Silicon Valley startup that’s raised more than $120 million in recent funding rounds. The self-described “Keurig for fresh juice” company sells a $700 juicer and juice packs that cost between $4 and $10 each. The article describes the product as follows:
Keurig, of course, is now infamous for its attempt to create DRM coffee, and Juicero appears to think it can follow a similar path by forcing customers to adopt DRM from the beginning rather than at a later date. These types of products add nothing useful to the larger ecosystem. After seeing how Nest is treating Revolv, I can’t say I’d ever be interested in purchasing one of the company’s primary products. If Nest thinks it’s okay to completely deactivate Revolv, it’ll have no problem turning off its own hardware some day.