When is owning a product not like owning a product? When the company that sells it to you can render it effectively useless at the flick of a switch. That’s what will happen on May 15, for the owners of Nest’s Revolv home automation hub. From the company’s website:
So we’re pouring all our energy into Works with Nest and are incredibly excited about what we’re making. Unfortunately, that means we can’t allocate resources to Revolv anymore and we have to shut down the service. As of May 15, 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work.
Thank you for your support and believing in us. We’re sad for the end of Revolv, but this isn’t the end of the connected home. This is the beginning.
But as sad as this is for owners, who would have paid as much as $400 for their Revolv hubs as little as 18 months ago (like this guy), it also raises a rather troubling concern: As we fill our house with fabulously smart, connected devices, what is it that we actually own? All those Nest home thermostats, WiFi-enabled doors and even our smartphones rely on software updates from the manufacturer. The closure of Revolv is a reminder that the companies that make these Internet-connected products have the power to “brick” them—that is, render them about as useful as a plastic brick—when they no longer see fit to support them.
The Nest comparison is a key one. The company purchased Revolv in 2014 and incorporated the system into its “Works with Nest” platform. Now, just 18 months later, they’re turning it off. This is different from when, for example, Apple drops support for an outdated iPad; owners still own the device and can turn it on and access their data, even if they can’t enjoy the latest iOS updates. Here’s what it says on Revolv’s FAQ page:
What happens to my Revolv service?
As of May 15, 2016, Revolv service will no longer be available. The Revolv app won’t open and the hub won’t work.
Is my product still under warranty?
No. Our one-year warranty against defects in materials or workmanship has expired for all Revolv products.
What will happen to Revolv data?
Revolv data will be deleted.
It’s hard to imagine Nest would do the same for a product with safety-implications such as a thermostat or a smoke alarm. (Then again, Nest is owned by Google, who bought it for US$3 billion in 2014, and some believe there may be trouble at the top.) And after receiving criticism for its move, however, the company has revealed that it may compensate Revolv owners on a case-by-case basis , although the details on how much of the full price they’ll fork over are unclear. If you own a Revolv smart home hub, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for customer support.
Still, the implications are clear: While you might think you’re buying a fabulous new way to automate your lights/music/heating/life, should the company ever turn off its software updates, what you’ve really got is a pretty plastic doorstop.