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It's a great and horrible time to set up a smart home

In the small span of 24 hours, smart home enthusiasts learned that IFTTT would soon be dead to millions and that nobody should touch Samsung's Smartthings or Bixby with a 10-foot pole. While that makes for a great lede to an article about smart home woes, it's the sort of one-two punch that anyone with more than a passing interest in the tech hates to hear: the two services that can make the mix of different brands and products in your smart house are now persona-non-grata.

A smart home should make life easier but the headache factor can't be ignored.

Some back story is in order, especially since the rest of the internet was busy running around to hear a million things from Google I/O and Microsoft Build throughout the week. We'll start with the effective death of IFTTT for Google Assistant or Nest consumers. IFTTT (If This Then That), a wonderful resource that lets all the different brands of gadget you might have talk to each other will soon stop being useful for Google Assistant users and people with Nest hardware. Google is rethinking how smart devices should operate in regard to user privacy and data security. As part of the new initiative, the Nest brand will be absorbed into Google Hardware. One important feature of the new directive is that third parties won't be able to access your account or usage data.

That's how IFTTT works when you get into the nitty-gritty. You sign up for an IFTTT account and you're able to subscribe to channels for the services and hardware you use. You then take that IFTTT account and tie it to any accounts required for the original device or service, like a Nest Learning Thermostat, for example, and you can use IFTTT to act as a trigger to make things happen. When Google says that it isn't going to share your account with third-parties like IFTTT, all this comes crashing down like the mountain of empty boxes you hopefully kept so you can resell all the orphaned smart home junk on eBay.

I love seeing any new directive for the smart home that tries to help obvious privacy issues. I would love it more if Google coupled it with a large update for Assistant so it could natively control more than a handful of products. Thank goodness we can use SmartThings as a native app on Android and control Zigbee or Z Wave devices. Except you totally shouldn't.

The second part of the double play I mentioned has over 100 instances of Amazon S3 storage buckets completely unsecured and leaking all over the place like a soiled diaper. These instances happen to hold GitLab code repositories, user logs and analytical data, and the goddamn private keys to sign official software for Samsung's SmartThings and Bixby products. While the people who understand what that means are busy slapping their heads, let me break that down: Anyone who went looking could not only get potentially sensitive data about how you use SmartThings or Bixby products and services, but also had the ability to edit the code to do anything and then merge it into production using the credentials of the actual developers themselves.

Yeah, take all the SmartThings products you have and put them in the trash or melt them down for scrap copper because you can never undo that. Samsung says it has everything under control, but yeah. SmartThings is dead to me and should be dead to you, too.

Alexa, tell me how to make my house smart.

That brings us full circle. What is a person who wants to build more than a basic smart home supposed to do? There's nothing wrong with being satisfied with Alexa being able to play your favorite playlist; this isn't a nerd contest. But some people also want to tell their phone or watch to do things like close the blinds, preheat the hot tub, open the garage and start the car plus a lot more. I'll never know the joy of using Assistant to change the speed of my living room ceiling fan because the SmartThings compatible speed control I bought but haven't yet installed isn't going into the wall now. This sucks worse than it did a couple of years ago. And it really sucked then.

This will sort itself out eventually. There are other smart platforms for the home out there and I'm going to need to pick one and figure it out. It also leaves room for Amazon to step in, and those Bezosbucks can work miracles sometimes. I'm sure we'll revisit this topic a time or two during 2019.

Read more: How to transition your Nest account and why it's happening

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

17 Comments
  • Just buy everything from Google and you're all set.
  • Eh at the rate Google kills things, that isn't always the best option either. 
  • Heh. I pasted part of this article on Samsung's Community forum...promptly taken down. I think it hit a nerve.
  • Switch from Smartthings to Hubitat. You won't regret it.
  • People who have had years of use on amazon and Samsung’s hardware and spent so much money and time integrating it into their lives aren’t just going to through out their stuff and buy google everything or Apple barely everything. They will risk the security issues or go back to what it was before smarthomes, normal homes. Theses days people aren’t made of money nor have the time to worry about this kind of stuff. A nice vacation or google everything? A few thousand more for my retirement or kids education or change up my smarthome? It’s a no brainer, if things don’t get fixed to benefit the people who are already immersed in something for a few years, it will be smarthome no more unless your upper class and have a ton to spend or a business that can write it off. Myself? I have a few garbage bags and all my old normal household lights, switches, locks, monitored security system by local provider (non wireless ) and stats ready to put back in service. Can’t get much more secure then that.
  • I use Wink instead of Smart Things. It's a very capable platform. Sadly doesn't get enough coverage or support since they're not a big name like Samsung. Disclaimer: I am a little biased since I write apps for Wink.
  • I have to add Samsung's Dev team has disappointed me time after time after time.
  • Look up Hassio. Fits on $40 Raspberry Pi and controls them all. Your welcome.
  • Fully local controllers: Homeseer: currently $99 for a Pi3-based Zwave controller. With additional software plugins it can control zigbee, hue, security sytems, roombas, home audio, etc. Scripting events is done through a set of cascading drop down menus. No coding and almost no typing. You can get the software for windows or Linux. It has a free HTTPS cloud service that provides Alexa and Ghome skills and remote access. The mobile apps were recently redone and are pretty good. This is my current home automation (HA) controller. Hubitat: also $99. The hardware is similar to a Pi but based on a common AndroidTV-type box. It has both zwave and zigbee. The company behind it is full of former smartthings app developers who got irritated with SmartThings server-related issues. As a result, it uses Groovy, just like SmartThings and many ST scripts can be used on Hubitat. There isn't a mobile app so you need a vpn server on your router for remote access. Vera: The veraplus is $99 right now. It's a little hard to recommend; there were issues with firmware for a year or so and then there was a corporate acquisition where the current product line may be replaced. It is a good zwave controller with limited Zigbee device support. Like homeseer there is a cloud service that connects to Alexa and enables remote control. There are a lot of free or very inexpensive plugins that give it almost as much flexibility as Homeseer, however you need several plugins just to get to the base functionality of Homeseer. The hardware is also limited, and is roughly 25% as much cpu/ram as the Homeseer Zee2. (I owned a Vera3 and a VeraPlus) Universal Devices ISY994iZw - lists for $160 but can be found for around $130. A really solid Zwave controller that is also the best Insteon controller available. (Insteon was a launch partner for HomeKit, it's a nice but sole-source HA technology that uses both powerline and radio signaling; excellent for concrete block homes) They provide a cloud service for remote access and alexa/ghome but they charge $1/mo for the service. Their hardware is relatively dated but they have a custom real-time OS which is amazingly efficient. It is really close to an industrial automation system with similar kinds of reliability. It can support an IR module to be operated by a remote, has some zigbee support, and can work with security systems. They are planning a major upgrade in the next year or so. If you want to build your own, you can get opensource free HomeAssistant, OpenHab or NodeRed and appropriate zwave/zigbee radios. They can run on a Pi if you want. You could buy the Homeseer software or CharmedQuark (CQC) for Windows or Indigo for MacOS. Also, HomeKit is locally processed on an appleTV or an iPad but I doubt many AndroidCentral users will really be interested it. I leave Wink off this list intentionally. Though all automations function when the internet is down, you have limited ability to modify the programming of the controller over local wifi. The same goes for the Zipato Zipabox, which uses a cloud based programming tool.
  • Thanks for this info!
  • I am in the process of selling my house, the buyer likes the Nest thermostat .. part of my sales pitch was that it works with more than Google Assistant ... That will no longer be true. Now it is harder to sell a Nest home.
  • It will be true.. it will work natively instead of through ifttt.
  • So why do we need a smart home again?
  • I'm an early adopter, and I'm staying away from home automation/smart devices for a while. Each item has it's own app and services. I'd rather wait it out to see which companies come out on top and have the best offerings. If I were to get a smart device, it would be a smart plug. It can be applied to almost any item in the house.
  • So don't use wifi or bluetooth. Get devices taht use a dedicated home automation (HA) technology like zwave, zigbee, insteon, upb, or even x10. (Ok, don't get x10, most of them don't report state). Then you can use a controller with an appropriate bridge or radio. I have 3 dozen zwave devices and I'm on my 3rd controller (2 Veras and now Homeseer). People complain about the cost of a controller but it's the brain of your smart house. If you have a thousand dollars worth of sensors/locks/thermostats/etc, why expect a $50 controller to do the job? It's like hiring a 16yro to drive your limo because you can pay him minimum wage.
  • i'm sure "Works with Nest" will be replaced with "Works with Google Nest" so settle down
  • Completely agree and we're in beta with a solution that we plan to ship in June. It's like a universal remote control for your smart home devices. www.atmoshome.com #shamelessPlug