Google, Revolv and the danger of backing IoT start-ups

Google, Revolv and the danger of backing IoT start-ups

Google, Revolv and the danger of backing IoT start-ups
Google, Revolv and the danger of backing IoT start-ups

Closure of Google’s IoT service underlines problems with backing the wrong platform

Owners of Revolv smart home hub are facing the termination of services leaving them with devices that are effectively useless.

Revolv was acquired by Google’s home automation company Nest in October 2014. It sold a hub for controlling IoT devices in the home such as lights, kettles, and other things from a single smartphone app.

The hub relied on a cloud-based service to communicate with the phone and devices. With Google shutting down the service, the app and hub won’t be able to control anything.

According to a report from Wired, a nest spokesman told the publication that the firm stopped selling the hub shortly after the acquisition and told customers in February that the service would shut down in May.

In a post on Medium, entrepreneur Arlo Gilbert said that the closure effectively meant that he had bought a “$299.00 empty container of hummus”. (The Revolv hub looks a lot like the container of a popular brand of hummus sold in the US).

“Google/Nest’s decision raises an interesting question. When software and hardware are intertwined, does a warranty mean you stop supporting the hardware or does it mean that the manufacturer can intentionally disable it without consequence?” said Gilbert.

He added that Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest, “seems to believe the latter”.

“Tony believes he has the right to reach into your home and pull the plug on your Nest products,” warned Gilbert.

Following the outburst, Nest said it may compensate owners of the hub “on a case-by-case basis”.

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EOL for IoT

The company said in a statement to the press: “We’ve been working with the small number of Revolv customers on a case-by-case basis since we sent out the first customer notification in February to determine the best resolution, including compensation.” In a tweet, the firm said it was “here to help”.

While the devices are now out of warranty, they were originally sold with a lifetime subscription which would come with updates to work with other products for the “lifetime of the product”.

Ryan Lester, director of IoT Strategy at Xively by LogMeIn, told Internet of Business that “end-of-life-ing” (EOL) products is standard practice for every company, “but this particular instance hit a nerve with customers and opened up the question about the long term viability of connected home products and IoT products in general.”

“In the pre-IoT era, when support of a device was discontinued, the device would still work as it always had, it just may not receive any more updates, new features, etc. In this case, Nest is removing the connectivity which means the device won’t work at all – upsetting customers who invested in the device,” said Lester.

He added that Google’s Nest is just the first well publicised company that is dealing with this issue, but it certainly won’t be the last.

“It can happen to literally any IoT product company. When connectivity is what you are selling (as we are in most IoT products), and you remove that connectivity through an EOL strategy – the device becomes as useful as a “brick” and there will be backlash.”

Lester said that product companies should familiarise themselves with the list of obligations they will have to their customers as they become connected product companies and have a solid strategy on how they will meet those obligations.

He added that for companies planning connected products, there are three good ways to think about the lifecycle of the product. These are: offering the product as a service where there is a recurring revenue stream associated with the product. “This creates value for supporting that product over its lifetime.”

Second, there should be a path to upgrade, which can keep customers loyal by moving them to the latest version or an equivalent product.

Lastly, to prevent customers from being left on a defunct IoT platform, products should allow for offline usage. “This may upset customers who bought the product for its connected features, but it at least limits the impact of customers feeling like they wasted money on a device that has been discontinued,” said Lester.

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