Why I'm Leaving SmartThings

For the past few years, I’ve been building up my home automation system piece by piece. I’ve set up automated lights activated by voice assistants, timers, and motion sensors, configured cameras, temperature and humidity sensors, and smart thermostats. I’ve even configured several wall panels that act as control centers for much of the system that show different information based on the day of the week and switch to a camera view when my doorbell rings. Powering this all is a system called SmartThings, an automation ecosystem owned by Samsung. 

SmartThings has always been an interesting platform because of its cloud-based nature. I purchased the hub several years ago and linked all my lights and systems to it. However, all automations and custom code are stored and run in Samsung’s cloud. This means developers have nearly unlimited computing power at their disposal for running automations. This gave rise to automation systems like WebCore which gives SmartThings a program-like interface for defining automations and flows. However, the flip side of that coin is that your remote automations are… remote. If your internet is down or Samsung’s cloud is slow, automations might be slow to activate or simply not run at all. As mentioned in an earlier post, an unreliable automation is often worse than no automation at all. The purpose of automation is to make things easier; when I walk into the house expecting the lights to go on and they don't, it makes me less trusting the next time I need that automation. Having to think about the lights at all defeats the purpose of creating the automation in the first place.

As of late, SmartThings has gotten less and less reliable. Lights that used to go on as soon as motion was detected started taking 5 - 10 seconds to react. Leaving the house stopped reliably changing the house mode to Away. Timers that automatically put the house into Shabbat mode failed inconsistently. Each failure on its own wasn’t a big deal but, taken in aggregate, caused me to lose trust in the SmartThings system. If I had to check my phone to see if the AC got turned down automatically after I left the house, then I might as well just turn it down myself!

Additionally, Samsung recently announced that major changes to the SmartThings platform are coming soon. They’ve always talked about a vague plan of converting everyone to use their newer mobile apps and platform but that always seemed to be a far-future, aspirational hope. The new mobile app had been steadily (but slowly) improving for a few years but still wasn’t ready for primetime. This year, Samsung announced that it would stop manufacturing hardware and double down on their new platform and its integration with other device manufacturers. It's still unclear what that actually means but it did seem like drastic change was coming one way or another. This has always been a risk when dealing with cloud-based providers. There's a saying in IT, "the cloud is just someone else's computer." When you use someone else's computers, you are mostly at their mercy. In fact, in the past few months, another cloud-based automation system, Wink, announced that they were moving to a subscription based model and users had no choice but to pay up or leave the platform.

For me, this is the writing on the wall. Between my increasing frustration with its reliability, the impending changes to the platform, and my unending desire to tinker with things, I've decided to leave SmartThings. There are two natural choices with which to replace it. Hubitat is a hub that has much of the power of SmartThings but runs everything locally on the hub itself. It uses a lot of the same device handlers and can even run WebCore for advanced automations. The other choice is Home Assistant, an open source project with a huge community and tons of integration points with other systems. Each has their strengths and weaknesses which I’ll discuss in a future post. Which2 one did I choose to go with? Both, of course! I bought a Hubitat Elevate hub as well as a Raspberry Pi 4 for Home Assistant and will play with both of them. Stay tuned for future posts in which I report my findings back here!

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