Why Nest’s Revolv hubs won’t be the last IoT devices knocked offline

Changes in the young smart-home industry could leave other products behind

Owners of the Revolv connected-home hub are about to experience what may become a growing hazard of the Internet of Things: abandoned Things.

The hubs they use to control devices around their homes through a smartphone app will stop working on May 15. It seems that Nest, the division of Alphabet that acquired Revolv in 2014, thinks it has a better way to do this. So the service connected to Revolv hubs will end and the devices, which sold for a list price of US$299, will be deactivated.

"As of May 15, 2016, Revolv service will no longer be available. The Revolv app won’t open and the hub won’t work," the company said on its site. All Revolv data will be deleted.

Devices that rely on cloud-based software are inherently vulnerable to getting left behind if that software gets shut down, but IoT raises the stakes. Rather than just a lone gadget that's not useful anymore, a decommissioned IoT device is likely to become a missing link in a larger system.

Revolv made hubs that could communicate with and control a wide range of smart-home gear, including Philips Hue lights, Yale locks, and Sonos music players. Through a user interface in Revolv apps for iOS and Android, users could set up complex sets of behaviors for those devices. Revolv was a pretty advanced product, with features including the ability to follow everyone in a household as a separate user, which Nest subsequently introduced just last month.

When Nest acquired Revolv, it immediately stopped selling the hubs but kept service going for existing customers. Now it's closing the whole thing down. It alerted customers with a series of notifications starting in February, according to Nest. But its decision attracted wide attention on Monday after a blog post on Medium by Arlo Gilbert, a Revolv user and CEO of mobile health care startup Televero. Gilbert wrote that he only found out about the impending closure by going to Revolv's site.

The one-year warranties on all Revolv hubs ever sold have expired. Nest advises customers with questions to contact Revolv customer service.

"Revolv was a great first step toward the connected home, but we believe that Works with Nest is a better solution and are allocating resources toward that program," Nest spokeswoman Ivy Choi said via email.

Under the Works with Nest program, Nest certifies home IoT devices like lights, appliances and hubs to communicate with Nest products, including the company's thermostats, smoke detectors, and DropCam cameras.

Revolv owners got caught between old and new ways of doing business in IoT, said Harbor Research analyst Jessica Groopman. Consumers want smart-home capabilities, but they've had to buy devices to get them. This isn't ideal for them or IoT companies, she said.

"If the manufacturer ... were operating using a subscription model, this move would have felt different for customers," Groopman said. "Until OEMs can really embrace new business models that are less about physical products and more about leveraging the data from (and between) products, customers may suffer these sorts of events for some time."

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