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Summary:

After buying thousands of dollars in connected devices, plus a hard reset of my Hue light bulbs, I wonder how we’re going to uninstall the connected devices in our homes.

My Z-wave Kwikset locks. We use the keypad more than the connectivity.
photo: Stacey Higginbotham

While everyone at CES is attempting to entice consumers into buying a bunch of connected gizmos, I thought we should talk about the flip side of such acquisitiveness — namely what does the life cycle of these devices look like and what do you do when they break or are no longer wanted? A corollary to this … of the installed $250 thermostats or the $60 light bulbs, what comes with you if you have to move?

This issue came up for me when I sent my review unit for the Philips Hue BR-30 can lights back, having purchased new Hue lights to give my husband for Christmas. I had planned to keep the original bridge (the thing that connects to the router and connects the lights to the internet) and just swap out the lights because I didn’t want to have to adjust my settings across the two hubs, two apps and one service (IFTTT) that is currently connected to that bridge.

Sadly, I discovered that if you take out a Hue bulb the only way to remove it from the home network is to do a hard reset of the bridge. For me this was a minor inconvenience since I was swapping out my entire Hue system and such a reset was always a probability, but when I went online to discover the way to remove a bulb from the network I discovered the stories of people whose Hue bulbs broke or stopped working mysteriously and found themselves having to reset their bridge and relink their Hue bulbs across whatever services they were using.

Do you unscrew these $60 light bulbs when you move?

Do you unscrew these $60 light bulbs when you move?

And based on my home hub testing experience, many device makers and hubs aren’t quite there with the tools to seamlessly remove devices from the network. Especially if a device breaks, and you can’t unpair the radios manually from a bridge or hub device, the consumer might be stuck with a hard reset. And if you’re like me and have a bunch of gadgets, that’s a pretty painful prospect (manually re-adding a dozens of devices is not fun). The alternative is to have a dead device still configured in software on your network.

And speaking of those Hue lights, at $60 and with a 20-some year life span, they got me thinking about what to do with them if I move. I’m in a home and hope to stay here for at least another nine or ten years, but when I eventually leave, do I take them with me? Without the bridge they are useless, so would I leave my future home buyer with the bridge? Am I nuts to think about a device that hangs off my router as something that’s going to work in 10 years?

For someone in an apartment the Hue lights are an easy way people start adding connectivity in their homes, and apartment dwellers move even more often. I assume they bring their lights with them? I have never before unscrewed a light from a fixture to take it with me, but maybe that changes. And what about a $250 Nest thermostat or the $50 Wi-Fi switch plate or the three $50 Lutron switch plates I installed? My $200 door lock? My connected doorbell that I want so badly?

First, it may be insane to think that what is essentially a consumer gadget will even last 10 years to have this become an issue. It’s also fair to say that most apartment dwellers will avoid this issue because of a landlord that won’t let them install a device (although there are the Hue lights). Yet, even if I leave these devices behind I will still have to contend with not only setting up a new network in my new home, but also establishing the links and services between that new network and the variety of apps and services I’ll accumulate over time.

The bottom line is we need better ways to remove devices on the networks today, but also that if we connect our physical and digital lives together, the disruptions in our real lives (moves, divorces, etc) will have a greater impact on our online lives because they are increasingly linked.

  1. Insightful article. I think the issues you raise just highlight the immaturity of the IOT space. Vendors haven’t worked on these test cases much because they’re too busy working on product development and rushing the products out the front-door. Support (and especially full-lifcycle use cases) are low-priority on the list.

    I had a similar issue with my Hue bulbs when I moved. I didn’t end up using all of them (at least not initially) and so I had several phantom/unused bulbs sitting in my device list in both Hue and Zwave (since the Zwave controller was getting its info from the Hue bridge, which was wrong).

    Speaking for myself, I’m not planning to move again soon, but I think, given the investment, I’ll take my LED bulbs with me unless I know I won’t need them at the new place (for example, if certain specialty bulb types are not needed anymore). The idea of disassembling/swapping out harder to remove smart locks, electrical switches, etc is not a pleasant thought. But this should be a short-term problem (next 10-15 years) because eventually all homes will be smart, IOT gear prices will fall from their current early-adopter price levels, and it won’t be necessary to take your gear with you because the new home will already come with it. I imagine home sellers will start listing these sorts of things as being available on buyer request.

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  2. I recently faced this issue. I moved to a bigger home and I had to unscrew bulbs, remove NEST thermostats, remove Wemo Switches, etc.. I guess it could change with some standardization in the future.

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  3. Wow, you are fully committed to the IOT home! I agree with @Scotland… insightful article. In addition to the portability and investment of time and money in IOT devices, I have issues with security – especially with locks and monitoring devices. Regardless of how many worst case scenarios have been thought through by manufacturers, there is no way to ensure that your $200 smart lock can’t be hacked (same goes for dumb locks I suppose).

    At some point, a bunch of remote locking devices will be systematically hacked by bad people. Then the mass market will have to value convenience vs. true home security. Depending on your home security strategy and budget, a secure IOT home probably has both dumb locks and smart locks securing different parts of the home.

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    1. Marcos_El_Malo Monday, January 13, 2014

      Security is invariably a matter of trade offs. It ia also a matter of identifying the weakest link. Door locks can be picked or hacked, but windows are still more vulnerable. It takes little skill to break a window. So, the bottom line question is what trade offs are you willing to make between security and functionality/convenience? Another question is about the utility of strengthening one security aspect when other components are still too weak.

      On a lighter note, I, for one, welcome our Hue lightbulb and Nest thermostat botnet overlords!

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  4. blevinsdavidlester Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    NSA has already stored your info including your smart lock.

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  5. Definitely some legit product maturity issues here that will uptake to early adopters until they’re sorted. Great article

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  6. I think that I would leave my Z-Wave installed and use it as a selling point when selling the home. Hopefully it would increase the value of the home. I have a smart sprinkler system (Cyber-Rain) that I couldn’t take anyway. I would want to start over and use the newest technology at a new home.

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    1. I would do the same thing. Leave it in my old house. ask the new owner to establish his own credentials and set up anew network in my new house with newer technology.

      Change is inevitable.

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  7. Additionally, what about those situations where you buy a product, go though initial stages of setup, then decommission it for whatever reason? Because it didn’t work properly, wouldn’t fully install, failed to stick by the end of 30-day return period?

    I’m increasingly left to wonder what of my data it takes with me when going back to the seller.

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