Alex Hawkinson, the chairman and former CEO of SmartThings, left the company in March. I somehow missed this, but apparently so did a lot of other people. SmartThings, which makes connected home software and hardware, was purchased in August 2014 by Samsung for a rumored $200 million. Hawkinson had stayed at Samsung as the CEO of SmartThings for almost four years, which suggests a long lock up period.
Hawkinson left San Francisco and returned to Washington D.C. where he helped found SmartThings back in 2012. He could not be reached for comment. His departure was confirmed by a source inside SmartThings. The current head of SmartThings is Matt Lynch.
At the time of the purchase, the acquisition was a good fit for both companies, as SmartThings was built with the idea of creating an open platform for connected devices in the home, while Samsung was touting its vision for a world of connected devices that would seamlessly communicate with each other. Samsung’s shared vision and deep pockets offered SmartThings the scale that could allow it to cover a huge part of the consumer market.
However, the smart home has not advanced much since companies starting building smart hubs back in the 2011 and 2013 time frame. At that time, companies such as Revolv, SmartThings, Wink and others were trying to connect products from various vendors using apps on smart phones. The challenge was that many of these platforms were difficult to use, and it was incredibly hard to support all of the one-off smart home devices that were popping up around that time.
Of those, Revolv was purchased by Nest/Google and was shut down. Wink, which was owned by Quirky, was sold off during Quirky’s bankruptcy proceedings to a company owned by Will.i.am. Wink is still operational. In the meantime, much of the functionality of these original hubs has moved to voice-based platforms such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. There are a few hubs and software projects such as Hubitat, OpenHAB, HomeBridge and others that have covered this market for more advanced users.
But the hub market seems stagnant, and SmartThings users have been increasingly frustrated with the platform. At CES in January 2018, Hawkinson told me that Samsung was shifting all of its existing customers using applications to run their washing machines, refrigerators and more over to a new SmartThings platform. It seemed that SmartThings was finding a home as the home automation software and connected appliance software that Samsung would put on TVs, phones and in other places.
However, that transition has not been smooth. This spring SmartThings launched a new version of its app and split off the older app calling it SmartThings Classic. Samsung said eventually SmartThings Classic would go away. Older SmartThings users complained about downtime and broken automations associated with the newly designed app.
We’ll see how SmartThings manages that going forward.