Friday morning, users of Automatic, a company that makes a connected device that plugs into your car to monitor location, mileage, and other metrics, sent a letter to users noting that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it needed to shut down its operations. For users, this means that after May 28 — not even a month away — their devices will stop working. Automatic joins companies, including Belkin and Petnet, in shutting down devices during the pandemic.
Automatic was purchased by SiriusXM back in 2017, and let users track their vehicles’ location and engine health. Automatic was also was sold to consumers through third-party companies when purchasing a car. The model seemed to be working, but apparently, the pandemic’s upending of the economy has made supporting a cloud-based service less of an option for Sirius. It’s not alone.
Late in April, Petnet, the maker of a connected pet feeder that has a history of challenges, said it was essentially shutting down, blaming COVID-19 even though it had been battling downtime and not responding to messages for at least a month. It took prodding from Ars Technica to get a response from the CEO before customers began receiving emails, letting them know their pet feeders were going offline.
PetNet’s dissolution is a worst-case scenario for the death of a connected product, full of straggling service outages, a lack of clear communication, and no planning associated with the demise so people could prepare. Automatic’s is better in the sense that they are warning customers that their product will shut down. The company also published an FAQ that explains when it will happen and offering options for customers who want to transfer their data.
However, users are getting a scant 28 days’ notice and less than two months to export their data, which is far less time than I would like to see. Generally, the more time you can give a user the better, and if something is physically installed in a home such as a thermostat, I’d like to see at least a year’s notice.
Another dying device, the Belkin NetCam, surfaced this last week as well. Belkin isn’t blaming the coronavirus for the end of the camera’s life, but it is taking it offline within a month. By May 29, the camera will no longer work. Not only is this pretty short notice, but Belkin also disabled a feature a few years back that let people use the camera and store the images locally, which would have kept their cameras working when Belkin pulled the plug on cloud support.
I expect we’ll see more companies struggling in the next few months, and as such, we’ll see more companies pull their devices offline. This is going to be bad for the internet of things as users question the value of buying a product that later dies with little or no notice. I’ve recommended that companies launch their products with an expiration date on the box, but perhaps I need to add some sort of pre-funding associated with cloud-connected devices that help ensure a reasonable amount of notice in case of a company failure.
Fazal Majid says
I have a hard time seeing how a product like Automatic’s can have substantial cloud hosting costs. It’s not as if Sirius XM is going out of business (not that I would shed a tear if they did).
This is a reminder that IoT is best cloud-free, to be run with self-hosted solutions like HomeAssistant.
Laurent Carré says
Fully agree with the previous comment. I don’t understand why a service connecting the OBD2 from my car to my cellphone while I am in the car MUST have a cloud access except for SW upgrades. That is not fleet management where effectively the cars are controlled centrally.
Not Important says
I suspect that the service itself is simply one component of the whole – team (management, sales & marketing, developers, customer support, etc.), hardware inventory, operating costs (more than just a server somewhere), and the list goes on. Same for Wink and others.
As a relatively small company, there was probably not a lot of money in the bank to begin with, the company was fighting for its life, and the team/board are most likely not going to declare that they are dead and going out of business 90 days in advance. For many early stage companies, 90 days is a meaningful amount of time to turn things around.
If I had a penny for every time a startup I know that came within 90 days of going under, I would be sipping champagne on my absurdly large yacht a socially distant 6 – 10′ from Mr. Bezos discussing my acquisition of the Stacey on IoT media empire 🙂
John Chiasson says
And Wink just announced their 1 week shutdown. Another idea would be for companies to escrow their code (or just protocols) with a neutral third party (industry association?), to be released in their demise. Buying devices with open standards helps (Lows Iris). Ideally, going open source benefits all.