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.