Samsung has turned its SmartThings ecosystem upside down in the past year. SmartThings was born as an independent company in 2012 when it launched one of the largest Kickstarter campaigns ever: a $1.2 million funding program for the company’s first smart home hub. Samsung bought SmartThings in 2014, and in June 2020, the Korean giant announced a plan that would essentially shut down all acquired stuff, forcing everyone to use Samsung’s proprietary infrastructure. Much of that plan takes place at the end of the month, when Samsung will kill off the first-generation SmartThings Hub.
The SmartThings Hub is basically a Wi-Fi access point, but for your smart home stuff instead of your phones and laptops. Instead of Wi-Fi, SmartThings is the access point for a Zigbee and Z-Wave network, two highly energy-efficient mesh networks used by smart home devices. Wi-Fi is great for loading web pages and videos, but it’s extremely overkill for something like flipping a light switch or operating a door sensor; these things only need to send a few bits for “on or off” or “open or closed”. Zigbee and Z-Wave are so energy efficient that you can run the devices for months on AA or button cell batteries. The Hub connects your smart home network to the internet, giving you access to a control app and connecting to other services, such as your favorite voice assistant.
You might think that killing off the old Hub might be a ploy to sell more hardware, but Samsung, a hardware company, is actually no longer interested in making SmartThings hardware. The company has handed over production of the latest “SmartThings Hub (v3)” to German internet-of-things company Aeotec. The new hub normally costs $125, but Samsung is offering existing users a dirty $35 cheat upgrade price.
For users who need to buy a new hub, migrating between hubs in the SmartThings ecosystem is a nightmare. Samsung doesn’t provide any migration program, so you’ll need to unpair each individual smart device from your old hub to pair it with the new one. This means you’ll have to do a job on every light switch, bulb, outlet, and sensor, and you’ll have to do the same for every other smart thing you’ve bought over the years. Doing this on any device is a hassle that usually requires you to look up the manual to look up the secret “exclusion” entry, which is often some arcane Konami code. Imagine holding the top button on a paddle light for seven seconds until a status light starts flashing, then opening the SmartThings app to unpair it.
Samsung is also discontinuing the “SmartThings Link for Nvidia Shield” dongle, which allows users to turn Android TV devices into SmartThings Hubs. We are now in phase two of Samsung’s SmartThings armageddon. Phase one was in October when Samsung killed off the Classic SmartThings app and replaced it with a Byzantine disaster of an app it developed in-house. Phase three will see the closure of the SmartThings Groovy IDE, an excellent feature that allows community members to develop SmartThings device handlers and complex automation apps. Even if a piece of hardware didn’t officially support SmartThings, the IDE let the community develop its own support for the device. There’s no detailed timeline for phase three, but shutting down community device handlers is sure to break things.
Samsung’s goals with all this turmoil are unclear. The company isn’t just killing off the OG SmartThings Hub; it takes away much of the appeal of the SmartThings ecosystem. Before Samsung started wreaking havoc, SmartThings represented the largest smart home community out there, and complicated yet powerful tools like the Groovy IDE allowed the community to fill in software gaps. With Samsung proving to be an unstable steward of the platform, many users are moving to the self-hosted Home Assistant.