It’s no secret that SmartThings has been in a state of transition for several years now. At the Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) in 2017(!), Samsung announced it would combine all of its IoT platforms under the SmartThings Cloud. In the 2.5 years since, Samsung has been overhauling the whole SmartThings ecosystem from the ground up. Most long-time SmartThings customers have seen the effect of this in the move to the new mobile app. But over the years, SmartThings has also been creating new developer tools.
SDC 2018 and 2019 both featured many new tools from SmartThings for developers to integrate devices and create automations. Meanwhile, the legacy platform and mobile apps that have been around from before Samsung’s acquisition of SmartThings have been running alongside the new platform. That is, until later this year and into 2021. SmartThings announced last week they are ready to finally start turning off parts of the legacy mobile app and developer portals.
SmartThings has announced this upcoming change through several sources. There is a post in the community forum about it, an article on Business Insider (yes, strange), and Stacey on IoT has an article and podcast about it. None are particularly heavy on details at this point, but we commend SmartThings for giving plenty of notice to its community and developers that this is incoming (ahem, Wink). We recommend listening to Stacey Higginbotham’s podcast if you want to hear more details and an interview with SmartThings’ head of engineering, Mark Benson. We’re going to summarize the changes here, and then discuss what we’ll be looking at to determine if this migration is successful or not.
Changes Coming to the SmartThings Platform
Change: Samsung’s overarching theme is to make SmartThings easier to use for the mass-market consumer. They want to offer out-of-the-box solutions that help consumers find value in using SmartThings (and therefore buy Samsung TVs, appliances, etc).
Success Criteria: The new SmartThings app is already a good step in the ease-of-use direction. It is generally easier to find things and has an easy to use “if/then” style automation creator. SmartThings has 62 million users now, and the traditional hub user is probably the minority compared to TV and appliance owners that would use SmartThings to set up their new Samsung gadget. SmartThings will need to balance ease of use while not abandoning its hub users who tend to be more technical. We would also like to see more in-house SmartApps like SmartThings Home Monitor and Smart Lock Guest Access.
Change: Samsung wants SmartThings to integrate with everyone. Related to the item above, this makes it easy for users and removes compatibility anxiety.
Success Criteria: New developer tools, like SmartThings Schema, have been successful with companies like TP-Link Kasa, August, and Globe. They use them to integrate their products with SmartThings. But there are still some big names left running legacy Groovy integrations. SmartThings needs to convince (or help) companies like Ring, Ecobee, and Lutron to rewrite their integrations using the new tools so they still work after the migration. They also still need to integrate with some big names like Nest and Wyze if they truly want to work with everyone.
Change:The SmartThings Classic app will be retired by the end of Q3/beginning of Q4 2020.
Success Criteria: This is probably the source of the most heartburn for current SmartThings users, and it will be one of the first legacy items to go. Until recently, SmartThings Classic was the only way to see custom capabilities for community-created devices. Samsung has recently added support to build custom capabilities in the new app. In order to retire Classic, SmartThings needs to encourage and help device handler creators adapt their code to work in the new app. This could be harder than it seems. Some developers may not use SmartThings anymore, and some users may not realize that code needs to be updated.
Change: Older SmartThings hubs will no longer be supported.
Success Criteria: First, we need to know which models. The v1 hub is likely to get dropped, but the Nvidia Shield Link and ADT Hub are now 10+ firmware versions behind, so they might also be at risk (more on this below). To make matters worse, SmartThings infamously offers no hub backup or migration utilities. To avoid angering their oldest and most loyal customers, SmartThings needs to release a migration utility to upgrade hubs. But we have a sneaking suspicion this may not be technically feasible with the large gap in firmware revisions. If that’s the case, then at a minimum Samsung needs to offer those users a hefty discount on a new hub.
Change SmartThings-branded hardware will cease to exist. Instead, SmartThings will be partnering with manufacturers to make compatible devices and embed SmartThings hub functionality in their devices.
Success Criteria: This one is hard to get a read on. The Business Insider article makes it seem like SmartThings-branded hardware will cease to exist altogether. Stacey’s article says that SmartThings will continue to offer the hub and maybe some other products as well. We’re inclined to believe it’s the latter. Either way, SmartThings is definitely looking to expand its platform and act more as a service provider. We saw this push when we covered SDC 2019.
SmartThings not offering self-branded sensors may not be a big deal since they don’t manufacture them anyway. What concerns us is embedding the hub in other companies’ hardware. The two current examples of this, the Nvidia Shield Link and ADT/SmartThings Security Hub, are currently over 10 firmware revisions behind the in-house v2 and v3 hub. SmartThings needs to be able to update hub firmware independently of the third party hardware it’s running on. This will be critical to avoiding fragmentation and rolling new features out to all users.
Change: The Groovy IDE will be retired in 2021.
Success Criteria: The Groovy integrated development environment (IDE) is the legacy development platform that experienced SmartThings users have come to love. Now that the new platform is nearing completion, Groovy will be retired. Groovy IDE serves several important functions that the new platform will need to handle:
1) Viewing hub and device logs
2) Accessing hub utilities (reboot, disable, and enable radios, etc.)
3) Viewing Zigbee and Z-Wave mesh routing information
4) Easily creating new device handlers and SmartApps
That last item will be the biggest hurdle. The Groovy IDE provides an easy way for power users to copy and paste code provided by community developers. It also hosts the custom SmartApp code, which has to be costing Samsung some hefty AWS bills to run. SmartThings needs to offer some tools and guidance on how developers can easily distribute their code in the future. Asking power users to start setting up their own servers to host custom automations and SmartApps is a big leap. It may also discourage smaller developers that don’t want (or know how) to host and distribute their own SmartApps and code.
Migrating the bigger community SmartApps, like WebCoRE and Echo Speaks, could also be a challenge. Those SmartApps have years’ worth of work put into them, a lot of users, and seemingly no effort put into the new platform. If developers can’t convert them to the new platform in time, SmartThings should whitelist these to keep the user base happy and allow the unpaid developers time to convert them over.
SmartThings does stress that they remain committed to their active community and developers. They say this is the first step in an ongoing series of communications as the platform transitions. We remain optimistic about the future of SmartThings. The new platform promises many benefits like reduced latency, local processing, and improved reliability. If they can pull off the transition successfully, SmartThings will cement itself as a leader in DIY home automation. Stay tuned to the DMZ and SmartThingsBeat Twitter accounts as we track more details about these changes as they are revealed.