Shameful: Insteon looks dead – just like the smart homes of its users

Enlarge / The light puns write themselves.

Insteon

The smart home company Insteon is gone.

The entire company appears to have abruptly shut down just before the weekend, destroying users’ cloud-dependent smart home setups without warning. Users say the service has been down for three days despite the company’s status page saying “All services online”. Company forums are down and no one is responding to users on social media.

As Internet of Things reporter Stacey Higginbotham points out, senior Insteon executives, including CEO Rob Lilleness, have removed the company from their LinkedIn accounts. In the time it took to write this article, Lilleness also removed his name and picture from his LinkedIn profile. It seems like this is the most communication longtime Insteon customers will receive.

Insteon is (or more likely “was”) a smart home company that made a variety of internet-connected lights, thermostats, plugs, sensors, and of course the Insteon Hub. At the heart of the company was Insteon’s proprietary network protocol, which was a competitor to more popular and licensed alternatives such as Z-Wave and Zigbee. Insteon’s “unique and patented dual-mesh technology” used both a 900MHz radio protocol and Powerline networks, which the company says create a more reliable network than Wi-Fi alone. The Insteon hub would connect all your gear to the internet and allow the use of the Insteon app.

An Insteon hub.
Enlarge / An Insteon hub.

Insteon

Insteon technically has a parent company, Smartlabs Inc., although Smartlabs and Insteon appear to have the same executives. Smartlabs Inc. owns the website smarthome.com, which primarily sells Insteon devices, and in fact licenses the Nokia name for “Nokia Smart Lighting”, which only appears to be rebranded to Insteon devices.

In 2017, Smartlabs Inc. was acquired by Richmond Capital Partners, a private investment firm founded by Rob Lilleness, and Lilleness was installed as CEO. Insteon has removed the blog post about this acquisition from its website, but archive.org still has the announcement. Insteon’s biggest tech news splash in 2015 was being one of two launch partners for Apple’s HomeKit.

With the servers down, the Insteon app seems worthless, and users’ automations and schedules no longer work. Many of Insteon’s wall switches were real electrical switches, so the worst thing that will ever happen is that they become dumb switches. Even without the Insteon server and app, Insteon has been reconstructing the protocol for some time, making it possible to control the devices locally without the app. It’s also possible to pipe that local control into another platform’s hub controller, giving back the smarts and remote access to your smart home.

Home Assistant is probably the most popular upgrade path – it’s an open-source home server that you control, so nothing like this can ever happen to you again. OpenHab is another open-source option with Insteon support, and a Homebridge plugin can get Insteon to work with Apple’s HomeKit.

Insteon was popular for these multi-button switches.
Enlarge / Insteon was popular for these multi-button switches.

Insteon

If you are a spurned Insteon user looking to move your hardware to another system, then by all means do not factory reset your Insteon hub. Apparently contacting Insteon’s servers is an important step of the initial setup, so this may fail now. Home Assistant has already updated its Insteon page with a warning to users. It is reading:

The Insteon company shut down and switched off its cloud from April 2022. Under no circumstances should you factory reset your device as it is unrecoverable.

Users of the /r/insteon subreddit are just processing their collective grief, and with the official forums dead, this is probably the largest community for help. Everyone is in the same boat and exploring many porting options.

A company closure, especially a smart home company closure, is never easy. Many clients have invested hundreds of dollars in this formerly multi-million dollar ecosystem; Suddenly closing a store like a bunch of late-night scammers would be an unacceptable way of treating paying customers. Hopefully there will be more communication.

The company could have given everyone a month’s notice that it was going out of business. It might have open source code or published documentation to help users run on another system. It could have given forum members the opportunity to organize themselves on another site.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Insteon committed the mortal sin of smart home companies: failing customers – and their equipment.

New Technology Era

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