Exciting News! We Pulled the Plug On Your Smart Home Hub

On Friday of last week (Oct 24 or “Devolve Friday” as it’s now known), visitors to the Revolv website were treated with the following headline: ”We want to share some exciting news with you. Revolv is now a Nest company.” Wow! Considering that Nest — the maker of the hugely popular Nest Learning Thermostat and the less-popular Nest Protect smoke/CO alarm — has one of the biggest corporate sugar daddies in the world (i.e., Google), that’s incredibly exciting news. As I stated in a recent review of the Revolv Hub Home Automation Controller: “The Revolv Hub is a powerhouse that looks to be relatively future-proof from a hardware standpoint. A great choice for a newbie.” With the crazy amount of money Google/Nest could throw at it, Revolv could evolve into the epitome of a smart home system hub.

Moving down the Revolv home page, however, readers soon discovered that the exciting news is actually only exciting to the honchos at Revolv. That’s because of the answer to the question all the smart home early adopters who ponied up the $299 for the Revolv Hub were loudly asking — “What happens to my Revolv service?”

Get ready for it. The excitement might be too much for you:

For existing customers, the service will continue to be available and we will continue to offer customer support. However, Revolv will not be made available to new customers.

In other words, if you’ve been thinking about buying a Revolv Hub as the starting point for building your smart home, you don’t have to think about it anymore. As John Davidson at Financial Review recently wrote, Google buys Revolv, shoots it in the head. Evidently, Nest doesn’t give a crap about the Revolv Hub. They want the expertise of the folks who designed the Hub. On the other hand, maybe they felt left out after Samsung bought SmartThings in August and wanted to have a hub all of their own. Thankfully, Samsung didn’t kill off the SmartThings Hub. In fact, as far as I can tell, SmartThings seems to be cranking along pretty much as before.

Irony abounds in the entire situation. To begin with, the very day Revolv/Nest announced the killer acquisition, Revolv released a long-promised firmware update that turned on the ZigBee radios in all the Hubs it had previously sold. This sort of built-in upgrade potential was a big reason why I felt that the Revolv Hub “look[ed] to be relatively future-proof from a hardware standpoint.” (I just didn’t take into account the fact that the company itself might not be future-proof.) Revolv also released an Android app update that day.

There’s also the issue of Revolv’s much-touted Lifetime Subscription that was included with the purchase of a Revolv Hub and promised to provide ongoing remote server access, firmware updates, and GeoSense automation services (based on the GPS in your smartphone) for, well, a lifetime. Revolv promoted the Lifetime Subscription as a key benefit to its Hub and part of the justification for the $299 price of the Hub.

Caveat emptor, my friends. Just as with lifetime warranties and lifetime guarantees, a lifetime subscription only lasts the lifetime of the company issuing it.

To be fair, Nest/Revolv says, “For existing customers, the service will continue to be available and we will continue to offer customer support.” What they didn’t say, though, was, “Don’t expect a hell of a lot of improvements or updates to the platform.” Although no one at Revolv has told me this, I’ve got a gut feeling that the remaining three inactive antennas in the Revolv Hubs are going to remain inactive.

Needless to say, the whole situation has pissed off a lot of Revolv owners who haven’t been shy about venting their feelings about the gutting of Revolv by Google/Nest. One of the most pointed posts on the Revolv Community Forum was from tpfenner:

I honestly feel like todays announcement went against everything we were lead to believe Revolv stood for. That by buying Revolv we had selected the "future proof" company and were going to continue to grow. I believe this so much so that on top of my $300 hub I bought about $400 of switches, controllers and locks. I was about to buy a Nest thermostat (ironic). I think we were all led to believe something that clearly isn't happening. I've only had my hub for 2 months!! I am asking for my money back from Revolv. I think we all should. Just because they say they are going to keep it running, they also said that they were going to keep making updates and unlock the other radios. This is crazy and I think we should all ask for a refund.

dansor weighed in with:

I can only assume that the future of the Revolv is to stagnate. Given the lack of any details other than the discontinuation of Revolv as a product, it appears that my $300 investment and evangelization of this product are for naught. A friend JUST bought one specifically on my recommendation. I can only hope he's able to return it, as it appears to have no future.

And please don't give me a line about the Revolv continuing to function in its current state. I did not purchase a Revolv for its current feature set. There are competitors out there with comparable or better feature sets for half the price. I bought this product for the vision of the company as a unifying force in home automation and its apparent enthusiasm to grow as a company, product, and platform.

As a consumer, one of the problems of walking on the cutting edge is the high likelihood that at some point you’re going to bleed. Sometimes new technology doesn’t catch on. If you have an HD DVD player sitting in a closet at home, you know the feeling. Dealing with small startup companies is risky, too, as some people have painfully discovered after supporting much-delayed projects on Kickstarter. (I’m looking at you, August Smart Lock…) But it’s one thing if the company that makes the portable wok/ham radio/margarita maker you love so much goes out of business next year. It’s something totally different when the company that made your smart home hub that disappears.

After all, smart home hubs don’t do anything by themselves. They need an infrastructure of connected devices in place around the home in order to get things done. Revolv owners didn’t only buy the pricey Revolv Hub. They also went out and purchased smart locks, smart lights, smart thermostats (including Nest thermostats), smart sensors, and other compatible smart gadgets to use with their Revolv Hubs.

Of course, depending upon the communication protocols used by the smart devices, many of them will work with another manufacturer’s smart hub. So it’s not a total loss. But don’t forget that no smart home hub, Revolv’s Hub included, is plug-and-play. Revolv early adopters spent hours and hours programming and learning how to operate their Hubs.

It’s just so incredibly unbelievable and utterly disappointing that Nest put the brakes on Revolv with absolutely no warning. Sure, had Revolv declared bankruptcy and gone out of business, it would have been a sad event; and Revolv owners would have been out of luck. That’s a risk you take when you buy anything from any company. But this isn’t one of those cases. Instead, we have one company gobbling up another company, and then casually flipping the bird at the smaller company’s customers who are left holding the bag — or, in this instance, the Hub.

I don’t know what, if any, legal action out-of-luck Revolv owners can take. The fortunate ones who made their purchases from Revolv or another seller and are still within the time limit for returning the Hub and getting a refund can recoup their investment by going that route.

As Revolv’s Josh posted on the support site:

I know that this is a frustrating experience. Whenever someone buys a product from a small company there is always the chance that the company will be acquired by a larger company and changes will take place. We appreciate that you supported us with your purchase and we hope that you will continue to support our vision for the conscious smart home by following us in the Works With Nest program.

If you are within the 30-day window you can return your hub. Email us at help@revolv.com with a copy of your receipt and we will begin processing your return.

But what about the folks who purchased a Revolv Hub more than 30 days ago? Is “We appreciate that you supported us with your purchase and we hope that you will continue to support our vision for the conscious smart home…” really the best that Revolv and its new overlords can do?

Here’s what I think. Less than a year ago, Google paid $3.2 billion in cash to buy Nest Labs. Not long after that, Nest dropped $555 million (also in cash) to buy Dropcam. I’m not an accountant, but even I can tell that’s a lot of money. It’s certainly quite a bit more than the $299 each Revolv owner spent when he or she bought a Hub. Would it really destroy the company(ies) for Google/Nest/Revolv to refund early-adopting Hub owners their three hundred bucks?

There’s more to this than solely recouping goodwill among its customer base. Revolv very aggressively marketed itself as a premiere smart home hub. Nest is even more recognizable when it comes to premiere, expensive smart devices. What does it say to people who are interested in putting together a smart home system when two of the most iconic smart home hub/device companies shutter a platform on a moment’s notice and leave their customers with little but a server connection and a support site?

Google/Nest/Revolv should do the right thing for their customers. More importantly, they should do the right thing for the future of the smart home industry: offer to buy back all the Revolv Hubs customers no longer want—at the invoiced price. Some folks will still be disappointed, but it should go a long ways towards easing the hard feelings of Revolv Hub owners—possibly even the feelings of Techindahauz, who wrote, “It's just a money grab at our expense. Total bs. I hope your yacht sinks.”

And while they’re at it, they should offer refunded Revolv Hub owners significant discounts on Nest Thermostats and Dropcam home monitoring cameras. (That’s in addition to the refunds, not in place of.)

Doing the right thing isn’t always the cheapest thing. But in this case, buying back all of the existing Revolv Hubs isn’t only the right thing to do. Longterm it’ll be the least expensive thing for Google/Nest/Revolv to do because it’ll help build confidence in the smart home as a legitimate concept that homeowners should invest some of their money into creating.

Otherwise, as adamfox so eloquently put it, the whole episode is “a kick in the balls.”

Rob Sabin's picture
Great write up on this development, Darryl, and some good points made. First adopters do often get caught holding the bag; it's the price we pay for wanting to tinker early and often. If a company goes out of business, well that's just hard luck, thanks for playin'. But this is an entirely different situation. Google and Nest could offer a buy-back program for those who now want to abandon the platform (a reasonable response to being orphaned), and if the whole installed base took them up on it the dollar value would amount to pocket lint -- not pocket change, mind you, but pocket lint -- for this company. Unless they can promise that the existing hubs will function in some useful way going forward, they should do the right thing.