Insteon Is Back, Do you even know that is? You do if you know anything about home automation.
THE SITUATION REPORT
Sometime in April of this year (2022), Irvine California based Smart Home and Insteon shut down, Towards the end of April 2022, they finally posted a note online with a brief explanation. The CEO cleared his name from Linked In and walked away from the business. The note read in part that SmartHome/Insteon were in receivership of sorts and they thought they had a buyer. Clearly the sale didn’t happen.
A few months later, rumor was that some fans got together and were attempting to resuscitate at least the Insteon part. Someone else quickly grabbed the smarthome.com domain. The new Insteon owners got the Insteon website back up and are working diligently to get back up to speed. As of today it appears that they may even have products available.
THE BUSINESS PROBLEM
My last five homes all had Insteon lighting, and electrical control. The first had an HAI panel as the “master controller”, The next had OnQ, and the last three UDI/ELK to take the skills of the lights up a notch. Elk is the alarm panel and UDI is Universal Devices. UDI makes a great little box that lets anyone add real logic to very basic Insteon, Z-Wave, X-10 and PLB lighting along with many other products. The issue is that you need a bit of logical skills to think through what you really want your house to do. For instance when I am in bed and the alarm goes off, the house lights up everywhere except my bedroom. I maintain the advantage of visibility and darkness at the same time.
When I owned a Crestron dealership many years ago, that house was awesome, and the automation system was crazy expensive. Crestron and most other high end control systems survive because you need them and your dealer to keep your stuff running. Honestly with an Amazon Echo and my iSY, the system I have now does everything the Crestron did for the price of a Crestron touch screen. I’ll take slightly cheaper looking buttons to save 90% and have a control interface that can be taught in a couple of hours to non-nerds. I’d love to see higher quality “Architectural Grade” switches that don’t require dealer installation.
Once these systems are built and working, the customer may vanish for years. The only thing they need is warranty service. With larger pro grande control, anytime anything is upgraded in lighting, audio, video or security, the dealer shows up and hands you a bill. My friends in the industry think I am crazy for supporting consumer operated and managed equipment.
THE VALUE PROPOSITION
Realizing that they needed more than a light switch in everyones house, SmartHome/Insteon came up with the “Hub”. And then they signed the death certificate by making a deal with a warehouse store. I bought a couple of the kits at a warehouse store. Within days the new Hubs were at the hazardous waste recycling center. Yes the interface was slightly prettier than what I built on my iSY 994 Pro, but it couldn’t schedule, randomize or use logic like my ISY. I bought three more kits for my parents home because it saved me $250 over buying the switches individually from Smart Home. Having observed a couple of manufactures go bankrupt after making a deal with a big box store, I was worried about Insteon then and loaded up on spares. No I am not selling them.
If you haven’t read “Crossing the Chasm”, it is a great book about technology and it fits the home control market perfectly. Home Control hasn’t “crossed the chasm” and the Smart Home/Insteon collapse is just one example if it failing miserably when it tries. Looking backwards down the audio video and consumer level home control market there is a littering of failed ideas, brands and products. I add audio and video because we all use remotes right? My own family still doesn’t get the value of a good control system. I love changing the lights for movie time with my voice or my Universal remote.
Whose Side Are You On?
There is a big question about the model. Do you protect dealers and require consumers to buy through a dealer? Insteon moved to the consumer mass market years ago, and left dealers to buy online just like their customers. Logitech did both for many years with their higher end universal remotes. At some point you needed to be a dealer to get the programming software. If you wanted the coolest remote you paid for it big time. Honestly it is a poor way to do business, and part of why no one crosses the chasm in the industry. Most people in my neighborhood see my automated lighting as a silly toy. This is another problem for the home automation industry. Oh wait, I just said there is a value proposition issue.
Somewhere is the middle ground, like satellite TV or most alarm panels. A pro installs the system or helps the “prosumer” and then the owner owns it. Now we are back to the question of “how does the industry keep making money from it’s loyal customers? How many ways can a light switch go on and off? Having subscription services is one of the few ways the industry can survive, but without standards and agreements as to who does what it will never happen. Pro’s have to find a way to justify labor costs that will keep them in business, when the consumer can buy the products online for the same price.
Subscription fatigue is a growing issue, especially as the Fed tightens lending and raises rates. More people are watching their budget again. Do I really need to pay $39 a year or more to have my lights talk to alexa? What about my Amazon Prime or Google Home subscription. Disney+ is now coming up with more ways to charge me and my cell phone bill just went up.
While Insteon is back technically speaking, I think it is still in the recovery room, I know there are a lot of you wondering about UDI and other brands in the business. Shoot even old X-10 is back again. No one can predict the future but right now everything looks good. For me, the worst case is if Insteon doesn’t make it out of the recovery room, I’ll find similar Z-Wave or PLB or even go back to X-10. My iSY doesn’t care, and with a few keystrokes, my system at home will just keep doing what it is doing quite well.
The real question for the home automation market is this. Will anyone find a way to get the technology across the chasm? The key is going to be a collaborative effort. Yes every system can talk to the Tesla App, but that isn’t the problem. The problem is compatibility. No one wants to get stuck with a brand or technology they can’t depend on. After all the light switch that came with your house still works doesn’t it?