Another one bites the dust..
Insteon, an early pioneer of smart home lighting controls, has gone out of business.
Not exactly earth-shattering news, companies fail all the time. But this happened with no advance notice at all.
Not even a few days, let alone a week. Typically, home automation companies give months, or even a year, advance notice when they are discontinuing product lines, selling the company, or otherwise exiting.
Your Insteon hub may only partially work, or possibly not work at all now.
A new sleazy low point for personal greed
I’ll ignore the business, ethical, and moral issues of leaving your customers high and dry with no notice or alternatives.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to minimize the horrible greed, bad business decisions, and severe impact on existing customers.
It’s a mess. But there are a lot of bloggers, news sources, and other pundits already discussing the end of the Insteon hub ad nauseam.
I do want to mention that the Insteon CEO Rob Lilleness and management stooped to a new low trying to hide their involvement.
The CEO, who owned the investment company that purchased Insteon’s parent company, SmartLabs, has removed all mention of his name from all online information and his personal LinkedIn profile.
In what can only be interpreted as a calculated effort to hide from the world, he changed his professional LinkedIn profile scrubbing any mention of ever being involved with Insteon/Smartlabs and he even changed his name to the cryptic “Ro L.” on his profile making it harder for anyone to search for him.
My history with Insteon hub
I started with Insteon as many did – a hobbyist interested in fooling around with home automation.
For a while, Insteon was an early pioneer and offered and affordable selection of dimmers, switches, and specialty devices for building an automation system piece by piece.
I never used the actual Insteon hub controller and thankfully opted for a 3rd party software solution running on a computer connected to an Insteon “modem” to send the signals to all their devices.
To be clear – When I decided to pursue a professional career designing and installing smart home systems and started DoItForMe.Solutions I had already moved on to Lutron for all lighting controls and never sold or installed Insteon to any clients.
But having started with Insteon, I do have a warm spot for their tech and there are still one or two devices installed in my home even today.
Will the Insteon hub still work?
The pragmatic concern for existing customers is will the hundreds (or possibly thousands) of dollars of Insteon gear they have purchased and installed still work?
The news articles on Insteon’s demise have been at best vague and at worst completely in error in writing about this crucial point.
Insteon gear has a long history and evolved over time. Unlike many inexpensive products today, Insteon was not dependent on home local area networks (LANs) or the wide area network we now call the Internet or simply “the cloud”.
Insteon gear was unique in that with some rudimentary physical buttons and switches on the devices themselves you could install and program them without any computer, smartphone, or tablet.
In fact, Insteon products existed before even Wi-Fi or the iPhone existed and the Internet was still in it’s infancy.
Salvaging existing Insteon hub installations
All is not lost if you have Insteon products in your home.
One of the more popular items has been the Insteon combo fan/light controller for ceiling fans.
Even now, there isn’t a good alternative and that’s one of the reasons this product is the last Insteon device I still have.
The Digital Media Zone has a good write-up on how to keep using the Insteon fan controller by using an Insteon in-wall keypad or an Insteon wireless remote control without a hub, controller, 3rd party software, or an Internet connection.
Why most Insteon customers are stranded
As Insteon evolved, customers wanted more capability for scheduling, remote access when away from home, and more integration with other products.
So Insteon added their own hardware Insteon hub products and provided cloud servers in data centers that linked Insteon devices to Amazon Alexa for voice control and other cloud servers.
With the sudden death of Insteon, all these servers were abruptly turned off.
All Insteon customers that relied on using cloud-connected hubs or services found themselves out of luck.
Not totally dead in the water
Insteon hardware devices such as light dimmers and switches don’t need the Insteon hub, Wi-Fi, or Internet connection to work as a regular dimmer.
You can still press the button or paddle on the dimmer and the lights can still be manually controlled.
You might think this is a “duh” moment, but bear with me. With many computerized devices, graceful basic operation is not always guaranteed.
Fortunately, most, but not all, light switches and dimmers will continue to operate as a simple dumb switch. This is extremely important as it means in an emergency you can still operate your lights.
It also means that until you decide on an alternate or migration path, you don’t have to run around and rip all the dimmers from your walls installing basic dumb $10 dimmers or switches on an emergency basis.
Some alternatives to the Insteon hub are still available
Insteon works with several 3rd party hubs and controllers. If you were already using one of these systems, and not relying on any cloud or direct control from Insteon itself, count yourself lucky.
In this case, your Insteon products will continue to work, for now. In the long run, replacement or spare parts will be problematic and you’ll want to plan a migration or replacement, but you have some time.
The manufacturers of 3rd party hubs and software systems that can control Insteon products are scrambling to provide step-by-step instructions and additional information to help Insteon customers keep running.
So if you are affected, or will soon be affected by the Insteon shutdown, now is a good time to research your options.
Some of these alternative hubs and controllers for Insteon devices still need an Insteon modem or interface controller to operate. That hardware is no longer available for sale so the used market on eBay and elsewhere has become the only alternative.
Time to move on?
Continue limping along, or make a complete change?
Nobody likes spending money they didn’t plan on. If you are an existing Insteon customer, I encourage you to explore all the options including completely replacing your Insteon gear with newer and better products from other companies.
Alternatives such as Lutron Caseta or Lutron RA2 Select are modular solutions. You can migrate slowly by replacing a few devices at a time without having the time and expense of replacing everything all at once.