Kill the Cloud: Why Smart Devices Shouldn't Require a Connection

The cloud is infecting our smart devices, and we need to exterminate it like the plague it is. It creates an artificial dependence on the companies that make the devices we rely on. As a consumer, when you buy a device, especially one designed to be installed in your home, you might be forgiven for assuming it will remain useful as long as its hardware doesn’t fail, but as Nest’s infamous shutdown of their Revolv hub demonstrates, you would be wrong. Any device that relies on a cloud service is useful only so long as it can connect to that service, so when the company that maintains it decides that it’s too expensive, you are simply out of luck. As consumers, it is our duty to ensure that, in the future, we don’t allow companies to force obsolescence on us, and the only way to do so is to refuse to buy cloud-dependent devices.

This is not to say that there aren’t devices that must rely on the cloud, or that a connection to an Internet server can’t be beneficial. Amazon’s Alexa, for example, would be all but useless if it didn’t have access the vast trove of information and potency that the Internet provides. On the other hand, there are very few devices that fit into this category, and thermostats, lights, and sprinklers are certainly are not among them. Of course, these devices benefit from cloud connectivity, such as providing remote irrigation management, but there is no need for them to rely on cloud services. A homeowner shouldn’t have to “dial out” to the Internet just to turn off the lights.

The reason all these devices rely on cloud services is simple: it provides recurring revenue for the creators of the device. Luckily, the solution is equally simple: release the cloud software open source. Most consumers will still willingly pay a monthly fee rather than host the software themselves, but when the next Nest happens, the software will be available and anyone will be able to set up their own cloud service to allow themselves, their friends, and even complete strangers to continue operating their cloud-reliant devices. What is more, those who are concerned about privacy or have poor connectivity can host the service in their own homes, making cloud-enabled devices a viable option in off-the-grid homes.

There is no reason our devices should fail when the companies that built them lose interest (or funding). As consumers, we must insist on open source cloud platforms that give us the means to control our own data and devices.

Written by Leo Tindall on 30 April 2016