Some time ago, I published a story on how Linus Sebastian, from the very popular Linus Tech Tips YouTube channel, was using Home Assistant to smarten up his new home. Love him or hate him, this was and still is a net positive for the larger Home Assistant community. With over 20 million subscribers across multiple channels, this not only meant that Home Assistant was going to be introduced to many new users, but also gave us someone with the power to push companies into doing better.
I can’t quantify the first claim, as Home Assistant Analytics only started rolling out in the same month LTT published the first video on the subject. But, with over 1.8 million views, many will have heard of Home Assistant for the first time during that video. What we do have, however, is evidence of what such a powerful person can (hopefully) achieve.
It all started with a light switch
The backbone of Linus’ smart home is Z-Wave, and as his home is being renovated to a large degree, installing Z-Wave light switches from the get go was the logical way to go. His model of choice was one from Jasco, which features a built-in motion sensor. Despite not necessarily needing the motion sensor in every location, he opted to just use the one model. All in all, this cost him around $10,000.
When it came to setting up the light switches, Linus and one of his team members, noticed that it wasn’t possible to decouple the motion sensor from the light switch or disable it altogether. The motion sensor would always be active. You can image how frustrating this might be in a bedroom when you’re trying to sleep and any motion the switch picks up turns on the lights. A quick search made it obvious that they were not the first to experience this issue, but luckily, Jasco had fixed it in a firmware update. But, where is that update?
As it turns out, Jasco is of the belief that because their firmware is proprietary, they can’t provide it to any end-users. The only solution they provide is to purchase a separate hub, which will update the switches. What if you can’t find that hub anywhere (as was the case with Linus)? You will be stuck with your out of date firmware. That is, unless you can find an integrator, who might be able to update the firmware, with no guarantees that it is the latest release.
Jasco concedes and everyone wins
Despite some saying his response to the situation sounds more like an adult hissy fit, I would likely have reacted similarly to how Linus did. If you ship an ostensibly broken product that can be fixed with a simple firmware update, you owe that firmware to your consumers. No matter whether they bought $10,000 or $1 worth of your product. What makes the whole situation even more frustrating is that they had the firmware ready. They didn’t need to specifically develop something for Linus’ use-case.
To be fair to him, that is also not what Linus wanted. From the very beginning, he requested the same treatment as any customer. His role in this was Linus the customer and not Linus from LTT. His goal was not to receive special treatment or to receive a one-time fix that would shut him up. It’s just that he has the following to make companies, such as Jasco, to react.
After a bit of back-and-forth, in which Home Assistant itself got involved with, it appears that Jasco has conceded. In a video, VP of Connected Home at Jasco, says that they are actively working with Home Assistant to find a solution on how to deliver firmware updates to their customers. It remains to be seen if this promise will come to fruition and when that will be, but it’s a start.
While I am pleased that Jasco reversed their stance on delivering firmware updates to customers, this whole situation does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. To start off with, the fact that it takes someone with a multi-million strong audience to make them listen shows what Jasco thinks of their average customer. Until Linus pointed out how anti-consumer their stance was, they didn’t listen. Linus was only one of many who had a complaint about a broken product.
You might say he and others should have researched the product they were intending to invest money into, first. But if you read that an updated firmware fixes the problems others have reported, it’s easy to brush off the negativity surrounding the product as something that the manufacturer has since fixed.
Sadly, this scenario isn’t something new to the smart home environment. Time and time again, we have seen walled gardens and companies abandoning their products the minute they ship. While it’s easy to say that we should just resort to using open hardware, in actuality that isn’t always possible. Linus specifically chose the light switch from Jasco because he liked the feel of it. It’s difficult to vote with your wallet when the alternatives don’t suit you. Unfortunately, this won’t be the last time we encounter such a situation, and it’s difficult to see any way of preventing it without massive public pressure.