Samsung + SmartThings: Will the Internet of Things Stay Open?

Smart-home hub maker SmartThings acquired by home appliance giant Samsung

2 min read
A house with a man a woman and a baby in the front yard. Several icons are overlaid on the house.
Photo: SmarthThings

This week the smart home and “Internet of Things” company SmartThings announced it had been acquired by Samsung. Since its 2012 founding, SmartThings has been one of the more aggressively inclusive companies in the emerging smart home marketplace, selling a US $99 smart home hub and hosting an open community of developers to connect as many third-party household gadgets as possible—water heaters,sprinklers, garage door openers, TVs, and more.

And since announcing the buyout, SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson has been a conspicuous presence on the SmartThings blog, responding to critical comments from SmartThings fans that the acquisition has generated.

Terms of Samsung’s purchase haven’t been announced, though a widely cited estimate of the pricetag—originated by TechCrunch last month—is $200 million. According to Hawkinson’s announcement yesterday, SmartThings will become “an independent company within Samsung’s Open Innovation Center group.”

Photo: SmartThings

Officials from Samsung’s Open Innovation Center, in Palo Alto—where SmartThings will be relocating from their current Washington, D.C. base—have made similar promises of a hands-off policy.

However, from the responses SmartThings’ announcement has generated, not all appear to be convinced. One commenter wrote:

I'm one of the early supporters on Kickstarter, and it's an investment I never ever regretted. [I] would be very disappointed when despite best intentions SmartThings moves towards a ‘Samsung Only’ product.

But Hawkinson responded, within an hour after this comment was posted: “Have no fears. SmartThings = Open.”

At issue in most of the criticism is SmartThings device-agnostic approach to connecting household items like coffee makers and thermostats to its SmartThings hub, which in turn syncs with a smartphone and tablet app.

However, with Samsung in a heated smartphone patent war with Apple, one commenter wondered if SmartThings’ new parent company might shut down any iOS app development.

Hawkinson was equally adamant, though, in his response to this professed concern.

“No forcing,” Hawkinson wrote. “Full steam ahead on iOS and much more. If you don't believe our words, watch and believe based on our actions in the coming months and years.”

Another user wondered if the Samsung buyout could mean SmartThings would drop its free service and instead charge monthly fees — like competitors Iris Home Management or Peq.

I will continue to support SmartThings and all of their products. However if they start charging (monthly or otherwise) for service, unfortunately I will need to abandon the product.

Hawkinson worked to quell that fear as well: “We always intend to maintain and enhance the free service, even as premium services and apps emerge from the marketplace,” he posted. “No changes there now or in the plans!”

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