Can you take it with you? Uninstalling the internet of things

While everyone at CES is attempting to entice consumers into buying a bunch of connected gizmos, I thought we should talk about the flip side of such acquisitiveness — namely what does the life cycle of these devices look like and what do you do when they break or are no longer wanted? A corollary to this … of the installed $250 thermostats or the $60 light bulbs, what comes with you if you have to move?

This issue came up for me when I sent my review unit for the Philips Hue BR-30 can lights back, having purchased new Hue lights to give my husband for Christmas. I had planned to keep the original bridge (the thing that connects to the router and connects the lights to the internet) and just swap out the lights because I didn’t want to have to adjust my settings across the two hubs, two apps and one service (IFTTT) that is currently connected to that bridge.

Sadly, I discovered that if you take out a Hue bulb the only way to remove it from the home network is to do a hard reset of the bridge. For me this was a minor inconvenience since I was swapping out my entire Hue system and such a reset was always a probability, but when I went online to discover the way to remove a bulb from the network I discovered the stories of people whose Hue bulbs broke or stopped working mysteriously and found themselves having to reset their bridge and relink their Hue bulbs across whatever services they were using.

Do you unscrew these $60 light bulbs when you move?

Do you unscrew these $60 light bulbs when you move?

And based on my home hub testing experience, many device makers and hubs aren’t quite there with the tools to seamlessly remove devices from the network. Especially if a device breaks, and you can’t unpair the radios manually from a bridge or hub device, the consumer might be stuck with a hard reset. And if you’re like me and have a bunch of gadgets, that’s a pretty painful prospect (manually re-adding a dozens of devices is not fun). The alternative is to have a dead device still configured in software on your network.

And speaking of those Hue lights, at $60 and with a 20-some year life span, they got me thinking about what to do with them if I move. I’m in a home and hope to stay here for at least another nine or ten years, but when I eventually leave, do I take them with me? Without the bridge they are useless, so would I leave my future home buyer with the bridge? Am I nuts to think about a device that hangs off my router as something that’s going to work in 10 years?

For someone in an apartment the Hue lights are an easy way people start adding connectivity in their homes, and apartment dwellers move even more often. I assume they bring their lights with them? I have never before unscrewed a light from a fixture to take it with me, but maybe that changes. And what about a $250 Nest thermostat or the $50 Wi-Fi switch plate or the three $50 Lutron switch plates I installed? My $200 door lock? My connected doorbell that I want so badly?

First, it may be insane to think that what is essentially a consumer gadget will even last 10 years to have this become an issue. It’s also fair to say that most apartment dwellers will avoid this issue because of a landlord that won’t let them install a device (although there are the Hue lights). Yet, even if I leave these devices behind I will still have to contend with not only setting up a new network in my new home, but also establishing the links and services between that new network and the variety of apps and services I’ll accumulate over time.

The bottom line is we need better ways to remove devices on the networks today, but also that if we connect our physical and digital lives together, the disruptions in our real lives (moves, divorces, etc) will have a greater impact on our online lives because they are increasingly linked.