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Tech Tips: What happens when smart tech support shuts down?

What happens when smart tech companies stop supporting their devices? Do consumers have options if they’re stuck with products they can no longer use?

One of the downsides of smart home technology is that it’s highly dependent on manufacturer support. Without the backend functionality provided by cloud servers, these devices can’t function. But companies don’t last forever and neither do products. New models come out and make old ones obsolete. Companies go out of business or are purchased by other companies that discontinue old products. There are any number of reasons why your smart home gadget might stop working even though the device itself is fine.

Let’s look at the cautionary tale of a company that makes – or used to make – smart dryer devices. As reported by Ars Technica, SmartDry was a unique and useful product that let consumers know when their clothes were dry via smart phone notification. But when the manufacturer closed, they discontinued SmartDry, and notified users that they would be shutting down the servers, rendering the devices nonfunctional.

The problem isn’t isolated to small startups. A few years after Google bought smart device manufacturer Nest, they announced that they were pulling support for the popular Revolv smart hub. Like SmartDry, Revolv required a connection to the cloud to function, so lack of support meant that the devices became useless. To complicate matters, Google didn’t make the shutdown plans clear to Revolv users. The result was a public relations backlash as furious consumers complained.

All technology eventually becomes obsolete. Even with a manufacturer’s best efforts to continue product support, there will come a time when support is no longer feasible. Perhaps there are no longer spare parts made for the device, perhaps its technology isn’t compatible with newer tech standards, or perhaps it’s been supplanted by something else. So remember that no matter how much you originally paid for that smart home gadget, one day it’s going to be sitting on a shelf gathering dust (or hopefully sent for e-waste recycling).

How can consumers find smart tech that will be around for the long haul? One way is to shop wisely. Stick with well-known manufacturers and reputable startups. Study the product line and support options. Does the manufacturer state how long they will support the product? Do they communicate support options clearly to customers? Do they have a track record of yanking support for older products, or do they continue to offer resources for those who may be using obsolete models? Even if they no longer support older products directly, they may have documentation that allows you to do so yourself.

When shopping for bargains, remember that an older model isn’t always a good deal. Sometimes, you’ll find whole product lines available for a fraction of their original cost because there’s a new model out. If the manufacturer has a clearly defined timeline for supporting the previous model, that could be a good bargain. But otherwise, you may be better off buying the latest model, since it will be supported longer.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and consumer technology specialist offering advice and help for home computer users. For weekly tips and news by email, subscribe to her Simple Tech Tips blog at