No, Skydrop, I won’t pay $2 a month
A few days ago, I received an email from Skydrop, my smart sprinkler controller, that I almost glossed over. The title was “Introducing Skydrop Plus”. The email proceeded to tell me, very professionally, that I now must pay a monthly fee for what I’ve already paid for when purchasing my controller.
Reading through the email, the folks at Skydrop are essentially saying that they can no longer afford to let me use the app to control my sprinkler controller. The very reason to have a smart controller is now being taken away. Why? According to the FAQ that was in the email, they say:
This is a big concern whenever we purchase devices that are controlled using someone else’s servers (or what people call, The Cloud). We can get comfortable using them and when the server owners decide they no longer want to support, they can just pull the plug and we are left without any recourse. In this case, the company can decide to start charging a fee for something that was normally bundled with my original purchase price, and I have no recourse.
My frustration isn’t the $2/month ($17.99/year) fee. That’s easy. My frustration is that this is retro-active. For those that already bought in, features that we already paid for are being taken away. What can we actually do? Pay, or lose access.
Long Term Costs With IoT Devices
My frustration is that this is the lazy way out. For a company that had put out an innovative smart sprinkler controller, they had a hard time coming up with ways to monetize it long term? Let’s look at some examples of companies that charge you long term, if you want them to.
If you’ve read any article on my site, you’ve seen that the SmartThings hub is the center of my smart home. When you purchase the device, you get a hub that can connect to Z-Wave, Zigbee, and other WiFi enabled devices. You get an app that lets you monitor and control these devices from anywhere that you have internet, so long as your home also has internet. You can set up Rooms, Scenes, and many other things to allow you to continue to make your home smarter. This is a lot of data passed back and forth between your home and Samsung’s servers.
So how do they make money? If you pay Samsung, they will professionally monitor your home using a service called ADT Professional Monitoring Service. Not paying for this does not remove any functionality that they advertise on the box. You can still monitor everything using your phone, and you can still arm your home like you normally would. When an alarm is tripped, if you’re not paying for the service, your phone is the only thing that gets an alert.
I just recently picked up a Nest Outdoor Camera and Nest Doorbell. Out of the box, I get devices that record the area I’ve installed them in. If someone rings my doorbell, I get an alert on my phone that tells me someone is at the door. I can respond to those people. I can also view Live imagery and audio.
So how do they make money? Nest Aware is an optional subscription package that supplements the live capability of the devices. It adds between 5 to 30 day video history, depending on your package. It allows you to set Activity Zones. It allows you to save off clips. Without Nest Aware, you still have what you paid for, which is a Live camera.
I purchased this device in 2016 for $166. Since then, it’s worked decently. I’m not sure that the rain monitor part worked, and the app has had issues connecting to the server, but it kept my sprinkler schedule up and let me access it remotely when I needed to. Despite having the silver ring fall off and having to glue it back on, it’s been a decent sprinkler controller that provided remote access.
So how do they make money? By forcing all users to now pay for the following remote features:
- Changing the watering restrictions
- Watering schedule
- Adjusting zones and running zones manually
Without those features, what is the purpose of remote access going forward? All I can gather is that I can see what zones are running, or as the email puts it, “very basic features”. Since this controller was never able to interact with my SmartThings hub, there’s no sense in keeping another app that’s just providing me status on when things are running. It’s not like I can start or stop them if I want to change that status.
I haven’t determined which sprinkler controller I’ll switch to going forward. I’m definitely not going to pay Skydrop their fee. It is $2/month, which is a very small fee. If I were to be looking at a brand new sprinkler controller and I had no experience with Skydrop, I might consider their controllers based off of looks alone. Knowing what I do, though, I can’t justify paying for the controller and a monthly fee when there are other options out there.
I don’t have much experience yet with the Rachio Sprinkler Controller, but it supports 8 zones and connects directly with my Samsung SmartThings Hub. It also has an app that doesn’t require a monthly fee, and it works with Alexa. A lot of great features at the price of about $230.
RainMachine, so far, is the front runner. It integrates with Alexa, Google Home, and Samsung’s SmartThings. It is Cloud-independent. It has 16 zones. For $200, it offers a lot of features.
This one is a wildcard. I love open devices and the thought behind OpenSprinkler. I’m not sure if it’s something I want to sign up for yet, but I have some research to do.
I haven’t determine which controller I’m going to go with yet, but I do know that it will not be Skydrop. The only way we can push back on bad IoT business practices like this is with our wallets, and that’s what I intend on doing.