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SmartThings embraces the edge and DIYers

A little more than a year after announcing major changes to the platform, SmartThings has rolled out what it calls SmartThings Edge, turning the smart home automation platform into something DIYers should love. The platform gives priority to local automation and lets users build and then share their own device handlers that will run on a hub.

The move will let SmartThings support more devices quickly because it will rely on users to write the device handlers (using Lua) for the items they buy and then share those device handlers with others. It’s also a smart decision given how important local control is for many smart home users who are concerned with latency and privacy.

The move reminds me of popular open-source smart home automation products such as Home Assistant and HomeBridge.

SmartThings had launched in 2013 as one of the first smart home hubs on the market, supporting ZigBee, Z-wave, and Wi-Fi devices. It also launched with branded outlets, sensors, and more. The goal was to use the SmartThings app to control devices using an app on the phone. Users could control local devices on the phone or use cloud-to-cloud connections to link in with other products.

Developers could build apps that tied together popular devices and share them with other app users. The idea was to democratize the smart home by making it easy to find cool automations and control the newly emergent connected devices that were launching.

In 2014, Samsung purchased SmartThings, intending to use to it tie all kinds of connected devices together. But the smart home struggled with mainstream adoption, and the rise of smart assistants and smart speakers as smart home hubs cut into the SmartThings market. Last year, SmartThings said it would get out of the hardware market and abandon some of its older devices in preparation for this change.

It also tweaked things on the developer side. It stopped letting users build their own device handlers in Groovy, the programming language that the SmartThings platform used, and forced developers to use an API to access features, devices, and controls. At that time, it also stopped letting developers use its IDE (integrated development environment) to build custom device handlers.

SmartThings die-hards were pissed off with the death of some of their devices and the lack of control they had under those new rules. But SmartThings at the time assured customers that this was all part of a shift to a newer, smarter SmartThings experience. Today we get a glimpse of that experience. Developers can once again build their own device handlers (this time in Lua, not Groovy), and the new emphasis is on local control. The new SmartThings Edge will run on version 2 and version 3 SmartThings hubs and on newer SmartThings hubs sold by Aotec.

This shift puts Smartthings much more in line with some hardcore smart home automation platforms such as Home Assistant or HomeBridge. The change also indicates that SmartThings’ open and all-in approach to the smart home was too early and too complicated for the mainstream user. But I am glad to see it’s still here and keeping its focus on an open and interoperable smart home.

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