Lowe’s Iris Shuts Down
We have used the Lowe’s Iris smart home hub on and off since 2014. We share our thoughts on the end of the Iris service.
Yesterday Lowe’s notified us that Iris is closing their service as of March 31. Since they already announced last year they were looking to sell the Iris platform, this is not much of a surprise, but we are still a bit sad. We had high hopes for Iris and still think that having a great in-store experience for smart home would really help the market grow.
Our history with Iris
We bought our first Iris hub in the spring of 2014, not too long after we started AppMyHome. At the time, we already had a SmartThings hub but we were impressed by the Lowe’s in-store display and the variety of products they carried.
Unfortunately, after we brought it home we almost immediately returned it when we discovered that Iris required a credit card just to set up the system, even if you just planned to use the free basic service. We don’t mind paying for a service if we want the extra value, but we didn’t like being forced to do so right out of the box.
At the same time, we bought two Orbit hose controllers to automate our fountains – so we could keep them filled with fresh water from our faucets. After we tried to connect those to SmartThings without success, we relented and went back to Lowe’s to get the Iris hub and signed up with the required credit card so we could use the Orbits. These worked great, although a little slow because of the cloud connection. It was a much better alternative than going outside to switch on the faucets, even if sometimes they didn’t start and it would have been quicker to turn them on manually.
Later we added two Utilitech water sensors to our Iris, one under our kitchen sink and one in the laundry room to watch for water leaks, a great, reasonably priced solution to alert us to a potential flooding problem.
We continued to use the Iris for just these two solutions for years, even paying for the premium service, but we never fully committed to Iris to run our house. Over the years we have tried a lot of different smart home hubs, including Staples Connect (which Staples also discontinued), Zipato, Wink and SmartThings and only kept Iris going because we couldn’t find a replacement for the Orbit hose timers.
When Lowe’s Iris released their next gen platform in 2016 we were excited to try it to see how it had been improved. Lowe’s was generous to us as early adopters with a free trade-in program. We were really impressed with the trade-in process and the easy-to-use migration tool. However, after we used it for a while we found the improvements mostly cosmetic and not worth continuing to pay for the service. We finally retired our Iris last year when we got our new B-Hyve hose faucet timers that work with their own app.
There were some unique things we liked about Iris. We especially loved that we could go to our local Lowe’s and buy devices when we needed them, instead of waiting for Amazon. They always had great selection and prices – we bought our first Z-Wave in-wall smart switches, built by Jasco, from Lowe’s, and kept buying them this way for years since they were usually cheaper than other outlets. When we visited our local Lowe’s, we generally knew more about the products than the staff, so we often helped other customers decide what they should buy (or not).
In general, Iris customer support was usually available by phone and friendly, although we did experience some delays during the migration. With the premium service, you could set up both email and phone alerts for outages and emergencies. It was handy to get an email when the Iris was down, but it was a bit annoying to get constant phone calls when we had a false alarm with one of our water leak sensors.
Lowe’s customer commitment
We are impressed with the way Lowe’s is treating its customers, especially in comparison to our Mother device that went down this summer with zero notice. We received an email from Iris with clear instructions and a two-month window before the service is disconnected, and they have good written FAQ’s and advice for customers what to do next. They are giving refunds via Visa cash card on the hubs and the individual devices if you are not able to use them on another service, and are pointing people directly to SmartThings as a good alternative. They also plan to open source the Iris software under a project called Arcus, so hopefully others will be able to benefit from their work.
However, even with the refunds and the support, we know how hard it is to switch smart home hubs, especially with Z-Wave devices that need to be individually unpaired and re-paired, and we know that this will be a difficult transition for anyone who made a significant investment in Iris. Most people don’t have two or three different smart home hubs running at once like we do.
Impact on the smart home market
We still believe that the smart home market needs strong retail players to reach the majority of homeowners. While the products themselves continue to improve, figuring out what to buy remains a barrier for a lot of people. When we talk to our friends, even our more technically-oriented ones, their eyes often glaze over when we talk about Zigbee and Z-Wave and smart home automation.
With multiple ways to connect devices, competing and confusing standards and buzzwords, consumers could really use someone they can trust to help them make the right choices. Increasingly, it seems retailers are just taking the standard signage from Google or Amazon and installing it in the store without much training. Our fear for the market is that this Lowe’s news will make it even less likely for first time smart home buyers to want to buy.
Best Buy does seem to be making a bigger investment in smart home lately, in their inventory and display, and more importantly, in their staff training. And Amazon continues to make improvements both on their website and by offering in-person smart home consultations to help people figure out what to do. And of course there are smart home sites and YouTube creators like us trying to help everyone learn how to put the technology to use.
Don’t give up on the smart home
So, while we are sad to lose Lowe’s Iris, we remain optimistic about the smart home. We expect to see a few more bumps in the road but with solid industry standards, well-built products and user experiences, companies still have a great opportunity to make our lives easier.