On a Wink and a prayer

About 18 months ago when making the jump to home automation, I picked a Wink 2 hub to be the brains of the operation. The reasons were simple:

  1. It supports Lutron’s proprietary Clear Connect protocol, used in their Caseta line.
  2. It supports Z-Wave, which I intended to start using for lamp modules.

While my experience with the Wink 2 has been positive overall, they’ve experienced three very lengthy outages in the past 60 days or so, one of which was quite serious in my view, and to be quite honest, I’m starting to worry about their business model.

The first widespread service outage we experienced with the Wink was just about 60 we days or so ago, which resulted in the Wink hub not functioning with Alexa for a period of about 18 hours. To control our lighting, we had to use Wink’s cumbersome, unfriendly app. First world problem, to be sure, but annoying nevertheless.

The second happened a few weeks ago, but was far more serious: Starting at about 2:00 PM local time, Alexa control stopped working. But worse, the Wink app didn’t work either. The hub was stuck in an endless “connecting” status, with the app showing the unit as offline. While service was restored by the next morning, crawling around behind and under furniture to manually turn off Leviton Z-Wave modules before bed was annoying; we have close to 20 of them in the house at this point, and in the evenings, most of them are on and dimmed.

The third and most recent outage once again interrupted Alexa control, and again, the hub itself become non-functional as well. A reboot of the Wink brought direct control back to life, but Alexa didn’t work again until the following morning.

When you take these three events and add-in the fact that the Wink app has had only a handful of very minor updates in the past 18 months, I’m beginning to wonder what’s actually up at the house of Wink, and frankly, I’m concerned that they have a sustainable business model.

Let me say up-front that this is pure speculation, and I don’t know anything about Wink’s finances. But I’ve talked about this back when I first wrote about the WyzeCam; a one-time hardware purchase that’s supported by online services in order to make it work, and which doesn’t require a subscription, is not really a scalable business model, or one I have a great deal of faith in. SportBrain, the example I used in the Wyze piece, was a great example of that. And while Wyze is still very much in business, my worry is the same with them, and with Wink — a one-time hardware sale simply doesn’t provide enough margin to fund web-based services and infrastructure indefinitely, and I would argue that with Wink, it feels like cracks are beginning to show. There’s a reason that companies (including Ring, the connected doorbell folks) have a subscription model that’s coupled with very strong incentives — it’s what funds the ongoing operation.

Again, I know nothing about Wink, or how well-funded they may or may not be. But three back-to-back outages, one serious, both of which lasted for multiple hours at a time, doesn’t instill much confidence regardless of any other factors.

Making matters worse in my mind is that on the software side of the house, as I said, the Wink app has had a handful of exceptionally minor updates during the entire period I’ve owned it. Nothing has visibly changed in the app; it’s still saddled by poor design with a UX that doesn’t seem to adhere to any particular interaction model other than its own. It’s difficult to set-up and maintain timers. The device setup wizards are confusing when it comes to choosing the right one for the product you have, and for my Z-Wave devices, at least, the wizards work only about 25% of the time — they generally time-out without completing the setup.

There are also UX inconsistencies throughout, including auto-capitalization enabled in some fields in the app and not others. And iPad compatibility that’s been rumored since late 2017 is still nowhere to be found.

On a positive note, as I was originally writing this piece a few weeks back (after the second outage), I was surprised to discover that the Wink 2 hub had a firmware update available — the first one I’ve seen since I bought it:

Seeing some movement on the software front helps offset some of the loss of faith I have in the product.

I want Wink to succeed, and I want it to be a going concern. Theirs is the only smart home hub on the market with native Lutron Clear Connect support (that I’ve found, anyway), and while their app is cumbersome, I thankfully don’t have to use it very often. Let’s just hope my observations are not, in fact, any real reason for concern, but rather, just bumps in the road that can happen with any technology company.

Time will tell.