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Smart device maker Wink demands customers pay up or lose features


Smart home startup Wink today announced it will require customers to pay for a monthly service plan in order to access their devices from the Wink app, with voice control, or through the Wink API. Opting not to subscribe right away will disable all automations and settings, the company said, though they’ll be reactivated upon payment at a later date.

The subscription plan — which will cost $4.99 per month — is scheduled to launch on May 13 for both home users and enterprise customers with which Wink has partnerships. Wink has historically worked with companies to build experiences atop its common device interface, for example collaborating with Ford to link Amazon’s Alexa with the automaker’s voice-activated car consoles.

“Since 2014, Wink has relied solely on the one-time fee derived from hardware sales to cover ongoing cloud costs, development, and customer support. Providing users with local and remote access to their devices will always come at a cost for Wink, and over the years we have made great progress toward reducing these costs so that we can maintain that feature,” wrote Wink in a blog post and an email sent to customers. “However, long-term costs and recent economic events have caused additional strain on our business … Your support will enable us to continue providing you with the functionality that you’ve come to rely on, and focus on accelerating new integrations and app features.”

Wink connects with third-party smart home devices such as thermostats, door locks, ceiling fans, and Wi-Fi-enabled lights and provides controls via the app or a wall-mounted display called Relay. The Wink device family integrates with software from brands like Canary, which markets an app-controlled home system, and it’s compatible with third-party apps and services like Uber, Fitbit, and IFTTT.

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Wink says that over 4 million devices are connected to its network. While that pales in comparison to platforms like Samsung’s SmartThings, which passed over 45 million monthly active users in October, it’s no drop in the bucket.

Wink’s most recent smart hub — the second-generation Wink Hub — supports most smart home devices with Zigbee, Z-Wave, Lutron Clear Connect, Bluetooth Low Energy, 5GHZ Wi-Fi, and Kidde protocols. In October 2017, Wink introduced its newest product lineup in the Wink Lookout home security system, which comprises open and close sensors, motion sensors, a siren, and the aforementioned home hub.

Wink was founded at startup incubator Quirky and was originally a part of a General Electric collaboration to control co-branded products like air conditioners. After raising $20 million in venture capital, the company was acquired by Flextronics (now Flex) for $15 million, who became Wink’s primary supplier for firmware and hardware. It later sold its interest in Wink for $59 million to performer Will.i.am’s technology firm, i.am+.

Wink’s pivot to subscriptions appears to be an attempt to forestall a shutdown like that which affected Revolv, a smart home startup that Google-owned Nest acquired in 2014. In 2016, it was announced that Revolv’s $300 hub would cease functioning entirely, a decision Nest attributed to a shift in resources toward the Works with Nest interoperability program.

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