The Predictable End of Free Apps – eWeLink?

I read today that eWeLink, the app used by Itead for their Sonoff products, is looking to offering a “paid” option. “What!?!” I hear you say? But we already paid for the hardware…

Well, for some time now, I and others have been writing about taking the time and effort to move the likes of Sonoff and other ESP8266-based devices to Tasmota or similar local network-based operation. In my case mainly because I don’t always get 100% reliable Internet – but for others, a mistrust of “the cloud” and in particular the cloud as run by international companies.

Time for reflection

As we all become more and more comfortable with such cloud services, perhaps now during the Covid-19 epidemic (hot on the tail of the anti-EU Brexit) is as good a time as any to think about just how long-term viable this trend to using arbitrary cloud servers is.

Will politics start to get in the way of globalisation? Unthinkable? The world closing down was unthinkable in 2019 and where are we now? In Trump’s America there are already import and export restrictions (including technology) against some countries – and much of this has nothing to do with the current epidemic.

Will the Chinese goverment always guarantee unrestricted access to their cloud servers for the rest of the world? Even today, an unreserved “yes” answer begins to sound naive. Amazon Echo (example only) as a cute tool is one thing, actually relying on the cloud for heating and security systems is another – and that doesn’t even tackle the hacking implications which themselves are something worth considering.

If Itead decide to go down the paid APP route then perhaps that will be their loss as more of us use the likes of Tasmota to keep access to our devices local – or at least local with VPN options for remote use – I’ve been doing that for a long time now). If they then decide to move away from ESP8266 to chips which do not have third party support… well, for now let’s just hope they don’t do that. I’ve enjoyed a great relationship with Itead (Sonoff products) for years and hopefully long may that live. They would be sadly missed if their cloud was the only way to access their products.

Conclusion

Tasmota and other free, third party software is only going to get easier to use and more comprehensive thanks to Theo Arendts and a small army of supporters. It is absolutely up to the hacker community as commercial IOT companies mature, to ensure that we keep banging the drum for DIY – it is not entirely in the interests of these companies to have us customising their products so they will be putting their efforts into pushing us into relying on their cloud and hence a potential income stream long after selling the hardware, perhaps for years.

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25 thoughts on “The Predictable End of Free Apps – eWeLink?

  1. If you dont control it you dont own it.

    It’s not just smart home devices. People have lost access to legitimately purchased music when the company they bought it from decided it was no longer profitable. For example Walmart’s MP3 store and MSN Music both decided to close and as a result customers lost access to their music. As recent as last year Microsoft decided to shut their online bookstore, although they are handing out refunds.
    At some point in the future one of the companys controling the devices will go bankrupt leaving their customers with some expensive door stops.

  2. Well said Pete. Things like Alexa have made great inroads into home automation due to their simplicity to set up and relative cheapness, but in the long run I personally, would like to have everything “In house”, as I am sure a lot of others would too. I am looking to do some Raspberry Pi speech recognition but haven’t really started looking around yet. I’d be grateful for any pointers in this direction.

    1. I planned to do something like this myself but never got around to it.

      For the wakeword try snowboy https://snowboy.kitt.ai
      For the rest you can either send the speech off to google/amazon’s speech recognition or use something like CMUSphinx which is open source.
      If you use local speech recognition then it will have to be trained otherwise you will get a lot of errors.
      For the speech synthesis Cepstral looked to be the best (several years ago) and was free for personal use.

      1. Clearly, you (Terry). Gary and I are on the same page. I recall having all my devices working with Ivona speech – then they just pulled out – thankfully Amazon speech took over with very little effort (not free but VERY cheap if you buffer existing sentences – pennies a month) but I was lucky – and the speech isn’t essential anyway. But for my heating, some lighting and security I have had it up to here with arbitrary cloud services, Itead know my feelings about forced cloud use.

        By keeping my services on an RPI (with rpi-clone backups) I’m a lot happier – and when the RPI guys get their act together and enable true USB boot on the Pi4 I’ll be even happier. Businesses have always perferred pay-continuously models – good for them… I prefer to buy something once and be done with it. By the time you add up monthly outgoings for Internet, various TV and cloud services and in my case domains and web hosting, it soon mounts up.

    2. Another option is Rhasspy Voice Assistant. It’s under active development and rapidly becoming a strong contender to take over from the (discontinued) Snips voice assistant as a private, non-cloud alternative to the likes of Alexa and Google. It can work with Home Assistant (and others) to control home devices. There’s an active and very helpful community – https://community.rhasspy.org/

        1. See link: community.home-assistant.io/ for more info about the latest version (2.5.0). That page has a link to the Github repo. I’ve only recently started playing with it (I run it in Docker) but it seems very promising.

  3. I too am on the same page as Pete, Terry, Garry and, I am sure, many others regarding not using cloud based apps and in fact I do not use any at all. However, I often reflect on why people expect things to be completely free, long term reliable and available. If people / companies need to derive an income from their efforts / products / developments / services then they cannot be free. They may offer a cloud service, ewelink or similar, for example in support of a range of products but what is the product life expectancy? A few years a best with current technological advancement. So, when that range of products is superseded there is no longer any benefit in the company providing a free service.
    For my part I am happy to pay for a good independent service that isn’t focussed on one companies products and it fulfills my needs.
    I think we should be eternally grateful to Peter, Antonio and many others who give their time willingly and freely to share information with others. In Peter’s case he also bears the cost of running his blog. So, occasionally I think all his readers should consider buying him a beer or a coffee!

    1. To some extent the device manufacturers have put themselves into a pyramid scheme.
      Once they have sold the hardware they derive no income from providing the cloud service. In order to cover the cost of the service they need to sell more hardware which in turn means increased cloud costs.
      I can understand them wanting to monitise use of the cloud and I expect they will do it through adverts or having customers paying not to have the adverts.
      If they decide to charge a monthly/annual subscription fee then they should be forced to do what mobile operators do and provide a method for moving subscription to somebody else (e.g. your own cloud).

  4. Hi,is there any more news when ewelink going to start charging?,I’m thinking of flashing all my devices to Tasmota ,what’s the easiest way when done to control via app?

    1. Once you have everything running on Tasmota there are many ways to control my an APP. In my case, I used to use Blynk on Android and before that, Imperihome (all blogged in here) but today I’m moving back to using Nod-REd Dashboard (even though Blynk CAN use a local Blynk server) and of course, as my setup is running on a Raspberry Pi, I have PIVPN running which means that I can keep some level of secirity around the whole lot while having remote mobile (and PC/tablet) access.

  5. This pandemic epitomises my distrust of cloud-based services. I was using Alexa-Remote from node red, but in my neck of the rural woods, internet access has become mightily congested, so Alexa-Remote has become almost unusable. Alexa has some localised intelligence so can still work by voice… however, I’ve had to disconnect my one Amazon Smartplug for a Sonoff so I can use things other than voice to control it (e.g. 433 remote).

    There are too many optimists in the world…

  6. Clearly we need to know about this – I wonder if they have an option for a local cloud in there which would truly be wonderful, otherwise it’s just more of the same? Still, any insights – keep em coming. I’ll ask my Espressif contact for more info.

      1. But it seems with none of the necessary esp32-s2 development boards available for at least 8 weeks plus china delivery times. You’d think espressif would hold these announcements until there is stock available

  7. Hi Guys,
    Although I have a few Smart Switches controlling lights, I must admit I am a bit Dumb as to exactly how they work.
    Two of my switches used eWeLink to set them up.
    I keep getting notifications from eWeLink saying I’m disconnected, but my Google Home can still turn the Switches On and Off and set the light level.
    I can also control them from the eWeLink App
    Do I need to do anything?
    Paul

  8. Hi Peter,
    I’ve got more questions if you don’t mind.
    Do I need Tasmota when my stuff still works?
    Will all the eWeLink stop working eventually?
    Is it easy to change over?
    Sorry for childish questions, but I’m on the edge of my capabilities.
    Paul

    1. Good evening Paul

      Do you NEED Tasmota? Well, that all depends on how you view relying on the cloud.

      eWeLink, I don’t suppose it will stop working but I would see in future they may choose to limit functionality in the free version.

      Changing over – provided there is an existing template for your device for Tasmota, yes, generally it is easy – this of course only applies to devices based on ESP8266 – the ESP32 support is still as I understand it, not fully fleshed out.

      Don’t apologise, I find myself in that situation quite often and rely on others for support. We all start off with limited knowledge, hopefully blogs like mine help others from time to time, I use it myself to refresh my memory or pick up on ideas others have left in comments.

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