A smart pet feeder is a great idea in theory: It can be controlled from your phone, making it simple to schedule feedings and giving you the ability to feed your cat or dog from anywhere in the world.
Except, it turns out, if the device manufacturer’s servers aren’t online. My own smart pet feeder’s maker, Petnet, has struggled with reliability for years — leaving my cat, Mika, hungry on a number of occasions — and if the company were to go out of business, my cat feeder would turn into a very expensive paperweight.
Over a long weekend in February, that’s exactly what happened. An unspecified service outage crippled pet feeders for more than a week, leaving Mika without food when we were out of town.
Mika was rescued by a friend who went over to feed him, but the incident left me wondering how long Petnet would continue to operate the feeder’s service at all and why it depends on a server working to perform basic functionality. The company did not respond to a request for comment about the outage.
It’s not just pet feeders that rely on faraway servers to work properly. Technology has invaded even the most banal objects, making smart gadgets — from connected cars to smart lightbulbs to pet feeders — increasingly difficult to avoid. Each of these “smart” objects requires digital maintenance. If the company decides to stop supporting a device, for whatever reason, the gadget could stop working or stop working well. This might happen after a company goes out of business, faces pressure from investors to start charging for features that were previously free, or decides it’s not profitable to continue updating the code. The effect is the same: You might have purchased it, but you don’t control when you’ll need to replace it.