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Circuit Breaker

Mellow made its ‘smart’ sous vide machine dumb unless you pay a monthly fee

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Getting the smarts back will cost you $6 a month

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In 2014, Mellow, Inc. released the Mellow for $399, billing it as “the world’s first smart sous-vide machine” — one that promised to automatically weigh and then heat and cool your specified foods for a perfect slow-cooked result, even adjusting that timing mid-cook to match your changing schedule. But now, the company is taking away those smarts from existing owners unless they pay $6 a month, or $48 for an annual subscription.

As SlashGear’s Chris Davies reports, Mellow owners were surprised to find they couldn’t cook a meal this week until they updated the app, only to discover that the app update barred them from using most of the cooker’s previously free “smart” features without paying for the new “Premium Subscription.”

Not everything is locked behind a paywall: Mellow’s manual mode still lets you set the cooker’s temperature from your phone remotely, but you can buy comparatively dumb sous-vide gadgets — even well-reviewed ones like the Anova Nano — for $129. The Mellow originally cost $399 brand-new, and though it’s currently on sale for $149, it’s likely most buyers paid the typical asking price of $200-$300 to get one.

Late Monday evening, Mellow released a statement on Instagram explaining the justifications for its “premium” plan, citing financial hardships in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and claiming that many potential investors and acquirers interested in the company walked away, and arguing that the servers responsible for the cooker’s smart features cost too much to operate. The Instagram Stories post has since disappeared (it’s been over 24 hours), but we managed to secure a screenshot first:

It’s true that other smart home gadget companies have abandoned their products altogether instead of keeping them running. Logitech’s Alexa-powered Harmony Express remote is just one of the most recent examples, though in that case Logitech offered exchanges and full refunds.

Following the update, some users have left negative reviews of the app on the App Store and Google Play to express disdain for the new paid services; one user wrote the new premium plan was a “bait and switch.” Some Kickstarter backers that chipped in to crowdfund the second generation of Mellow’s sous-vide gadget demanded refunds following the announcement. The Mellow team says pandemic travel bans and restrictions are forcing it to delay the release of that second-gen product by six months as well.

Mellow is not the only smart home tech company to try asking for more money for things that were originally supposed to be free. In May, Wink announced that it would require customers to pay a $5 per month fee to access its smart home features that were previously free, again citing the pandemic’s financial strains. Earlier this month, smart home company Wyze announced a pay-what-you-want model to access its AI-powered person detection feature.

You can see some of Mellow’s early promises via the Internet Archive here.

Update May 29th, 12:38PM ET: Added a screenshot of Mellow’s Instagram post.