I’ve been a Y-Cam customer for a long while, I originally had one of their early Y-Cam Black cameras that had a pretty technical setup and was uploading to a local FTP server, I later added one of their newer Y-Cam Knight cameras that included a built in Micro-SD slot but again needed an FTP server to upload to. Over the years I tried a couple of different cloud services that took pictures and video uploaded by FTP to generate alerts.
Then Y-Cam decided to change direction – including cloud storage for images as part of the deal. They didn’t give an option to migrate existing customers onto the new platform, but instead launched a version of the existing camera with new firmware that hooked up to their HomeMonitor service. After doing the maths to work out how much I’d pay in subscription fees for the existing cameras I made the switch, and later bought one of their newer Y-Cam Evo cameras which similarly hooked up to their online service. Both cameras came with seven days of cloud storage for free forever, with options to upgrade to thirty days for a monthly charge. Subsequently the company has also launched an internet connected alarm system again with a monthly fee. I didn’t really need either of these, and just carried on with the free storage option.
The older cameras have been fine, the newer Evo was a bit of a disappointment and would quite frequently lose contact with the Y-Cam cloud servers, and Y-Cam made a total hash of launching a new iOS app so for a long while whilst the cameras would trigger and record video they wouldn’t actually raise alerts. They’ve never managed to handle having multiple users using the app properly so whilst our tadoº heating system app will switch the heating off when the last person leaves, and back on when the first person returns, whatever order we leave and come back in, the Y-Cam app can only handle locations from a single phone leading to a whole load of unnecessary alerts. Y-Cam have also consistently refused to allow their cameras to integrate in with any of the burgeoning home automation platforms such as Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa or Google Home, or even allow their cameras to be accessed by integration platforms like If This Then That that could allow users to work around their limitations. However I’ve stuck with Y-Cam having invested in the cameras and because of the free storage.
Then this week I and all the other Y-Cam users got an e-mail from the company telling us that forever is actually ending in fourteen days, when the company will require us all to pay a monthly fee for each camera, or transfer to one of their higher cost services. No option to switch the camera to using local storage – either pay them a fee or they brick our cameras rendering them useless. The explanation in the email makes it pretty clear what has happened:
We have endeavoured to provide our cloud camera service and support without making a monthly subscription mandatory. However, it is no longer possible to continue without requiring a monthly fee to cover the cost of providing a service for Y-cam cloud camera users.
Basically their promotional material suggesting that all you need is their free service has worked rather too well, and the whole model was actually dependent on being able to up-sell users to the extended thirty day storage service, or to one of their alarms. The problem now is that rather than dropping the seven day storage for new customers and honouring the promise of seven day storage forever for the existing customers, they’ve decided to charge everybody, the result is a lot of very upset customers – search Twitter for some of the responses.
That left me with a choice, do I pay them, or switch platform? To be blunt having been early leaders in IP cameras they’ve rather been left behind, and certainly the existing cameras don’t really perform as well as I’d like. The connectivity issues, inability to have multiple users locations tracked to deactivate the cameras and the lousy software updates were just annoying on a free service, given my experience and the tacit admission in the e-mail that the company is in financial trouble doesn’t really give me confidence that if I pay up things will get any better. If they’d actually fixed the location issues our cameras would be uploading a lot less footage to their cloud servers anyway, one of the reasons their cloud storage is costing so much is because the software is poor.
The old cameras still work fine, so I can swap back to using personal cloud storage, and having talked with colleagues who are running other cameras, yesterday I bought a Netatmo Welcome. Unlike Y-Cam who haven’t really much changed what their cameras do over the past decade, Netatmo have been innovating with facial recognition so the camera will only trigger if it sees someone it doesn’t recognise. Also rather than tie you to their cloud service Netatmo allow you to load footage to FTP or Dropbox much as Y-Cam did in the past. Apple Homekit integration is already in beta, and they have an extensive selection of actions on If This Then That allowing you to trigger all sorts of home automation from the camera.
The camera turned up today, and is now all set up and working – it wasn’t all plain sailing though as the automated setup struggled to connect to the Netatmo web service. After some digging around and a good deal of frustration this turned out to be because the camera uses an IPSec VPN to connect to the server. My current router is a Billion BiPAC 8800NL which has a whole set of Application Layer Gateway options including one for IPSec that was turned on, there are a number of online discussions suggesting that the BiPAC 8800NL Application Layer Gateway IPSec option breaks the Cisco Anyconnect Secure Mobile Client VPN and that the option should be shut off, so I tried turning it off on my router and the Netatmo camera instantly started working.
So after the teething troubles I now have one Y-Cam camera replaced, and if Y-Cam don’t relent and either grandfather existing customers, or issue firmware that allows us to use alternative storage, the other will go soon too. Y-Cam is a great example of a company that had a good start in the IP camera market, but managed to squander it – if they’d innovated maybe I’d have stayed, but paying for a service that had been sold to me as free, no way. Y-Cam’s loss is a gain for Netatmo.
Also published on Medium.