Ring Alarm will require a subscription for most basic features later this month

Yet another company will charge its customers more money for using existing features as the subscription-based smart home becomes the norm. Amazon-owned Ring is making several free features part of its paid subscription program starting on March 29th. As of that date, if you have a Ring video doorbell or camera, you will no longer have access to Home and Away Modes in the app without a paid subscription, starting at $3.99 a month ($39.99 a year). Modes is a simple way to tell all your cameras to stop detecting motion when you’re home and start when you leave.

Additionally, all new users of the Ring Alarm system on or after March 29th will have to pay for a Ring Protect plan to arm and disarm the system from the app, use the Modes feature, receive notifications, and control it with their voice via Alexa. Linking your Ring doorbell and cameras to your alarm system will also cost you.

Existing Ring Alarm customers will not lose access to any of these features. However, as one Reddit user pointed out, there are no guarantees Ring will continue to allow legacy users to have features they paid for. “Based on this type of behavior, I assume they will be boiling us frogs at some point. This is the misdirection stage,” he wrote.

Linking your Ring doorbell and cameras to your alarm system will also cost you

This move, buried in an update on the company’s support site, makes the once very inexpensive DIY security system one of the more expensive options in a competitive field. Neither of its main competitors — SimpliSafe and Abode — charge anything for the ability to self-monitor your alarm system (including arming or disarming the system from the app or receiving notifications).

SimpliSafe used to charge for access to its app but introduced a free tier that provides these basic features, likely due to pressure from competitors such as Ring. Similarly, Abode doesn’t charge for self-monitoring or integration with Alexa but does charge for access to its own home automation system.

Starting on March 29th, new Ring Alarm customers will only be able to arm or disarm the system with the physical keypad unless they pay for Ring’s subscription service.
Image: Amazon

To get access to the Ring app and Alexa for control of your alarm system, new users will now need to sign up for the Basic Ring Protect plan ($3.99 a month or $39.99 a year). You would only need to pay for the Pro plan ($20 a month, $200 a year) if you wanted to add professional monitoring to your system, or any of the other features it offers. This used to cost just $10 monthly, but Ring raised all its plan prices last year.

You also now need to pay for the Basic plan to get the Modes feature on the cameras, even existing users. The plan does add free recording for one camera and person alerts. 

While the camera bait and switch seems most egregious — it’s retroactive, whereas the Ring Alarm change only applies to new users as of March 29th — if you are using Ring cameras and doorbells without a subscription plan, then the Modes feature was not particularly useful to you.

Modes switches your camera’s motion detection settings to on or off based on whether you’re home or away, preventing you from getting multiple motion-activated recordings of you around your home. If you don’t pay for the recorded video, you won’t get those anyway. Camera users will still have access to live view, two-way talk, motion detection, and alerts.

These changes make the Ring Alarm useless as a smart alarm system without a subscription

The changes to the Ring Alarm essentially make it useless as a smart alarm system without a subscription, though. You can only arm and disarm it with the Ring Alarm keypad, and you won’t get app alerts or emails when your alarm is triggered; only the siren in the base station will alert you. You also can’t disarm it remotely — so if the alarm goes off while you’re away, your neighbors will just have to suffer until you’re back home.

Subscriptions in the smart home have long been inevitable, even as many consumers push back. It costs companies money to run clouds and provide support, something many perhaps realized a bit too late (see Wyze, Arlo, etc.). The home security space is particularly vulnerable. Many startups tried to take on legacy systems by vastly undercutting their prices, only to realize they now need to make money somehow.

Updated, Friday, March 3, 11:30 AM: Clarified that you only need a Ring Protect Basic plan ($3.99 a month) to get access to the newly paywalled features on Ring Alarm. A Ring Protect Pro plan ($20 a month) is not required.

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