Hey folks – lots of good questions in this thread so wanted to jump in and provide some perspective from the Particle team.
SoftAP Setup reliability
As a general note, setup is one of the most difficult user experience challenges for IoT products. There isn't a perfectly reliable option and, especially for Wi-Fi setup, the diversity of different setup interfaces (mobile, desktop operating systems) and destination networks (2.4/5GHz, WEP/WPA/WPA2/Enterprise networks, lots of different router hardware vendors).
It is also worth noting that implementation of Particle's setup libraries is what ultimately determines the quality of the setup experience. If product creators are encountering issues implementing our setup libraries in a way that results in a reliable setup experience, we would absolutely like to know.
That being said, Particle's SoftAP setup interface is intended and designed to work reliably. It sounds like you cited a couple of issues leveraging the mobile SoftAP setup SDK with your products:
- Issues submitting passwords for particular Verizon routers (WEP-encrypted networks)
- Using SoftAP, "getting the Wi-Fi connection", which I interpret to mean connecting to the local network created by the Photon device
I'm not sure if you've already reached out with specific bug reports that our engineering team can engage on, but we're committed to supporting our SoftAP setup process.
Recommended setup method
There lots of ways that you conceivably set up an IoT device, some which are supported by our current Wi-Fi hardware, and some that are not:
Supported by current hardware
[Recommended] SoftAP setup (on a phone). This method is recommended by Particle for product creators and is the most secure, stable, and reliable. This is also industry best practice for configuring Wi-Fi only devices. This is the method that we use with our own Particle mobile app and package up as a set of SDKs for product creators and is currently and will be actively supported in the future.
SoftAP setup (from a desktop). This is available in beta as a setup method for Photon devices at http://setup.particle.io. Unlike SoftAP setup from a phone, it has not been packaged up as a SDK that can be easily leveraged by product creators for their own products. For that reason, it is not currently possible to "white label" that setup interface for use with a branded product leveraging OAuth.
Serial setup OTW (over the wire). This is also a possible option that is implemented via the Particle CLI, but requires configuration of serial drivers for many Windows machines.
Not supported by current hardware
- Bluetooth setup (on a phone)
- Bluetooth setup (from a desktop)
- NFC setup
I have may have missed one or two proprietary setup methods that use light or sound to encode and transmit network credentials, but those are not broadly supported within the industry and carry their own set of limitations and challenges that hinder and affect reliable setup.
Particle recognizes the value of using a bidirectional setup channel like Bluetooth to provide a more information rich configuration experience. We are always looking to provide the best setup tools to our customers and product creators, and may explore that configuration model in the future pending compatible hardware.
That being said...
Regardless of new hardware or setup experiences that we support in the future, we will continue to support the Photon and SoftAP setup as a configuration tool. We are committed to supporting product creators on our platform and will continue to support SoftAP setup.
Particle also has a demonstrated record of supporting legacy hardware. We still include and ship firmware updates to the Spark Core, which has been out of product for multiple years.
I hope that helps to address some of your concerns. If I missed some specific questions that you'd like answers to, please let me know! I'd be happy to help if I can.