The Dumbest Smart Device Feature

Of all the things to pull me out of my blogging hiatus…

From Chris Welch at The Verge:

In May, Sonos will stop providing software updates for its oldest products, and they’ll no longer receive any new features. The decision impacts “legacy” devices that are currently part of the company’s trade-up program, including all Sonos Zone Players, the Connect and Connect:Amp, the first-generation Play:5, the CR200 controller, and the Bridge.

To give Sonos their due, many of these devices were designed over a decade ago. As far as computer equipment goes, that’s a fairly long time.

But in the realm of high-end audio equipment, 10 years is not a long lifespan for a product. Much of the appeal of buying high-end equipment is the promise of quality and longevity, and being able to justify the investment by being able to use and enjoy it for many years.

Sonos is one of the early “smart” device manufacturers, and in an industry where the benefits of many smart devices are vague, the convenience and benefits of a solid wireless speaker network for your home was immediately appreciable.

But now the other shoe for smart devices is dropping. It turns out the “smart” computing components in Sonos speakers are severely constraining what would otherwise be a much longer useful lifespan.

I have an original Sonos Play 5 and it still works perfectly. Assuming it continues to operate I’d keep it for at least another 10 years, and would feel good about adding new speakers to the setup.

But the functionality of my perfectly working product and the larger setup will be gradually degraded, as Sonos phases out support.

From May this year, any Sonos speaker connected to the same network will also not receive software updates, which will force me to sever the Play 5 from the network—drastically reducing both the Play 5’s utility, and the overall value of the setup.

Furthermore, Sonos suggests deprecated devices may eventually lose service entirely—meaning you won’t be able to play music through the Sonos app, removing the main feature entirely.

While it may only ever be a disclaimer because they can’t guarantee indefinite service, it is a worrying precedent. Sonos’ corporate positioning for this is that the computer componentry included with these original devices is being strained by the latest software.

It’s difficult looking from the outside in as to how the task it was designed to do—networked music playback—has become so computationally strenuous that older models will no longer be able to stream music.

Even if technically true, it shows profound shortsightedness when originally designing the product, and this move shows me Sonos are not committed to supporting their products long enough for me to be able to justify the cost of investing in their ecosystem at all.

Between this and touting a trade up program as a form of recycling, while bricking old devices to prevent their continued use, I’ve lost any respect I had for Sonos.

Apple has reasonably come under fire for the wasteful, disposable nature of some of their battery-sealed products like AirPods.

Sonos deserves even more scrutiny—not only do their hardware constraints justification hold less water than the battery technology Apple is contending with in my view, but they are actively compounding the problem with their decisions around software and service support, drastically reducing the useful life of otherwise perfectly usable equipment.

It is wasteful for consumers, it is worse for the environment.

It makes me much more bearish on smart devices in general. I don’t want all my devices on a similar upgrade cycle to my smartphone, deprecated and useless within a decade.