⚠️Update: On January 23, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence penned an apology post to customers, stating that the company “did not get this right from the start,” referring to the planned software update halt for all speakers built before 2011.
Spence noted that the company was not “bricking” the phones or planning intentional obsolescence. “While legacy Sonos products won’t get new software features, we pledge to keep them updated with bug fixes and security patches for as long as possible,” he said.
Earlier this week, high-end speaker manufacturer Sonos announced it would no longer be providing software updates to any hardware that was released prior to 2011, beginning as soon as May. The company says customers can trade up for a new device at 30 percent off as part of its pre-existing recycling program. Predictably, customers took their pitchforks to Twitter.
I’ve been “investing” in @Sonos since 2007. Now they want to cripple my WHOLE Sonos ecosystem and obsolete the rest of my devices!
Do they really think a few years later I will now buy a whole new £3000+ system from them again?
Sonos’ decision sets a precedent for hardware companies to control your devices through the software side. You may buy a perfectly good piece of equipment today, like a Sonos speaker, and expect it to last 10 years—and it very well might have the ability to chug along for a decade—but the company that builds the thing could decide at any point to stop sending software updates to the device, forcing you to buy a new one.
Sonos calls these older devices, produced between 2005 and 2011, “legacy products.” The company will no longer be sending out software updates or new features to these devices, meaning they’ll be effectively bricked after third-party apps like Spotify eventually update their own software, rendering the speakers incompatible with streaming services.
In an email to customers, Sonos wrote:
Sonos says these old devices don’t have the computing power to continue receiving updates. Specifically, on a FAQ page about the discontinued software, the company writes that its older speakers “have been stretched to the limits of their memory and processing power.” That may or may not be true, but what is clear is that Sonos uses its own proprietary software, leaving little wiggle room for customers.
While smartphone manufacturers typically stop sending security patches to devices after about three years, it’s possible to download third-party software like LineageOS to give the devices new life. Perhaps there’s room for a new entrant to fill this space for speakerheads.
Sonos already came under fire late last year when it introduced its Trade Up “recycling” program. It goes like this: You put your phone into a 21-day recycle mode, which is effectively a kill switch on the speaker. Then, you can either drop off your speaker at a specialized e-waste recycling facility, send your speaker back to Sonos, or try to sell the speaker to a third-party retailer. Authorized retailers have to take the speakers on behalf of Sonos. Others do not—and will not—because recycling mode makes it impossible to resell the speakers.
On one hand, sending old devices to a recycling facility is better than nothing. On the other, asking people to throw out devices and process the e-waste before absolutely necessary isn’t a good look. Even weirder: the very idea of a “recycling mode.”
Scrappers make a good deal of their profit through resale of old devices. This kill switch makes it so that all data—not just personal data, but also data that makes the speaker functinal—is permanently erased. Plus, customers have already accidentally bricked perfectly good speakers, creating more waste. Why not just have customers send in their speakers without first downloading this software?
Nathan Proctor, the head of The Federation of State Public Interest Research Group’s Right to Repair Campaign, told Motherboard there needs to be more transparency in the obsolescence of devices.
“This is something that these companies are just neglecting,” Proctor said. “Sonos is like the opening salvo. There will probably be a wave of these things that happen over the next couple years. And eventually, people are going to start being really upset about it.”
There are two ways to find out if your speaker system will be influenced by this change. You can run a system check on your Sonos account page or check this list of legacy and modern products. Here are the speakers that will definitely be impacted: