Sonos cuts support for older devices, then backtracks

Sonos received an Internet smackdown this week when they announced that they were going to stop supporting old equipment. Some of the backlash was because it wasn’t clear that support was being dropped for systems with really old products only, but the damage was done. In the end they apologized and backtracked, but will this be a good thing for Sonos users? And what is a reasonable expectation of manufacturer’s home tech support of our favourite devices?

What happened?

OK, so what is this all about then? Sonos announced that they will stop software updates for some Connect and Connect:Amp (plus Gen 1 Play:5) players. If your system has one or more of the affected products in it, your whole system would have been held back and would not get software updates. Sonos likely made this hard decision so they could keep offering new features people want, and the old gear needed to be culled to allow this. These products just didn’t have the horsepower to keep up the home tech support of features like voice control and smart home integration.

To ease the pain and get you on their latest gear, they’re offering a 30% discount to update your gear. The media and Internet haters missed that only the really old gear is effected. Even if two pieces of gear look exactly the same on the outside, they’re not the same.

Underneath the covers

Like many manufacturers, Sonos updates the electronics of their products without changing the outside appearance much. They do this for manufacturing cost reductions or tweaks and improvements. So, while one Sonos Connect might look like another Sonos Connect, they might be quite different on the inside. Sonos would not support the older version of the Connect but will support the newer version. To us though, they look the same. If you have several Connects or Connect:Amps, the easiest way to tell their vintage is to log into your Sonos account, and Sonos will tell you which of your devices are too old. It’s quite possible that many people have different vintages of equipment in their homes and don’t know it. The Connect we bought last year is quite different from the Connect we bought over 10 years ago.

The reality is that Sonos is more of a software company that sells physical music players, rather than a stereo manufacturer. The issue is that many of us Sonos customers expect to buy stereos that we can hold onto for decades like we used to with our old simple stereos. Good or bad, this isn’t the case anymore. We also want our new ‘simple stereos’ to support all of the world’s music services, voice control and whatever’s next. We have learned to not expect Microsoft to support our 10 year old PC and our TV needs to be replaced when its doesn’t have HDMI inputs, but it looks like we’re not ready for our music streaming systems to not be supported even if they’re ancient in a technology timeline.

What happens next?

The good news is that Sonos has backed away from stopping the support of quite old gear. Good for them for listening to their customers, apologizing, and trying to make things right. This is good for customer’s bank accounts and saves much gear filling landfills. The bad news is that this might slow or hobble future features that Sonos may want to introduce. First it will divert a lot of engineering resources to allow Sonos to split your old gear (no new features) and new gear (with new features) groups while still allowing them to work together in your home. Sonos will eventually have to retire these and other product though.

While we’re huge advocates for getting quality gear that can run for a long time, it’s also unreasonable to expect home tech gear to have an infinite lifespan and be maintenance free. It’s extremely hard to achieve this when home tech is evolving at an accelerated pace. We offer home tech support to keep our clients’ home tech goodness going, but manufactures likes Sonos are part of the solution.

We are torn on this one, as we understand both sides of the coin. It brings up some good questions. What is a reasonable amount of time a manufacturer should offer updates for a home tech device? And how much home tech support should these devices need? We hope Sonos can navigate it and continue to provide great products that many of love to use everyday. In the meantime, we’ll help clients with home tech support as they need it.