2 minute read

I’m a little irritated at companies that hide software features behind hardware.

In this little ranty case study, I’m looking at three different companies - Apple, Kobo, and Sonos.

Now, I understand that companies need to constantly keep their products up-to-date. If they didn’t, they would lose market share to companies that do, because your average consumer always wants “the latest” thing.

So the three companies I’m using as an example are ones where I have been a more-or-less loyal customer.

Sonos is a company that has a demonstrated track record of trying to get all of their software features working on as many devices as possible. Their first product, the ZP100, was released in 2005, discontinued in 2008, but remained fully supported and functional until 2019, when Sonos released a new architecture. You can still use the old architecture, but you can’t add any of the latest products to it.

Now don’t get me wrong, Sonos aren’t angels. When the S2 architecture was released, they announced an upgrade program where you could “trade in” an S1-only product for a 30% discount on an any new product. That trade in would permanently brick the old product. Thankfully, after an outcry, Sonos reversed the decision about permanently bricking the old devices so you could enjoy the upgrade discount but still use the old hardware (although not with the new product you just bought).

Apple is middle of the line. I love iPads, and I’ve had one ever since launch. I’m literally writing this rant on one right now. Apple is pretty good at adding the latest software features to older products for as long as possible, although perhaps to the point where the old devices start wheezing under the strain.

Kobo, though. Kobo can jump in a lake. I only buy Kobo devices because they’re not Amazon, and Kobos have a degree of hackability (I’ve got a self-hosted ebook server that my Kobo seamlessly synchronises with because I have an allergy to DRM and having things I’ve bought taken away from me).

Why does Kobo annoy me? Because when it adds a new software feature - like Dropbox support - it’s only released with new hardware. The hackability of Kobos does give the possibility of adding that new software feature manually, but dammit I don’t want to have to hack my device.

Thanks for coming to my TED talk.

One day I might subject you to my rant about Eye-Fi cards.