THE IoT TRAP
We're positive you heard of the Sonos speaker fiasco. Basically, a company that sells a luxury Internet-connected speaker wanted to retire an older line of products and offered customers who would "trade in" their old speakers for new ones a 30 percent discount. The catch: they weren't just trading them in, but instead flashing a firmware called "self-destruct" and then bringing it to recycling.
Of course, the most loyal customers of Sonos were not pleased about bricking their faithful machines deliberately, a hubbub erupted, and finally the CEO ended up changing course and eating crow. Gerrit Coetzee, Hackaday's own, wrote our reporting and said maybe Sonos couldn't afford to support the service for the old products anymore, and didn't want them to live in the wild. So much so, that under the implicit contract it is worth 30 per cent of the cost of their current product to get out.
When purchasing one of these IoT products, you pay more money in return for the guarantee that the company will continue to support the service it will rely on in the future. Yet running this service costs money, and as more and more "things" are in fact disguised services, we've seen case after case of shut down working machines because the client doesn't want to keep paying for the service. Whether the firm is tiny, like Sonos, or an immensely wealthy monopoly player like Google doesn't seem to matter. Somehow, the people planning these goods are contemplating a much shorter lifespan than their buyers do, and failing to make initial price cover costs.
That puts those firms in a tough spot. The more a consumer likes the product, the longer they want it to work, and the worse the blowback will be when the company will finally have to try to weasel out of a "lifetime" deal. And they alienate their most loyal customers precisely — those who want to keep their app running longer than they might even be fair. Given that this entire business model is new, it's not shocking that some companies are going to get it wrong. That scares me is the number of people falling into the IoT pit.
So as a buyer, take this as a cautionary tale. And if you're in a company offering a product that depends on a service to continue functioning, ask yourself if you're going to be able to really help it for the customer's expectation of the product's lifespan. At a five-year horizon, what looks like a lot could bankrupt the business at ten. Would you or your clients be willing to throw away their appliances? Sure they should be?