Planned obsolescence is the bane of consumer electronics. On that front, Sonos has stood out as one of the few tech companies that build longer-lasting products. In fact, the company is keen to point out that 92 per cent of all the products it has ever shipped are still in use today. But now, Sonos wants you to know that all things must eventually die. The company announced that starting in May 2020, it will stop pushing software updates and new features to some of its oldest products.
A cynic might say this is a ploy by Sonos to get customers to shell out for newer speakers. Sonos claims that isn’t the case. The company says its oldest devices just aren’t powerful enough anymore.
“Since launching our first products, technology has advanced at an exponential rate,” Sonos wrote in a blog about the decision. “However, we’ve now come to a point where some of the oldest products have been stretched to their technical limits in terms of memory and processing power.”
The products affected will be the original Zone Players, the Connect and Connect:Amp, the first-generation Play:5, the CR200, and Bridge. For the Connect:Amp, that includes all versions sold until 2015. Going forward, Sonos says that these will be referred to as its “legacy products.” Most of these products are at least 10 years old, which tracks as speakers generally aren’t as computing or power-intensive as say, a laptop or smartphone.
Owners of Sonos legacy products will have two company-approved options. First, Sonos says customers are free to continue using their speakers, provided they understand the devices will no longer receive updates. A Sonos spokesperson told Gizmodo that while changes may not be evident in the near term, eventually some functionality will be disrupted. (For example, if Spotify decides to update its SDK, older speakers may struggle to keep up.) The spokesperson also told Gizmodo that the company is working on a way to separate updates for people who own a mix of legacy and newer Sonos products, as Sonos requires all devices to connect to the same system.
A second option is to participate in Sonos’s Trade Up program, which offers a 30% discount on new products if you recycle an eligible Sonos speaker. While this sounds like a good plan, it should be noted that opting in means you won’t be able to resell that speaker. One of the Trade Up program’s requirements is putting the speaker into an irreversible Recycle Mode, which effectively bricks the speaker. That also limits the choices of e-waste recyclers, who are then forced to scrap the speakers for parts. It’s a preferable alternative to Sonos speakers rotting in landfills, but much less sustainable than if recyclers could simply refurbish older speakers.
Those are the two options Sonos promotes, but a third, unofficial, non-Sonos endorsed option would be to wipe your speaker and resell it yourself. Sonos discourages this; the company defends Recycle Mode as a way of “protecting unsuspecting people” from buying older products that won’t meet expectations. That might be true to an extent, but also doesn’t account for the fact most folks buying older, used products are in it for the discount and not necessarily the features.
Sonos’ decision is not a huge surprise. That said, if you’re mulling buying another Sonos and are worried the company will just kill updates once a new one comes along, there’s some good news: Sonos told Gizmodo that it plans to support products for a minimum of five years—perhaps longer if the hardware is still up to snuff—after being discontinued.