WTF Sonos?On the evil companies do and good people coming together to stand up to them

Sonos just announced that they are fucking their most loyal customers and forcing them to buy the newest models by bricking their existing equipment. According to Twitter.

Here is the real story about what Sonos-gate means for the future of technology and the human race…

Of course the real story is more complicated and less satisfying. If you care, read on…

Relentless Progress

We live in a world where hardware gets better every year. Software also (usually?) gets better every year. If you bought a Sonos 15 years ago, it works better now than it did when you bought it because of free software upgrades.

Sometimes better software needs better hardware. Sonos has announced that moving forward, some of their oldest hardware will no longer be able to run their newest software.  So, going forward that older Sonos hardware will not be updated to the latest shiny software. Older Sonos hardware will keep running the same version of the software that it is currently running. 

If you are happy with the current software running on your older Sonos hardware (which is at least as good as it was when you bought it, probably much better), then do nothing and you will continue to be happy.

If you have gotten addicted to getting all the new and exciting features that each new free update brings, then you will need newer hardware. You can try to sell your old hardware. You can then use the proceeds to buy new hardware, but to be honest old Sonos hardware is heavy. It is possible that no one will even be willing to pay the shipping, much less any significant amount of money for your old Sonos stuff. Sorry. You can’t really be mad at the people who do not want to buy your old stuff (plus shipping) since you don’t even want it yourself!

But Sonos wants you to be happy!  They really do! If you want to upgrade to the newest equipment, they want you to have it! They get a happy customer who is using the latest and greatest stuff they can create, and they also get some money from selling you the newer hardware. So they offer a trade-in program. This is effectively them buying your older hardware from you in exchange for a credit to buy the newer hardware. This is exactly what you wanted, right?!

So they buy your old hardware and give you 30% off the new hardware and everyone is happy! But old Sonos hardware is heavy and costs a lot to ship, and Sonos does not actually want your old hardware – they would just send it to recycling anyway. So instead, they just put the hardware you effectively sold to them into “recycle mode” and let you recycle it locally – saving all that needless shipping. This is green! Greta is happy now too!

Ok, so now everyone is happy. No one was screwed. So what the problem?

“But they bricked my perfectly good device so now I can not recycle it!”

Listen, you decided to enrol in the trade-up program because you wanted the newer hardware and no one wanted to buy your old hardware for more than what Sonos was offering you.  If someone did want it, you could have sold it to them and then they could have kept using it – and you could have used the money to buy your shiny new stuff!

“I did enrol in the trade-up, but I thought I’d be able to get the 30% credit and then sell my old Sonos and get even more money!”

That was not the deal you signed up for…

Snag_4876634a.png

“Ok, I did enrol in the trade-up and I did agree to those terms, but it turns out that ‘recycle mode’ makes it not work so I can not recycle it!”

You can recycle a Sonos that is in “recycle mode”. Bring it to the same place where you bring all your other old electronics that don’t work anymore and they will take it. I promise.

I think you were thinking “re-sell” not “recycle”. You thought you would effectively be able to sell your Sonos twice.  Well, you can’t.

“Ok, but it still seems wrong and wasteful for them to take a thing that was working and make it not working”

I understand how you feel. We are stingy and frugal creatures – millions of years of hardscrabble existence made us so. We hate to waste anything. But the fact is: you own a music box that originally cost more than the monthly income of most humans on earth. You just need to be OK with sending your old Sonos to recycling so you can have a shiny new one. If not, then maybe sell all your stuff and don’t buy any more and give all your current and future money to a good charity so you will not have this issue come up again.

If it makes you feel better, do remember that if someone actually wanted your old Sonos and you were willing to go through the trouble to sell it to them, then it would not be on its way to recycling.  Really the only choice here was should Sonos (1) make you ship it back to them so they can recycle it, or (2) just let you recycle it locally. I think they made the better choice of the two – even though it somehow has been framed as the wrong choice.

“But Sonos is holding my newer equipment hostage by threatening to not update it if I do not get rid of my old equipment!”

https://twitter.com/meager_nigel/status/1219746940432388102/photo/1

Sonos has feature called “grouping”. If you have a bunch of Sonos units, you can “group”them together Borg style. It is cool.

For units to be connected together this way, they all need to be running the same version of the software. As a software-maker myself, I think this is a reasonable requirement and, as best I can remember, this is not a new thing. It has always been like this.

So if you (1) have a bunch of Sonos units, and (2) some of them are new ones and some of them are older ones that will not longer be getting updates, and (3) you have new ones and old ones in the same group, then… you will not be able to update the newer units that are grouped with older units to the latest software. That’s it. Both the new ones and the old ones will keep working just like they are now.

Your old Sonos stuff and your new Sonos stuff will keep working just like it does now. If you want to take advantage of the Sonos trade-up, then you have to agree to recycle your older units in order to get your discounted new ones.

If you ever want to update your newer units to run the latest free update, then just ungroup them from the old ones. Both old and new will work, and new ones will get the latest updates.

If you liked your Sonos units when you bought them, then you should like them even better now since for 15 years there has been a steady stream of free updates that added new features. It is this constant improvement of the product that brought us to this moment where they have exceeded the capacity of the older hardware. Would it have been better if they had never improved the older products ever? Then you’d still have exactly the same functionality that you originally bought. But think how boring twitter would have been for the past week!

Nope.  Ok, that’s enough tweets. You can search for “fuck sonos” to read a few thousand more. Come back when you are done.

What Sonos Could Have Done

  1. Just stop updating the older units. No announcement.
  2. Make everyone ship their trade-in units to a “reprocessing facility”.

My guess is that they are currently wishing they did these. Others will not repeat the mistakes. That sucks for us, but I guess we deserve it.

Josh’s Corner

We love David and Goliath stories. They are simple and have little good guys and big bad guys.

We love to cheer for the little good guys. The little guys are good people like us and the bad guys are big corporations and big corporations are evil.

We love to all come together against the common big bad guy. It’s us against them. Grab your pitchforks like-buttons!

It feels good to be on the good team. We show how courageous we are standing up to the big bad guy.

It feels good to be smart and decisive. I see what is exactly what is going on here, and I will not stand for it!

And we can do all this in 140 letters (or sometimes just a single click). It only takes a second to feel good about ourselves and move on to the next righteous battle.

It takes way longer to read a long and complicated story that explains why things are usually not that simple.

So here we are. I wish there were more people like you.

2 comments

  1. Spencer Wright (@pencerw)

    Josh, as always you make a lot of good points here. And I too want to recognize that consumers (including myself) ask a lot of companies like Sonos, and it’s at least fair to discuss whether Sonos is obligated to support products indefinitely.

    I think you miss a few things, though.

    First, you didn’t mention the actual language from Sonos’ 2020-01-21 email. Specifically, that “You can continue using legacy products after May, but your system will no longer receive software updates and new features. Over time this is likely to disrupt access to services and overall functionality.

    I just can’t read that sentence without thinking that while Sonos might not be bricking my equipment now, they are saying that it’s likely that they’ll brick my equipment in the future. This sucks.

    I think the other factor that you’re giving Sonos way too much credit for is the concept (conceit?) that any device that’s put into “recycle mode” is actually recycled in a meaningful way. To me, that term is a deliberate greenwashing of a process that Sonos knows full well is likely to end in a landfill – and even in the best of cases will involve enough acid baths, incineration, and lung plasticization to seriously undermine it as an environmental good. As an alternative proposal, perhaps Sonos should have a “reuse” mode that requires a new owner to reactivate the device for a small fee ($10?) and that is worth a smaller discount (20%?) on your upgraded purchase.

    More broadly, I would argue that it is fair to hold Sonos to a higher standard overall. As @adamdoesit and @danielwithmusic suggested to me on Twitter, there are probably hardware dongles that Sonos could engineer to keep old hardware working with whatever “innovative” stuff they’re planning to wow us with in the future. And even without that, I would propose that the Connect ZP90 that I own (which is not even 10 years old) can’t really be described as “older” hardware, and you’re giving a lot of credit to Sonos’ position when you accept that kind of terminology. Not to get too precious about the olden days, but I personally do not consider home audio equipment to be upgradeable on a <10 year timeline, and I think that if Sonos marketed their products as “providing brilliant sound for the next 8 to 14 years!” then consumers would react with appropriate skepticism.

    Perhaps this is my true suggestion. Make it explicit to customers that while your hardware will get better with age, it’ll also have a lifespan shorter than a golden retriever. “Sonos – we burn hot, and then we burn out!” And then let people decide whether OTA updates are really the thing they care most about.

    • bigjosh2

      ”your system will no longer receive software updates and new features. Over time this is likely to disrupt access to services and overall functionality.”
      I just can’t read that sentence without thinking that while Sonos might not be bricking my equipment now, they are saying that it’s likely that they’ll brick my equipment in the future. This sucks.

      To me, “bricking” a device means turning it into a brick- useful only for keeping a stack of papers from blowing away. This is different than “not continuing to update the software inside the device to adapt to changes that happen outside the device”, which is what is going to happen.
      Someday Spotify might kill an API and then you will not be able to Spotify with your old Sonos anymore. Disrupted access to services and overall functionality? Yes. But not bricking.
      I further predict that no matter what else happens, you will always be able to play music from a local NAS using your Sonos ZP90 – or at least until you don’t want to anymore because using air to get sound into your brain will be passé.

      I think the other factor that you’re giving Sonos way too much credit for is the concept (conceit?) that any device that’s put into “recycle mode” is actually recycled in a meaningful way. To me, that term is a deliberate greenwashing of a process that Sonos knows full well is likely to end in a landfill

      Remember that it is up to you what happens to your old Sonos. You are free to keep it, to try to sell it on ebay, or give it to your uncle. If you take the trade-in, then you decide how to recycle it, not Sonos. You might not be happy with the e-waste recycling options available, but that sure ain’t Sonos’s fault.
      You might think, “Sonos made this thing and so they have a responsibility to take it back and do something better with it!” This again has nothing to do with Sonos, and is another position that I think falls apart on thoughtful examination, but maybe a topic for another article!

      As an alternative proposal, perhaps Sonos should have a “reuse” mode that requires a new owner to reactivate the device for a small fee ($10?) and that is worth a smaller discount (20%?) on your upgraded purchase.

      Your alternative proposal wish has been granted! To redeem, follow these simple steps…
      Put your old Sonos up on ebay for 20% of the price of your new Sonos plus $10 (including shipping + fees + value of your time, etc). If it sells then use the money to help pay for your new Sonos. You have just done exactly what you thought you wanted Sonos to do, and you did not even need their help! Heck you even saved the new owner the trouble of “reactivating”!
      If your old unit does not sell, then you must accept that what you originally were asking for does not make sense no matter who does it – you or Sonos.
      LMK how it turns out!

      there are probably hardware dongles that Sonos could engineer to keep old hardware working with whatever “innovative” stuff they’re planning to wow us with in the future.

      Yes, they have already designed this dongle and it is available to all ZP90 owners. They have made it very easy to install- you put it on top of your existing unit, unplug all the wires from the old unit, and plug them into the new unit. Done and done! It costs $314.
      Tell me, how this is not the dongle you think you want? Seriously think about it.
      I know it bothers that the bottom old unit is not actually on, but why does that bother you? Because of your waste-hating monkey brain! But your monkey brain only knows about physical objects. You need your human brain to consider the wastefulness of designing and manufacturing and supporting a small number of dongles that would let the old Sonos not look wasted to your monkey-brain.

      I would propose that the Connect ZP90 that I own (which is not even 10 years old) can’t really be described as “older” hardware

      How old is the phone in your pocket?
      How old is the computer you are typing on?
      I feel your pain. I still have beepers that I can’t throw away because I know they still work (or at least would work if there were still any transmitter towers left). But we live in a world of amazing constant technological progress, and one consequence of that is massive and steep depreciation of “old” hardware, especially old hardware that connects to dynamic external services.
      Do not get hung up wasting stuff. You can not “waste” matter. Even if you send a new Sonos directly to the landfill, all of atoms of the elements in it will still be there, ready for some not-so-distant future nanobots to harvest to make an even newer Sonos when it makes sense to do that. Better to worry about wasting time, ingenuity, productivity, and opportunity. Again too much to say here, maybe another article!
      Ultimately, we are here because new hardware keeps getting cheaper, while the programmers and project managers and QA techs who maintain old software do not. For devices that require software updates keep up with external changes, there will always be a moment when the lines cross and it is net/net less wasteful to buy new hardware than support old hardware.

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