You Don't Own What You've Bought: Under Armour Smart Hardware Gets Lobotomized

from the pray-I-don't-alter-our-deal-further dept

Time and time again we've highlighted how in the modern era, you don't really own the hardware you buy. In the broadband-connected era, firmware updates can often eliminate functionality promised to you at launch, as we saw with the Sony Playstation 3. And with everything now relying on internet-connectivity, companies can often give up on supporting devices entirely, often leaving users with very expensive paperweights as we saw after Google acquired Revolv, then bricked users' $300 smart home hub.

The latest chapter in this ongoing saga comes courtesy of Under Armour, which in 2016 launched a $400 bundle of smart devices it dubbed the "Healthbox," which included a "smart scale," a wrist-worn health tracker, and chest-wrap heart monitor. All of these devices were tied together via the company's Under Armour Record app, which bundled all of your health data and presented it to you in an easily-digestible way.

But by 2017 Under Armour had given up on the project, and began pulling the Health Box from store shelves. Users that had spent hundreds of dollars on the products could still use them -- until now. Last week, the company stated the Record app would no longer work, urging customers to head to the company's MapMyFitness platform, which the company insists provides "an even better tracking experience." Users say that's not actually the case, and the new platform only does a fraction of the overall data collection the original offering did.

Because actually treating these customers well would cost Under Armour extra, it not only didn't give users a heads up that the app would stop working last week, it didn't provide users any effective way to export their data:

"Current device owners also can't export all their data. While workout data can be exported and transferred to some other tracking app, Record users cannot capture weight or other historical data to carry forward with them. A reader tells Ars that Under Armour did not provide any notification of Record's demise to customers who were using the app, basically springing the sunset date on them as a silent surprise."

Cool. Things you own that suddenly either stop working or getting updates is par for the course in the internet of things era, something owners of older Sonos platforms are also learning the hard way after the company first stopped supporting older hardware, then launched a program that effectively bricks perfectly usable gear. Not only is such behavior a great way to sour your brand in the eyes of users, it creates oceans of waste thanks to pricey hardware that no longer does what the manufacturer once promised.

Filed Under: fitness, fitness tracker, healthbox, iot, ownership, smart scale
Companies: under armour


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  • icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 1:45pm

    I hate suggesting standards, but there is no reason these have to fail, except that UA wanted to lock you into the Record app and the accompanying subscription. There was no reason these couldn't have dumped data using existing standards which allow my generic bluetooth smart scale and Polar heart rate monitor to keep dumping data even after I stopped using the apps which I originally was using (and one was shuttered).

    Maybe even use some sort of dual standard, like Apple uses with the AirPods, where using an iPhone gets you the special Apple-only features, but you could still pair as a standard bluetooth handset. Why these couldn't have at least some standard features is beyond me.

    I get why the app has to die - that subscription push meant an online-connected app with mandatory account creation and rewriting the app is a MASSIVE burden on UA. (/s) But there is no reason the $400 hardware bundle is now just a bunch of expensive paperweights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 3:46pm

      Re:

      I just read that Apple is fighting the EU attempt at std cell phone chargers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        James Burkhardt (profile), 24 Jan 2020 @ 8:52am

        Re: Re:

        They are. They have always fought the push for a standard cell phone charging design. They did it when the EU shook the stick the last time and everyone adopted Micro-USB, at least until the shortfalls of that standard made it unsuitable for high-end smartphones. It is unsurprising they resist the EU now. It has nothing to do with the point I was making. The only reason Apple was brought up was to highlight a way to achieve the goals UA wanted to achieve while not leaving relatively generic hardware without any value when the cloud service shuts down. iPhone obsolecence isn't driven by shutting down the operation of a charging port. And old iPhones aren't rendered worthless even as apple no longer supports the OS.

        You can certainly not like Apple's decision to not adopt USB-C in iPhone and iPad even as they double down on USB-C in laptop design. I fucking think it is ridiculous. But it has no bearing on the question of why a bluetooth scale stopped working when a cloud service for a particular app went down.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        James Burkhardt (profile), 24 Jan 2020 @ 9:11am

        Re: Re:

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TKnarr (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 2:00pm

    Perhaps a bunch of individual claims for refunds might send a message to companies that they can't just ignore the consequences of bricking/rendering-useless products they've sold. Class actions companies seem to just ignore, but individual legal claims add up to a lot more money and take a lot more work to deal with which might get executives' attention. The basic claim would be "UA sold me these items with these capabilities, they advertised those capabilities as reasons to buy their products, they've now actively removed those capabilities from the products (as opposed to just no longer supporting them), this situation is equivalent to a fitness equipment company selling me a set of weights and then coming around to my house and taking away all the weights above 10lbs and they shouldn't be allowed to take away what I bought without giving back the money I paid at the same time.".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nathan F (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 2:04pm

      Re:

      Problem is that when you click the EULA buried in it is usually a clause that says something to the effect of "we can change this agreement anytime we want and in any manner we want. Also you can only use this for as long as we decide to let you."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 2:52pm

    For all people keep conflating private and personal property....

    No matter how many times those arguing for rampant unregulated capitalism deliberately conflate personal and private property, we consistently keep seeing businesses working to abolish personal property altogether, and transfer all ownership to themselves.
    When they ran out of public property to privatise, it was inevitable all our personal property would be next.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2020 @ 6:00am

      Re: For all people keep conflating private and personal property

      That is because the difference between personal and private property isn't a coherent concept but a "I will decide when you have too much!" in practice.

      It isn't even consistent in an archaic rule of thumb like "no more than you or your best horse/largest vehicle that can be piloted a crew of one or two with a spouse can carry". It would be an arbitrary and stupid distinction with little utility, many perverse incentives, and but it would be objective and if fuzzy but gives concrete limits and could be tinkered with to accomidate wealth limits and changes in society like "used personally at least once a season". It would get less dumb over time if adapted.

      Compared to the subjective distinction where it is more about when they personally feel ownership is justified - not guidance but rationalization. There can be no improvement there under that "model" where being a slightly less poor farmer from actually owning their plot of land can be "private property as theft" by envious sharecroppers and a communist dictator's fortune gained by impersonal theft by hierarchy and force of arms justified as personal property because he was seen as "fighting capitalism".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Max, 23 Jan 2020 @ 2:54pm

    no thanks

    Which is why buying ANYTHING that relies on "cloud" connectivity in order to function is a fool's game. Just don't. Yes, there are always other ways. Yes, they do demand you becoming a 24/7 sysadmin cursing his wretched fate. The choice is yours, and there's no winning move...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Jan 2020 @ 3:09pm

    Business model fail, but let's keep trying

    Is there no way for IoT deice makers to monetize their products properly without selling whatever they find out about through their dedicated, required, but also unnecessary connection to their data collection servers? Usually manufacturers sell products, and come up with new products (or improve the old ones) to maintain their cash flow. This makes one think the products weren't all that good to begin with.

    I can understand the desire for ongoing income from one product after the sale, but with how that has worked out for those going out of business, the backlash from sites like Techdirt (and others) and other bad press from bricked products, that business model cannot last long.

    That makes one wonder what egregious, backstabbing, customer failing business model they will come up with next?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 5:11pm

    And all this is thanks to one idiot fucking judge who alliwed Sony to sell an item with certain features then remove them when tge item had been purposefully bought because of the features! The whole ' I bought this, I own that has gone totally out the window on just about everything, all because of one person! And i bet he was well rewarded for it too! Fucking prick!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jan 2020 @ 5:20pm

    Cue lawsuits against people who develop software and methods to keep this crap running on local networks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christenson, 24 Jan 2020 @ 5:20am

    A lever....

    Well, in the anti-IoT backlash, it's going to become a standard question:

    How do I turn off the internet connectivity????

    Hopefully it also becomes a commercial requirement, too.

    My stuff, firmware updates don't happen unless someone is at the device actively doing things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2020 @ 8:11am

      Re: A lever....

      Well, in the anti-IoT backlash, it's going to become a standard question: How do I turn off the Internet connectivity????

      Actually, the question ends up being "how do I move this functionality entirely onto my own local network, as depending on the manufacturer-supplied server for everything is futile as that server (a single point of failure) will inevitably go away the moment the product is discontinued?"

      Iris by Lowes is one example. "Evolve" and the TV "guide remote" was another. There are many others. All useless, as they rely on functionality which was not self-contained and which went away when the manufacturer left the space or went bust.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Annonymouse, 24 Jan 2020 @ 9:04am

      Re: A lever....

      The anti connectivity groups have existed since the beginning with any organization that has security as a mandate.

      Sadly other organizations that should be doing this, don't. That is how we get ransom ware on critical systems.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Professor Ronny, 24 Jan 2020 @ 9:57am

    Ownership

    Things you own that suddenly either stop working or getting
    updates is par for the course in the internet of things era

    It predates the IoT era. My computer (which I own) runs Windows 7 (with I guess I don't really own). Now, Microsoft no longer supports Win7 so, while my computer will continue to run, it is less safe than it was two weeks ago.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2020 @ 10:35am

      Re: Ownership

      That's not even close to the same thing as the topic of this article. Your computer will continue to operate as it always has even if Microsoft shut down. You don't pay a subscription fee to "stay up to date" or to "function at all". MS hasn't cancelled all such subscriptions or shut down the servers your machine connects to to work.

      For a "professor" you're remarkably ignorant of logical fallacy in debate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 25 Jan 2020 @ 4:15pm

      Re: Ownership

      Unless you have processes that cannot be duplicated on a different OS, change it over to say Xubuntu (I recommend the 18.04 LTS long term support version (there will be a new LTS version in April if you want to wait)) with the XFCE desktop. It works a lot like Windows and there is a product called Wine which will let you run Windows programs, though not all of them and with a bit of an overhead hit. Your Windows 7 hardware will handle this OS easily, and the Xubuntu/XFCE combo is lighter weight than regular Ubuntu. There is also a lot of support available from https://ubuntuforums.org/, and all for free.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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