from the you-don't-own-what-you-buy dept
We’ve long written about how you don’t really own what you buy in the modern era. Books, games, and other entertainment can stop working on a dime due to crappy DRM. Game consoles you’ve purchased can find themselves suddenly with fewer features. Or worse, hardware you’ve bought thinking you’d own it for a decade can wind up being little more than a pricey paperweight.
But quite often, products that should work for years just slowly stop being supported, leaving you with hardware that gradually becomes less and less useful. We saw this recently when Sonos initially bricked still working (and expensive) speakers. The phenomenon popped up again this week when Google announced that its OnHub router, launched back in 2015, will no longer be supported starting next year. The products will still technically function as a basic router, but they’ll no longer see security updates, and many of the cloud-based functionality and advanced features will be stripped from the devices.
To be clear this isn’t an end of the world type of scandal. Google’s providing 40% discounts to OnHub owners off of new Google routers (which will experience the same fate in a few years). The Hub also had some initial performance problems, and was quickly supplanted in Google’s lineup by its Google WiFi (now Nest) products a year after they launched. But the downgrades are still part of an annoying shift in which companies hype all manner of cloud-based functionality at launch, then gradually strip functionality away once they no longer want to pay to support their own products:
“That Google can take an aging but perfectly functional router and switch off big parts of its functionality is one of the downsides of networking hardware that requires you to sign up for an account or use an app to administer it. While most advanced mesh routers are moving in this direction, offerings from Asus, Netgear, Linksys, and others at least retain some kind of web administration interface so you can continue to handle basic configuration tasks if those companies discontinue support or cease to exist.”
It’s not only annoying, but it’s obviously not great for the environment to be routinely discarding fully functional kit. This may be less of an issue for more technologically sophisticated users who keep tabs on trends like this, but it’s much more of a headache for Luddites who barely understood how their old router worked in the first place — and now suddenly have to navigate the fact that perfectly good hardware has been crippled remotely.