The Death of Sonos Has Been Delayed

UPDATE: Sonos CEO Patrick Spence sent customers a great reassuring email today. They won’t be bricking older devices and they will make sure mixed networks with old and new devices work. Like I said before, I’m optimistic. I love Sonos.

I have loved Sonos for years. They were one of our advertisers when my friends and I owned Engadget, but I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt working on my first big startup and I couldn’t afford their magical “music for every room” smart speakers. By the time we sold our company, the prices had come way down. How ironic. I could finally afford their fancy gear and now it didn’t cost as much.

Today we have them in every room: a big Playbar on our living room TV, two Play:5s, two Play:3s, a Sonos One in every kid’s room and a Connect:Amp bridge that lets us play music on our backyard speakers. From our phones we can play anything we want anywhere in our house. Our family bounces between Spotify, SiriusXM, Pandora, YouTube Music, SoundCloud, iHeartRadio, podcasts and local radio stations.

Sonos is magical. Their customers rave about them to anyone who’ll listen, the same way people rave about Air Pods, Tesla, In-N-Out, Instant Pot and DisneyWorld.

And right now, they’re screwed.

In December, people attacked Sonos for bricking the old devices you “trade up” — making them unusable and environmentally hostile.

Yesterday, Sonos announced that they won’t be supporting older devices. You can keep using your older speakers without software updates — meaning they won’t be able to do things your newer devices can do — or you can trade them in for 30% off of new devices. But if you keep new devices and old devices running on the same network, then your new devices won’t be supported either. And the devices you trade in become landfill.

Longtime customers — formerly raving fans — were angry.

My first reaction was empathy for Sonos. I get it. It must suck having to make software that still works on speakers I bought in 2013 and 2014 when Apple’s latest iOS doesn’t even work on iPhones made in 2015.

I have a social video app and it’s a challenge just to support the last 3 years of Android and iOS — plus every new release. Every month I hear from someone who is disappointed that our 2-person company isn’t testing our app on thousands of different Android tablets and making sure it works on their $99 phone from 2015.

But what people expect from their smartphones and what they expect from their speakers are very different things.

Your old iPhone 4 doesn’t suddenly stop connecting to wifi or making phone calls when Apple drops support for it. It just doesn’t get the latest emojis or FaceTime features. And mixing old and new iPhones on your family plan doesn’t make your new phones stop working.

Even after the 30% discount, upgrading the speakers in my house will cost $900 — and I don’t know how long it will be until I get forced to upgrade more devices.

The reactions were 98% negative.

A few people were supportive, pointing out that Sonos has supported cloud-connected hardware for more than a decade and that this is reasonable.

But Sonos is famous for having products that just keep working.

It’s a selling point.

It’s not a good thing when your biggest fans are all over social complaining about you.

Sonos needs to reconsider what they’re doing and find a way to win us all back.