Sonos has tried to stem the tide of bad press around its controversial plan to leave behind old hardware, after news that it would be ceasing support for some of its earlier connected speakers left the company’s loyalest fans fuming. Legacy Sonos products – including the original Play:5 – would no longer get updates from May, the company had warned earlier in the week. Now, the company’s CEO says, the plan has evolved a little.
All of the affected products were to lose support in the form of software updates, Sonos had said. That included the original Zone Players, Connect, and Connect:Amp (launched in 2006; with some versions sold until 2015), the first-generation Play:5 (launched in 2009), the CR200 (launched in 2009), and the Bridge (launched 2007).
The decision, Sonos explained, was based on the fact that the older devices simply couldn’t keep up with the new features the company was pushing out. It came after Sonos launched an equally-controversial program to encourage recycling of older speakers – and upgrades to newer models. In the process, however, functioning hardware was left bricked via a server-side update.
More galling than Sonos’ legacy speakers losing support, though, was the warning that they also wouldn’t play nicely in a multi-room setup with other, newer speakers. Those who wanted to keep their old Sonos kit going, the company said, would have to go without updates for their newer speakers.
Unsurprisingly, the news did not go down well. Sonos has seen a huge backlash, and it was widely expected that the company would change strategy in an attempt at damage control. Instead we’ve got an apology from CEO Patrick Spence, and an attempt to better explain just what will happen to these older models.
According to Spence, Sonos is committed to keeping its legacy range running “as long as possible.” There’s no guarantee as to just how long that actually means, but it seems like bug fixes and security patches at the very least are on the agenda.
The most important part, though, is that even without software updates for the older products, “they will continue to work as they do today,” Spence highlights. “We are not bricking them, we are not forcing them into obsolescence, and we are not taking anything away,” the CEO says. “Many of you have invested heavily in your Sonos systems, and we intend to honor that investment for as long as possible. While legacy Sonos products won’t get new software features, we pledge to keep them updated with bug fixes and security patches for as long as possible.”
Meanwhile, Sonos is looking into how it could have older products co-exist better with newer models, without the latter losing access to the latest firmware. That hasn’t quite been figured out yet, Spence admits. “We are working on a way to split your system so that modern products work together and get the latest features, while legacy products work together and remain in their current state,” the CEO explains. “We’re finalizing details on this plan and will share more in the coming weeks.”
What this isn’t, mind, is a change of plan overall. Sonos’ older hardware is still losing the promise of new features, as the company’s roadmap for updates exceeds the hardware capabilities those features demand. That’s probably not going to come as too great a surprise – or be too frustrating – to actual owners.
“If we run into something core to the experience that can’t be addressed,” Spence says, “we’ll work to offer an alternative solution and let you know about any changes you’ll see in your experience.”
What seemed to cause the most anger, however, was both the misconception that Sonos would be bricking old hardware – perhaps a confusion with the TradeUp program and its recycle mode – and the fact that old couldn’t coexist with new on the same network. Sonos now has to hope that Spence’s clarification has patched the uncertainty about the former part, and that its plan to better manage multi-generational systems is seamless enough not to undermine its reputation for a user-friendly ecosystem.