Not even a week after Sonos announced that it would be ending software updates and support for its older "legacy" products, including the Bridge and Gen-1 Play:5, the company is changing its tune following massive consumer backlash.
In a letter posted on the website, CEO Patrick Spence admits that they "did not get this right" and says the company will try to continue support for legacy products as best it can.
In the initial announcement, Sonos named a number of outdated products manufactured between 2011 and 2015 that would no longer be receiving new features or software updates. The reason? They don't have enough memory or processing power to sustain the latest features.
However, loyal customers found the news unfair. Not only would this essentially mean that early adopters were being penalized for jumping aboard the Sonos train early on in the game, but they might even be at risk if they continue using old, unsupported products. While Sonos was clear that legacy products would not be bricked and would continue to work, without software updates, they could remain vulnerable to bugs and potential cyberattacks. And they might impact the functionality of systems that included both old and new gear.
Spence reassures that the legacy products, including the ZP80, ZP90, ZP100, ZP 120, the Connect and Connect: Amp manufactured between 2011 and 2015, the Play:5 Gen-1, Bridge, and CR200, will indeed continue to work, and will receive bug fixes and security patches "for as long as possible."
"Many of you have invested heavily in your Sonos systems," writes Spence, "and we intend to honor that investment for as long as possible."
The rapid pace of innovation means that sometimes products you bought 10, even five, years ago can't support the latest features. However, the expectation is that the product itself will at least still be protected against hackers, cyberattacks, malware, and other threats. Liken this to a smartphone. When new software is released, it no doubt will work best on the newest version of the phone. But it will also still work on a couple versions back. Don't expect, however, to run iOS 13 on an iPhone 4. But so expect that the iPhone 4, which can be considered a "legacy" device today, will still be supported by software and security updates. And that iPhone will continue to work with new gear like an Apple TV or MacBook, even if it will be slower and won't contain the latest features. Sonos customers expect the same of their gear. They understand that you won't be able to get the latest and greatest features on a 10-year-old device, but the company should still support it in terms of security, bug fixes, and compatibility.
But early adopters typically buy into the latest and greatest technology at as frequent a pace as it is released. Should they expect a product that's almost a decade old to still work? Yes. But is 5-10 years a reasonable time period for upgrading tech? In this day and age, absolutely. Combine this with the fact that Sonos is offering 30% off for those who want to trade-in and upgrade to new gear, which is a pretty good deal. There is one caveat, though, that customers don't like: it would require recycling a product that should still be usable in a secondary room, for example. It is unreasonable to think that a customer would have to dispose of a fully operable speaker they just bought for hundreds of dollars only five years ago.
Spence says if Sonos runs into something core to the experience that can't be addressed with the legacy products, they will work to offer an alternative solution "and let you know about any changes you'll see in your experience."
With regards to legacy and modern products being able to co-exist in the home, which many customers expressed they would like to be able to see made possible, Spence says Sonos is working on a way to split a system so modern products can get the latest features while legacy ones work together and continue to operate as they always have. "We're finalizing details on this plan," he writes, "and will share more in the coming weeks."
Naturally, Sonos' ultimate goal is to have loyal customers upgrade to the newest products with the most innovative features, and new customers to buy the latest and greatest. However, Spence says he doesn't want customers to ever feel forced to do so. The trade-up program, he says, is designed to help get customers excited about what the new products offer. There's no word yet, however, on if customers will still be asked to return working legacy products in order to get 30% off something new. It's one thing to get excited about new products, and another to be presumably forced to hand over your still-functioning products in order to get one at a discount.
"I hope that you'll forgive our misstep," Spence concludes candidly, "and let us earn back your trust. Without you, Sonos wouldn't exist and we'll work harder than ever to earn your loyalty every single day."
Sonos did what the company thought was sufficient, alerting customers far in advance about the lack of support to come and offering a discount on an upgrade path. Clearly, that was not enough. There was such a massive consumer outcry, in fact, that a #sonosboycott hashtag began trending on Twitter with comments like "I'm crazy furious at Sonos..." and "Sonos is dead to me." Some angry customers were even looking for lawyers to start a class action. Meanwhile, at last check, Sonos stock dipped 2.09%.
What's arguably as important as a company's mistakes, however, is its ability to own up to them. It's one thing to end software support for old products, but another to not even send security patches to gear that's barely a decade old. Especially for customers who might have spent thousands of dollars on full systems, not just single products.
Spence made the right move by issuing the letter and having staff work on a compromise fix. Is it too little, too late? Probably not. But Sonos has left a sour taste in customers' mouths that will require a sweet enough deal to overpower it.
Pictured: Patrick Spence, CEO, Sonos