The IoT Graveyard: Device Obsolescence and the Right to Repair
Like most tech journalists, I have a graveyard of obsolete IoT devices. There are fitness trackers, earbuds, a drone, homemade connected clothing, smart home light switches, devices for retrofits, and pet toys, to name a few. Overall, at least 95 percent of these products fell victim to planned obsolescence, or the company went bust or withdrew from the product from service. The rest suffer from an absence of “right to repair” options.
The problem of device obsolescence in IoT
While the choice to no longer use a smart device may be the owner’s choice, there’s another problem when it comes to IoT — device obsolescence. A company goes bust or is acquired. It stops supporting older devices or updating the device’s software. A security problem forces the device out of operation. Or technology standards evolve faster than the IoT device.
When it comes to IoT, useless devices are a significant problem. The ubiquity of connected devices means that many of us own products that are embedded with IoT whether we choose this or not. These include many big-box products, such as washing machines, refrigerators, and kitchen equipment, which traditionally have an average lifespan of over a decade.
But their functionality is gone when the software is no longer updated. We’ve seen it happen with thermostats, smart bulbs, smart home hubs, speakers, and smart home security. That leaves many unhappy consumers who’ve contributed to the problem of significant electronic waste (e-waste) with devices they can no longer use, which contain components that they cannot easily recycle. Their only option is to invest in newer devices, and thus, the cycle continues.
What are the laws around planned obsolescence?
So far, the litmus test for obsolescence has been iPhones. Earlier this month, Marketeer reported that Apple faces a new lawsuit from Portuguese privacy consumer organizer Deco Proteste. The lawsuit alleges that Apple has programmed the iPhones 6, Plus, 6S, and 6S Plus to become obsolete, forcing consumers to invest in new equipment earlier than expected.