Did you buy a Smart TV or set top box or tablet any time before January 2013? Do you watch YouTube on it, perhaps through an app? Bad news: Google has shut down the feed that pushes content into the app. You may have noticed this of course: Recently I had a customer with a first gen Ipad (2010) come into the shop, she said that the YouTube app won’t play videos anymore.
Millions of people are having the same experience. It’s not only Ipads; pricey Sony, Samsung and Panasonic “smart” TVs (with built in app capabilities) were sold by the truckload. The idea was that they are the future, and over 100 million household would be “smart” by 2013. But people replace TVs every 10 years, there’s not much chance those buyers are in the mood to update yet- especially as everything else will work, just not the YouTube app.
Google explains that this disconnect is because of the API- the software interface- for remote access to YouTube has been updated from version 2 to version 3. But of course you don’t get to decide whether Google moves from v2 to v3. Google is perfectly within its rights to make that change. Oddly Google declined to discuss how many devices were using v2, when it cut them off. Usually, when such a number is very small, companies say: “It’s really very small”. The absence of that statement seems odd.
The bigger lesson from this, though, is that there’s now a new dimension to obsolescence. We usually fret about the hardware in our “smart” devices becoming superannuated as technology changes every 7 days, which will leave the fixed processor power wheezing. Now we have to worry too about software spigots being turned off. That’s not a hardware problem; it’s a more deeply embedded system problem.
In the face of this sort of systemic indifference from all the companies involved, the best option is clearly to spend as little as possible on anything with built-in processing power. Don’t buy a smart TV; buy a dumb one, and add an Amazon Firestick, or Google Chromecast, both under $50, grit your teeth and toss them out when the hardware or software or API gets outdated, and keep the TV. But if companies wonder why we don’t buy their big promises – 3D TVs spring to mind – this is an object lesson.
When a product costing several hundreds of dollars, even thousands, can be hobbled by a third party’s tweak to a software interface that brings no obvious user benefits, it erodes our trust in the edifice of the technology world.
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