Netflix, but for smartphones: Is it the future?

By Tristan Rayner

Despite the growth of the used smartphone market, a huge amount of new smartphones are sold each year. Marketing and carrier plans work their magic to support sales and detrimental factors like planned obsolescence, failing support for older devices, and a limited ability to repair phones keep anything too old from sticking around in the market for too long

On top of that, phones often have locked down bootloaders and company-owned software or service. Beyond a 12-24 month warranty period, you’re often on your own.

10 or 15 years ago convincing hundreds of millions, if not billions of consumers it’s OK to toss what was an expensive 24-month old device would have been nearly impossible. Why is it so easy now? PCs and laptops faced similar pressures with the driving force of Moore’s Law, but at least that was a period of rapid advancement — few-year-old smartphones that should still be capable get stuck in bootloops, don’t receive updates, or have terrible battery performance.

Smartphones that should still be capable get stuck in bootloops, don’t receive updates, or have terrible battery performance

Would you consider a “subscription as a service” model for a smartphone — a Spotify/Netflix/Device-on-demand/Smartphones-as-a-Service kind of deal?

Do you really own your smartphone?

Of course you do! Right? It seems like a ridiculous question, but has an edge to it.

Take the John Deere tractor situation. Farmers buy hugely expensive tractors expected to last a generation. But John Deere uses locked-down software to maintain control of every aspect of a tractor’s use after the sale, greatly reducing the ability to service and maintain a tractor without expensive John Deere technicians. Farmers are fighting back after John Deere lawyers infamously stated that farmers purchase “an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle.”

Android auto repair DEQ OBDII engine light

As Wired said at the time, “It’s John Deere’s tractor, folks. You’re just driving it.”

In the electronics world, DJI threatened to turn one of their drones into a non-flyer after being required to issue firmware updates. It was their solution to a safety concern after some users reported the device dropping from the sky. To protect everyone’s heads, the device was remotely deactivated if firmware hadn’t been updated.

Logitech simply ended support for their Harmony Link product. First released in 2011, the device allowed smartphones and tablets to act as remotes. At least, it did until March 16th, 2018, when Logitech apparently refused to buy a new license for the technology in the hub, and simply gave notice it would shut down the devices completely. Facing a wave of online backlash, Logitech turned around and played nice, offering a free Harmony Hub as a replacement for Link owners.

Samsung infamously had to disable its Galaxy Note 7 devices to prevent …read more

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