Google (or, to be technically correct, Alphabet), has just announced it will shut down the Revolv home automation hub as of May 15. Google bought Revolv in October, 2014 to roll it into its Nest subsidiary, but waited until now, well after the warranty had expired, to shut the service down.
I noticed a couple of stories about this in my RSS feed, but I hadn’t paid too much attention until I caught this piece on Medium by Arlo Gilbert, who compares it to the tub of hummus it physically resembles. The point he makes does prompt some consideration about what it might mean for e-books:
Which hardware will Google choose to intentionally brick next? If they stop supporting Android will they decide that the day after the last warranty expires that your phone will go dark? Is your Nexus device safe? What about your Nest fire/smoke alarm? What about your Dropcam? What about your Chromecast device? Will Google/Nest endanger your family at some point?
All of those devices have software and hardware that are inextricably linked. When does an expired warranty become a right to disable core device functionality?
Imagine if you bought a Dell computer and Dell then informed you that when your warranty ends your computer will power down.
Imagine if Apple put out a new policy that not only won’t they replace the device for defects, but they will actually be bricking your phone 12 months after purchase.
But then, this isn’t exactly a new experience for long-time e-book readers, is it? As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Barnes & Noble bought eReader and Fictionwise a few years ago, then shut them down without being able to move all our titles over to Nook. For the books they couldn’t save, they recommended backing up our files and a copy of the eReader app so we’d still be able to read them in the future—as infuriating a suggestion as Gilbert found the note on Revolv’s FAQ that it was no longer under warranty. And this wasn’t even the first time I’d lost e-books due to an e-book vendor closing—but at least I hadn’t bought nearly so many titles from Embiid before it shut down.
The same thing happened just a couple of months ago to Barnes & Noble’s UK Nook customers, who were told that not all their e-books could be moved over to Sainsbury’s. Who knows where it might strike next?
And it’s not just limited to e-book files. As I noted in my own comment in response on Medium, my first-generation iPod Touch is now useless and my first-generation iPad is largely useless. None of the apps available for download are compatible with their antiquated operating systems anymore.
With the iPad, I can download the years-old “latest compatible version” of apps that at one time had a compatible version, but for apps newer than that I’m out of luck — and the iPod Touch is too old even to support that feature.
I paid good money for those devices (well, technically NAPCO sent me the iPad, but someone paid good money for it), but did Apple decide to issue me a refund when they stopped providing operating system updates to them several years after making them?
Buying anything computerized these days means coming to terms with the fact that sooner or later it will irrevocably stop functioning even if the hardware still works just fine, and you’ll have no recourse but to shrug and buy a newer thing. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens sooner, not later.
Effectively, early adopters of anything live life on the bleeding edge, and the way that edge sometimes chops off your devices’ compatibility or functionality is one of the problems that comes with that. It hasn’t just bitten adopters of Revolv, either.
The first people to buy high-definition TVs were nonplussed when Hollywood insisted on requiring the DRM-laden HDMI connection for its high-definition content. People who bought the earliest stand-alone e-readers, like the RocketBook or eBookWise, ended up watching standards shift and their devices become obsolete. This is just the kind of thing that happens.
This is why it’s a good idea to back up your e-books in universal formats, if you legally can, so if they’re in a proprietary format you won’t be left in the lurch if the maker of that format discontinues it. It’s also why it’s a good idea not to get too attached to any format that requires specific hardware. (This is why I’ve never bought an iBooks e-book, and probably never will—but at least Kindle has reader apps for pretty much anything.)