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Could the Internet of Things morph into the Abandonment of Things?

Chrysler killed off Plymouth. GM did it to Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Ford did it to Mercury. Microsoft even did it to Windows XP. Yet today, years after the demise of these products, they all continue to run. For the vehicles, parts remain available and dealers are happy to perform maintenance and take your money. Even for XP, Microsoft still issues the occasional security patch. Elsewhere, ink cartridges continue to be available for Epson inkjet printers discontinued long ago.

So, what’s the problem with the Internet of Things?

Consider Nest’s decision to kill off its $299 Revolv home-automation hub. Revolv (the company) was acquired by Nest in October 2014, which immediately stopped selling Revolv (the product). The service stayed up, however. Not for much longer. “As of May 15, 2016, your Revolv hub and app will no longer work,” states a message on the Revolv website from its founders. “The Revolv app won’t open and the hub won’t work.” Tough luck, buddy. And not exactly a PR-friendly warm and fuzzy writing style, either. (Nest itself had been snapped up by Google in January 2014.)

It’s reasonable to think that it was Revolv’s intellectual assets, especially its talented IoT developers, that Nest coveted. If you’re an IoT developer, or plan to become one, you should view the move as a signal that this is a great career path.

Initially, Nest (or Google or Alphabet) had no plans to compensate Revolv owners, but that now appears to be changing. In a statement provided to CNBC, a Nest spokesman said it will consider providing customers with compensation on a case-by-case basis. What form that compensation takes was not detailed. Either way, these customers are still left with nothing but a fancy paperweight. It’s the Abandonment of Things. Curiously, Google is refunding the full purchase price of its acquired Nik photo-editing software suite now that the company is making it free — and not shutting it down.

Do you think that’s fair? Shutting down the cloud component of your IoT product, turning faithful customers into orphans is a shameful business strategy. Can you imagine a maker of implantable cardiac pacemakers attempting a similar tactic? (Then again, no one jumped up to compensate me when it became impossible to buy blank VHS tapes for my VCR.)

I have an Acer laptop that’s nearly 20 years old. It runs Windows 95, still functions perfectly, and through an RS-232 serial-port powerline interface still runs an ancient version of the superb HomeSeer application, communicating with switch modules to control lighting in my home via the long-defunct X10 protocol. The laptop sits in a closet, out of sight, out of mind, plugged into a small UPS unit for power protection, and perfectly secure because it has no network connection. It’s all hilariously obsolete, but no one ever tried to shut any of these products down.

As developers, we understand that even the simplest of IoT products represents a significant investment. They contain embedded software to make the thing work, server side applications to process messages or send out alerts, databases for maintaining user accounts, iOS and Android mobile apps for controlling devices from your reclining chair, and more. There are license fees for software libraries, too.

I can understand the underlying economic reason for leaving the past behind, but in this connected age, before you arbitrarily put a bullet through your products and applications, you’d best provide a soft landing for the people who paid for the privilege of using them.

What do you think? Have you written code for products your company killed off, leaving customers with no escape route? Share your thoughts; we’d like to hear from you.

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Large enterprises protect themselves from software abandonment by requiring that their licensed software be saved in escrow for just these circumstances. Maybe it is time for consumers to ask about the same protections.
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This is the perfect example why open source works. "Abandonware" does exist in the open source world, but since you have the code, it is never far from finding a new home.
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