feature article
Subscribe Now

Old Man Yells at Clouds, 2020 Edition

IdioT, DRM, and Cloud-Connected Devices Keep Making the Same Mistakes

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” – unknown (but not Albert Einstein)

It’s sad to see a little kid cry on Christmas morning. He unwraps his new PlayStation 4, plugs it in, grabs the controller in anticipation of playing his first game and then… waits helplessly for over two hours while it downloads a huge firmware update. Thank you, Sony, for deciding that updates happen on your schedule, whenever and wherever you decide. Great out-of-box experience, guys.

Years later and miles away, barbecue makers Traeger have borrowed a page from Sony’s playbook. The company’s $1500 Ironwood 885 pellet smoker has a Wi-Fi interface (because of course it does) and a companion mobile app (ditto), as well as its own dedicated website. Yup, nothing says old-fashioned caveman cooking over a fire like an updated Android app. Trouble is, the grill likes to update its firmware at random intervals, and the smoker is unusable during the update. Which might be fine if the updates happened during the 99% of the time you’re not actively cooking on the smoker. But no, it only updates when it’s switched on – yes, the smoker has a power cord and an on/off switch – so when it’s off, it’s off. Result: you get to play “update roulette” every single time you start to cook. Backyard barbecues were never so much fun. “Sorry, gang, the burgers will be late. But the update is already 57% downloaded! Have another coupla beers!”

Photo credit: @robdaemon

Don’t give up and go inside to cook, because you might not be any better off. Sous vide cooking is all the rage (it’s basically your grandmother’s boil-in-bag meals, but more expensive) and several companies make sous vide cookers and related gizmos. Inevitably, some of these water heaters are Internet-enabled. And just as inevitably, someone figured out a way to make the experience miserable. 

Case in point: Mellow, a Florida-based company and its eponymous $399 hot-water bath for food. It also comes with a Wi-Fi interface, companion app, and online recipe website, all of which were included in the purchase price – until two months ago. Starting in July, Mellow now asks customers to spring for an extra $6 per month ($48 if you pay for a full year) for the ability to do exactly what the machine already did before. 

To their credit, Mellow didn’t brick the machine completely, like Wink did with its home-automation hubs. It will still make hot water, but you won’t get any of the whizzy features that your $399 supposedly paid for. 

Sometimes companies fail when they run out of money. Then there’s the weird case of North, which augered in when it got a whole bunch of money. The Canadian maker of Focals smart eyeglasses was acquired by Google and promptly – as in, 30 days later – stopped supporting the very product that Google acquired. As the company helpfully points out, “You won’t be able to connect your glasses through the app or use any features, abilities, or experiments from your glasses.” Sounds terminal. 

The company signed off with this plea: “We will not be shipping Focals 2.0, but we hope you will continue the journey with us as we start this next chapter.” Well, that makes it all better.  

Want to explore VR? You’ll need to bring your Facebook friends along for the ride, at least if you want to use (or continue using) an Oculus VR headset. Facebook’s hardware division decided that VR usage and Facebook presence are really the same thing, and that anyone using its VR headset will henceforth have to log in to their Facebook account before the hardware will work. Don’t have a Facebook account? Make one. 

If it wasn’t already clear, the company spells it out: “…when you log into Oculus using your Facebook account, Facebook will use information related to your use of VR and other Facebook products to provide and improve your experience.” Improve whose experience, again? 

For what it’s worth, Palmer Luckey, the man who founded Oculus VR before selling it to Facebook for $2.3 billion, is on record saying, “I guarantee that you won’t need to log into your Facebook account every time you wanna use the Oculus Rift.” Welp, not his company anymore. 

If VR games aren’t your thing, you could go old school and play outdoors with a Nerf gun. But only if you buy the official, DRM-enabled Nerf darts, of course. Hasbro’s new Nerf Ultra gatling gun works only with Nerf-branded foam darts. Other brands will fit just fine, but the gun won’t fire them. 

Hasbro vice president Michael Ritchie sounds remarkably unapologetic about the change, telling the Wall Street Journal, “We’ve had the same dart or similar dart for so many years that it’s become uniformed across our segments and competition, so it’s easy to copy.”

Clearly, the company needed a reason to charge 5–10 times more than other companies’ foam darts. Make them five times better? Nah, just use DRM to lock customers into our refills. See also: Keurig coffee makers, HP inkjet printers, GE refrigerators, et al. Anyone sensing a trend here? 

Leave a Reply

featured blogs
Nov 23, 2022
The current challenge in custom/mixed-signal design is to have a fast and silicon-accurate methodology. In this blog series, we are exploring the Custom IC Design Flow and Methodology stages. This methodology directly addresses the primary challenge of predictability in creat...
Nov 22, 2022
Learn how analog and mixed-signal (AMS) verification technology, which we developed as part of DARPA's POSH and ERI programs, emulates analog designs. The post What's Driving the World's First Analog and Mixed-Signal Emulation Technology? appeared first on From Silicon To So...
Nov 21, 2022
By Hossam Sarhan With the growing complexity of system-on-chip designs and technology scaling, multiple power domains are needed to optimize… ...
Nov 18, 2022
This bodacious beauty is better equipped than my car, with 360-degree collision avoidance sensors, party lights, and a backup camera, to name but a few....

featured video

Maximizing Power Savings During Chip Implementation with Dynamic Refresh of Vectors

Sponsored by Synopsys

Drive power optimization with actual workloads and continually refresh vectors at each step of chip implementation for maximum power savings.

Learn more about Energy-Efficient SoC Solutions

featured paper

How SHP in plastic packaging addresses 3 key space application design challenges

Sponsored by Texas Instruments

TI’s SHP space-qualification level provides higher thermal efficiency, a smaller footprint and increased bandwidth compared to traditional ceramic packaging. The common package and pinout between the industrial- and space-grade versions enable you to get the newest technologies into your space hardware designs as soon as the commercial-grade device is sampling, because all prototyping work on the commercial product translates directly to a drop-in space-qualified SHP product.

Click to read more

featured chalk talk

EdgeLock® Secure Element & Secure Authenticator

Sponsored by Mouser Electronics and NXP Semiconductors

Today’s IoT designs demand comprehensive security implementation, but incorporating a robust security solution in your design can be a complicated and time-consuming process. In this episode of Chalk Talk, Amelia Dalton and Antje Schutz from NXP explore NXP’s EdgeLock Secure Element and Secure Authenticator Solution. They examine how this flexible, future-proof and easy to deploy solution can be a great fit for a variety of IoT designs.

Click here for more information about NXP Semiconductors EdgeLock® SE050 Plug & Trust Secure Element Family