Monday, November 6, 2023

Why Apps are Evil (Hardware Bricking & Planned Obsolescence)

If you own a piece of hardware that requires an internet connection in order to work, and a specific app or website to function properly, you are at the mercy of that app or website provider not to brick your device.

So much of hardware sold today is dependent on some sort of internet connection.  In the UK, BMW famously tried to "rent" heated seats (15 pounds per month) and heated steering wheel (10 pounds per month) and backed down only when people freaked out.  You buy a piece of hardware you expect it to function, without having to pay a subscription fee.  Imagine a toilet that won't flush unless you sign up for "Flush Premium!" with a negative-option subscription plan and a cancellation process that is akin to the labyrinth of the Minotaur.

Don't imagine it - I suspect someone somewhere right now is planning just such a product. The toilet is free, of course, and comes with a starter cartridge that gives you ten flushes.  But after that, you have to pay for a subscription to new cartridges.  If HP made toilets, well, that's how they'd work.  I gave up on color printing long ago.  I was given color inkjet printers by friends, but the cartridges (the set) cost like $50 or more and since I rarely printed with them, they dried up and died after only a dozen pages were printed.  Also, they made the pages wet with ink.  It was just easier to go to Staples or use the color printer at the Arts Association (for their work) or just use my trusty Canon black and white laser printer which is stolid and stalwart as an old HP 4P was, back in the day when they made printers and not schemes.

But I digress.

Mark gave me his old Huawei Band 3 Pro fitness watch, as he decided to "upgrade" to a model that monitored his blood pressure (and it even works).  My experience with fitness watches isn't good.  I broke my old Fitbit and it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.  The company was bought by Google and those Fitbits went into the e-trash a long time ago, I recently got a communication from Google that I need to update my Fitbit account.  How about deleting it, instead?

So I look online for the "app" - Huawei Health - and on the Google Play Store, a number of sound-alike apps pop up - most are bloatware or just garbage apps or apps for competing products.  The Huawei app is nowhere to be found.  I google "Huawei Health App" and get a link to or something weird like that (com in the front?).  I click on it and it asks me to download an app to download the app.  I decline and try to download the app, but the phone flags it as malware.

I nope out of that in a hurry.  I find a "Huawei Health & Fitness" app on the playstore, but either it is another garbage app or it is intended for a different product, as when I try to link it to my watch (band) it claims it cannot find it!

I finally google "why can't I find the Huawei Health app?" and get a website that tells me it was superseded by a newer app (oddly enough, not one that the Playstore would recommend to me - shame on you Google!).   But the app is still available on the Samsung Galaxy store.  Go Figure.

So I download it from there and it seems to work and recognize the device.  Back in business - but I am sure I will destroy this band as well, smashing it against a brake rotor or something.  I was never meant to have nice things.  Or more precisely, I despise things that are expensive, fussy, and delicate.  Give me something that withstands the test of time!

But what got me to thinking was that if I could not find this app online, the "Huawei Pro Band 3" was essentially worthless - so much electronic junk that would not function without a link to a cell phone. And if Huawei decides that supporting this product is no longer profitable, they might pull the plug on the app and effectively brick the device.

Some software providers have already gone down this road - making older hardware essentially worthless.  Worse yet, they promote users to "upgrade" to the latest version of their software, which, once installed, either slows an older device to a crawl, or makes it unusable entirely.

Others withdraw "support" and upgrades, but still allow the software to run.  I am still running Windows 7, although I wonder in the long run, whether some glitch will disable it in the future.  Hang onto those install discs and installation codes!  We'll see how that plays out.

Sometimes, the company has no choice in the matter.  If they go bankrupt, there is no money to pay for the servers and hardware to service the app or website, so the user's device becomes junk overnight.  I suspect we will see a lot more of this sort of thing in the future, as weaker competitors for new technology are weeded out of the marketplace.  And I suspect we will see some makers intentionally pull the plug - quite literally - on their legacy user database, and thus (hopefully) force users to upgrade to a newer device.

I suspect that even if that is allowed to fly in the US, our friends in Europe will have a meltdown - and good for them.  Europeans have forced Apple to get rid of its slow and incompatible "lightning" connector, and also have pushed companies to sell parts to make hardware repairable. When I went looking for a new power switch for our Bissel 1984 vacuum cleaner (still the best vacuum I have ever owned, despite the switch) I found it was not for sale anywhere in the United States.  But our friends in Europe had it - and the shipping cost more than the switch itself!  I was pretty skeptical of "right to repair" laws at first, but now I see how they really help the consumer.

I will keep using the Huawei watch, and it will dutifully upload everything I do, to the Communist Party of China the friendly folks at Huawei.  But quite frankly, since Mr. See and I do everything together almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I can just look at his watch and see how many steps we have taken and even get a good idea of what my blood pressure is like.

So, a nice toy, but not something I desperately need.

Pressure Washer Update:  I installed the new key in the shaft and the engine starts right up and the pump generates pressure and... blows the hose right off the fitting.  Both the hose and the nipple are corroded and the threads stripped - they are a metric "M22" connector.  I look online and see a plethora of the hose nipple parts available, including some upgraded versions, for under $10.  Seems a common problem.  When you have a mechanical problem and look online for the affected part and see it offered by multiple sources, chances are, you are on the right track.  To be safe, I ordered a new 50 foot M22 hose as well - the old hose looked pretty beat and the connectors corroded.  Pats were cheap online!

Put it all together and it blasts out the pressure - and stalls the engine when I release the wand handle. Turns out that someone monkeyed with it when the shaft key broke, thinking that turning the pressure relief valve all the way up might solve the problem of a pump no longer connected physically to the shaft.  I backed out the relief valve and it works fine now.  I washed the driveway and the soffit on the house (an annual chore) and it works great.  LOUD AS ALL GET OUT, THOUGH!

So, I will keep my trusty electric Karcher and save this monstrosity for heavy jobs.  All told, I spent about $45 on parts and maybe two hours of my time tinkering with it.  Comparable units today sell for over $300 or even $400.  However, the previous owner told me it may be 20 years old, so I have a feeling if it breaks again, that will be the end of it.

Every appliance has a design life - even if it wasn't designed to be disabled remotely via an app!