A la recherche du tech perdu

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I used to think the beauty of connected devices was that they could be endlessly updated and become almost like new products, as added functionality and fresh new interfaces were introduced with regular software downloads. This has applied to my TV box, smartphone, computers, games console, satnav, smart speakers and other gadgets over the years. 

Sonos just pooped on that idealistic outlook though, with an email telling me my speakers were no longer very smart and could soon be very dumb. The two main ones in my wireless system are about 10 years old and “given the age of the technology, do not have enough memory or processing power to sustain future innovation,” said Sonos, offering a 30 per cent discount on any new product.

If I continue using these “legacy products” after May, my system, including the newer speakers in it, will no longer receive software updates with new features. “Over time, this is likely to disrupt access to services and overall functionality,” it said, referring to services such as Spotify that might become unavailable if it changes the way Sonos has to access them.

Abandoning these perfectly good speakers seems a waste to me, although they have less connectivity outside the Sonos system (other than a Line-In port) than traditional wired ones I have had stored away for decades.

While many bits of hardware are only supposed to last a few years, speakers are different and could serve you for a lifetime. But making them part of a connected system of continuously developing hardware, software and services means age can now catch up with their usability.

It’s little wonder then that simpler analogue products, where time can stop, are suddenly becoming desirable again — I’ve revived my use of a turntable and cassette player, while DAT, MiniDisc, CD and DVD players languish in a cupboard. All I need to do now for my madeleine de Proust is get out my old amp, connect a few wires and I am back to student days — before the web, WiFi and smart homes ever existed. 

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Apple attacks universal charger plans
It said so before and it’s saying it again. Apple has just criticised the EU’s revived attempts to introduce common phone chargers, saying “regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole”. #techFT readers disagree. When we polled you about this last Friday, only 11 per cent backed Apple’s position and 84 per cent thought common chargers were a good idea. Thank you for taking part.

2. ByteDance to the music
The Chinese company behind the video app TikTok has struck a deal to license music from tens of thousands of independent record labels represented by the rights agency Merlin, clearing a hurdle towards launching its subscription music service globally to take on the likes of Spotify, Apple and Amazon. 

3. US and France in digital tax breakthrough
The US and France have formally declared a truce in their fight over digital taxation after the US dropped its insistence that any international taxation agreement should be optional, making the prospects for a global deal in 2020 significantly brighter. Angel Gurría, secretary-general of the OECD, said the negotiating process was back “on track” to agree an international tax framework by the end of this year.

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4. US drone flights face delays
Plans for the commercial rollout of drones in the US have run into turbulence as a powerful coalition has united to oppose proposals by the Federal Aviation Administration. The regulator wants drone flyers to allow their aircraft to be identified remotely, but groups including drone makers and amateur model aircraft enthusiasts are arguing such regulations would be unnecessarily onerous. The proposals are intended to ensure that commercial flights by companies such as Amazon can operate alongside amateur machines.

5. UK plans more child protection online
The UK is set to introduce sweeping new regulations to protect children’s data online, including in effect walling off large swaths of the web to under-18s, despite widespread criticism from companies that would have to “age gate” or make child-friendly their online services. The new rules, proposed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, seek to limit online practices that might harm children, such as location tracking, content personalisation and tailored behavioural “nudges” such as YouTube recommendations and targeted advertisements.

Forwarded from Sifted — the European start-up week

France this week unveiled a series of small changes to rules on employee stock options to make it easier for French start-ups to compete with US rivals and big corporations in hiring staff. The changes to French stock option rules — including lowering the price at which they can be offered to employees — will make the country one of the most start-up-friendly places in Europe. After years of stagnation, the French move is one of a series across Europe to reform strict, heavily taxed or difficult-to-implement share option rules, which have come to be seen as a hindrance to start-ups looking to scale.

Elsewhere in Europe, Sifted looks at the Polish start-ups transforming the nation’s economy. The ecosystem has only started to take off in the last few years — buoyed by success stories such as edtech Brainly and medical booking platform DocPlanner — but is gathering steam. Last year $183m was invested in local start-ups. Sifted has also been looking at the top venture capital investors in the UK that every founder should know about, looking at where they are spending their money and what they are looking for in an investment. One of those VC firms is Blossom Capital, which also raised a $185m fund this week (its second in just two years) in a further sign that the asset class is booming

Tech tools — Samsung and Apple’s new phones

The current gadget gossip is all about new phones expected from Samsung and Apple. The Galaxy Z Flip, expected to be unveiled on February 11, is a clamshell smartphone where the screen will fold with the device. New leaks say the screen will also lock at a 90-degree angle so it can stand up better as a video call or watching device. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports Apple is expected to launch in March its first lower-cost iPhone model since the iPhone SE. It will look similar to the iPhone 8 (pictured above) from 2017 and include a 4.7in screen, with Touch ID built into the home button and the same processor as Apple’s current flagship, the iPhone 11.

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