Sonos' Recycling, Compatibility Failings Trigger the Call for an Open, Immortal Standard: AudioPiLe

A compact open-spec board, a Linux-powered ecosystem, and a certification authority form the pillars of a proposed open source Sonos-killer.

Gareth Halfacree
2 months agoInternet of Things / Music

Streaming audio specialist Sonos has come under fire for a closed ecosystem which includes forced obsolescence and a "recycle mode" that bricks its electronics — and has triggered calls for a new, open source alternative.

Sonos came under fresh attack following a Twitter thread published late last year detailing the company's "recycle mode": A trigger which, once pulled, starts an irreversible countdown to completely bricking the electronics inside the company's streaming receivers and rendering them nothing more than scrap. The incentive for customers to use this feature: The promise that, if the hardware is rendered useless rather than passed on to relative and friends, reused elsewhere, or even just moved to a different room in the house, the user will receive a discount on newer replacements.

Things became even more heated thanks to Sonos' approach to compatibility. The company has begun retiring older models, rendering them useless — and if a single end-of-life product is in a user's Sonos ecosystem it prevents the entire network of products from working. While the company has backtracked somewhat from this remote-bricking approach, saying that while it won't issue any further updates for unsupported devices it will no longer prevent them from coexisting with newer hardware, its moves have opened calls for an alternative built on open source technologies.

"On the heels of this recent Sonos imbroglio, I believe it is time to reconsider whether we should continue to have these fully-integrated speaker devices, which include all of the logic and high-fidelity components in a single box," writes Jason Perlow for ZDNet. "The electronic waste generated by this discarded equipment when they reach the end of their support lifetimes is not only environmentally irresponsible but also financially taxing on the consumer who has to replace these devices periodically.

"I believe a solution to this problem exists, but it will require a fundamental change in how manufacturers like Sonos, Amazon, and Google approach building their equipment in the future. The change starts with a new device and an open source project, which I am tentatively calling 'AudioPiLe.'"

While the name suggests a Raspberry Pi-powered Sonos equivalent - and several already exist, either as independent audio streaming projects or to add a Raspberry Pi into the Sonos ecosystem — Perlow's suggestion goes further: The creation of an open-specification board, produced by a range of manufacturers but with guaranteed cross-compatibility, powered by the open RISC-V or OpenPOWER instruction set architectures, selling for between $25 and $100 depending on additional features such as higher-quality audio hardware and integrated displays.

"In addition to a certification authority being formed for the express purpose of developing the AudioPiLe standard, I envision an open source operating system, presumably based on the real-time derivative of the Linux kernel, developed by the community and the AudioPiLe originating organization," Perlow continues. "This operating system would be a software distribution that any consumer could easily install on any of these devices (accomplished through a simple file copy), or that the PiLe manufacturers could use as well."

Sadly, while Perlow argues strongly that there is benefit in companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft ceding control of the hardware and software ecosystem in exchange for the recurring revenue of subscriber services, at present the AudioPiLe project is little more than a thought piece which can be read in full over on ZDNet.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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