Perils of Embedded Software

Hardware manufacturers shouldn’t be responsible for software. The problem is crystal clear.

Your new TV has a computer in it, running some embedded OS and some software that came with it. If it’s a smart TV, it probably knows how to connect to the Internet and stream Netflix.

And that’s great, until it stops working. Maybe it’s a Netflix API change. Or some security problem surfaces. Or customers find bugs.

Almost every hardware company treats the software in the devices the way they treat the hardware:  They build it, ship it, and then forget about it. If there’s a problem, your recourse is a refund, or repair. But they’re not going to make your older product better.

This is on my mind because I’m buying a car. The car I’m buying is a 2010 Ford Flex, and it comes with Ford’s SYNC system.

SYNC is a small custom computer running an embedded version of Windows, which provides communications and entertainment features. 

The version of SYNC in my 2010 vehicle is no longer being updated.

In practical terms, this means that the next iPhone may not work with my car, and that will never get fixed. Ford’s solution is that I should buy a new car.

Dumb devices is the answer. The car shouldn’t have a built-in computer (beyond for basic car functionality), it should have a display that connects to an external, replaceable computer, like an iPhone. CarPlay, or Google’s equivalent. And a TV shouldn’t have an embedded OS; smart TV features should come from something outboard like an Apple TV.

Why Apple?  Because they’re honestly the only tech company that seems like they’re committed to keeping older hardware up to date. Apple’s not perfect, but I can’t think of anyone doing a better job.

I would have included Microsoft in that list, because of their history with Windows, but they’re the ones responsible for the Ford system, and their history with obsoleting mobile phones has been pretty bad.

What other companies are there that care about keeping old hardware up to date?