When smart TVs go dumb
OPINION: Imagine the joy of buying a brand-new, technology-packed television able to keep you in touch with loved ones.
For $1400 my family together on the couch could gaze into our magnificently big, camera-equipped 50-inch screen Sony BRAVIA television, chatting away with rellies near and far.
Now picture two and a bit years later said television feature abruptly disappearing, snuffing-out face-time between my 5-year-old daughter and her nanna and poppa.
That's exactly what happened when our television's Skype app ceased, plunging us back to the telephony age.
"Feature not available" spat back as we repeatedly tried to open Skype.
"How could this be?!" I howled inwardly as my daughter howled outwardly, as is her juvenile prerogative.
I remember paying extra for the special Sony webcam, the only webcam that would work with Skype on the television... it cuts like a knife Sony.
A lump of coal would be more functional atop my television than the now useless webcam I purchased.
I tried and tried again to update the app, surely this could not be true? Had my smart television just got dumber?
Consumer NZ said internet device consumers including smart television owners are at the mercy of app developers.
Advisor Maggie Edwards said smart television manufacturers like Sony only offer the platform for apps to work on.
"Smart televisions are a little like phones in that they offer platforms for third parties to develop apps."
And just like if your favourite smartphone app stops working you can't complain to the hardware maker.
"Even if it was the reason you bought the phone," Edwards said.
Consumer NZ has had "some success" using the Consumer Guarantees Act and Fair Trading Act to make Kiwi hardware retailers compensate disgruntled buyers.
"For example if you went to buy a smart television now and the salesperson said that you could get Skype ( and you can't) then you would have rights to a refund, no question."
But you don't know what you don't know and I neglected to ask my television salesperson about future-proofed apps or read Sony's byzantine product terms and conditions.
And time has likely run out for the likes of me with my two-and-half-year old television, Edwards believes.
"Where do you draw the line?
"Television operating systems aren't nearly as stable as phones, in that they change drastically from year to year and are never updated.
"They are a security nightmare waiting to happen and app developers often create an app for a single year's television range then never update it," she said.
A Sony New Zealand spokeswoman said as Skype announced its Skype for television app wouldn't be updated, "Sony could no longer support the Skype app on its BRAVIA televisions."
Perusing Skype's website I found our forlorn television is far from alone in getting kicked-to-the-curb.
At least there was this cheerily disingenuous PR claptrap, "because we want everyone to experience the best Skype has to offer, it's sometimes necessary to retire older versions of Skype, and Skype enabled devices."
My family were really "enjoying" our perfectly working Skype version - I wonder which app will go next on our television?
My daughter loves the Youtube app, I wonder if my smart television is smart enough to be malicious?
Oh well, as the new saying goes, 'televisions are what they used to be like'.
Tech giant Microsoft, which owns Skype has been approached for comment.