This morning, I received an email from Loupedeck (as a customer) stating that the latest version of the company’s software will render the original Loupedeck device pretty much useless. Having “reached the end of its lifecycle”.
This comes mere months after Loupedeck’s acquisition by computer accessory giant Logitech earlier this year. But it presents a bigger problem with hardware today. Particularly hardware targeted towards creatives.
Loupedeck – Forced obsolescence in action
The original Loupedeck was launched at the end of 2016. Seven years and six days ago, as of writing this post. It’s been a pretty decent run, but most original Loupedeck devices are still functioning perfectly. Now, many users may be forced to “upgrade” to newer devices.
The forced obsolescence of the original Loupedeck isn’t much of a surprise, though. In the eyes of many, the original Loupedeck lost its value when the Loupedeck+ (buy here) was announced in 2018. But for those who only use Lightroom, the original Loupedeck is just as valuable today as it was at its initial launch.
Consoles like the Loupedeck – and its many variants – are fantastic tools for creatives. I use the Loupedeck CT (buy here) myself and find it to be an invaluable tool in my daily life at the computer. But they have one big problem.
Proprietary Drivers and Software
Devices like the Loupedeck and its variants don’t conform to standard Human Input Device (HID) protocols in the way that keyboards and mice do. They’re not able to be used without proprietary drivers and software.
This means that at any moment, the company can exclude the device from the latest software update and boom, your hardware is now completely useless. You have to go without or be forced to spend money to upgrade your device.
This, obviously, isn’t an issue faced by just desktop consoles. There’s a lot of hardware out there that simply fails to work whenever the company that made it decides it wants to make more money selling the latest model.
It’s not the first time it’s happened in creative industries. EyeFi did the same thing with their WiFi-enabled SD cards in 2016. They decided that they were going to brick some of their cards in a software update. Cards which were still in daily use by many event photographers.
A few months later, they released a final version of the software that wasn’t dependent on the Internet and allowed users to continue to use those previously bricked cards. But it was too little, too late and the company went out of business shortly thereafter.
This isn’t even the first time Logitech (the owners of Loupedeck) have done this. In 2018, they faced a massive backlash after a software update rendered the Logitech Harmony Link smart home hub useless. As a result, the company eventually replaced users’ products with the new model free of charge.
In Loupedeck’s Defence
In fairness, the original Loupedeck isn’t entirely bricked (yet). They’re offering a 30% discount on upgrades if you contact them before December 15th, and it will still work with an older version of the software. But that older version isn’t compatible with the newest updates and plugins. How much longer those older versions of the software will work, however, is anybody’s guess.
Microsoft and Apple (mostly Apple) are famous for breaking compatibility with software with new Windows and macOS version updates. The older drivers and software could potentially cease to work at any minute.
Normally, when this happens, it isn’t a problem. The hardware manufacturer simply makes an update to their driver and/or software to make it compatible with the newest version. It happens to a lesser extent with Windows, but we see this happen with just about every major macOS release.
Obviously, what Microsoft and Apple choose to do is out of Loupedeck’s control. But when a company completely abandons a product, those updated drivers and apps never come. And there’s no way to get around it.
Well, maybe one way…
The obvious way to get around such issues is to open it up to the open-source community. This is something that hardware manufacturers rarely do – they like holding onto their obsolete secrets – but it does happen occasionally.
Pebble, for example, opened up its software to the open-source community after its smart watches were discontinued. The company faced financial challenges that forced it to sell off some of its assets to Fitbit, but releasing the firmware and software as open source allowed users to continue to use and update those products themselves.
I think it’s doubtful that we’ll see this from Logitech and its obsolete hardware, but it would be a nice gesture.
Another potential solution is that the open-source community simply reverse-engineers the device and comes up with its own drivers and software. But the fact that this has not happened in the seven years since the Loupedeck’s initial launch suggests that that won’t happen either.
The new way?
It seems to be an issue that’s popping up more and more often over the past few years. As the hardware we buy becomes more dependent on software and Internet connectivity, the greater the chance that one day, someone’s just going to pull the plug.
At that point, the hardware we’ve purchased and owned – hardware that’s satisfied our needs perfectly adequately – becomes destined for landfill. And we’re forced to spend more money on the new one.
Loupedeck doesn’t appear to have published how many original Loupedeck devices were sold, but it will likely be in the tens of thousands. The original Indiegogo campaign alone had over 1,400 backers.
This is probably just the way of hardware now, and it’ll likely only get worse in the future. The only way it’ll change is based on user feedback. And the feedback for years has been than planned obsolescence sucks, and a lot of people now refuse to spend money with companies that do it.
Fortunately, in the case of Loupedeck, there are a number of DIY open-source alternatives out there. We’ve featured some of them here on DIYP.
- Build your own DIY Loupedeck for Lightroom
- Make your own DIY Loupedeck for Lightroom from an Arduino
- The InfiniteDeck is a DIY alternative to the StreamDeck and Loupedeck Live
And there are plenty more out there on YouTube. None have quite the refinement of the Loupedeck products, but that may change. As desktop manufacturing becomes a part of more people’s lives, a fully open Loupedeck competitor, supported by the community that uses it, could pop up one day.
For now… Well, I’ll stick with my Loupedeck CT until Logitech decides that one’s going End of Life, too. But you can bet I’ll be researching open-source DIY solutions in the meantime!