The Spotify Car Thing and Super Planned Obsolescence
Spotify Car Thing

The Spotify Car Thing and Super Planned Obsolescence

Have you noticed that the nature of consumption has been shifting? These days, questions such as “What is a product?” and “What does it mean to own something?” need to be asked as the answers are evolving. In the case of the first question, recent standalone AI offerings have revealed a growing trend of businesses basically treating paid customers like beta testers. Meanwhile, as far as the ownership question goes, a debacle involving Spotify has thrown that into upheaval too.

Personally, the whole “unfinished product” thing hasn’t impacted me, so I haven’t yet had to grapple with that growing issue. However, as someone who did indeed purchase a Spotify Car Thing, I have a few thoughts about what this episode means for consumers. In particular, I think it’s the start (or at least the acceleration) of what I want to call Super Planned Obsolescence.

What is a “car thing” anyway?

Spotify Car Thing is/was a device that provided a different way to control your Spotify streaming. With preset options, voice command support, and a basic user interface, it made it easier to find and play your music while driving. It also came with a number of different mounting options so that it would fit just about any car setup.

I happened to buy a Car Thing when it was deeply discounted to about $30 — but apparently some people paid closer to $90 for it. Since my car doesn’t have Apple Car Play or any equivalent, I figured the Car Thing would be a simpler and safer way to control Spotify while on road trips. Plus, as I learned from a YouTube video, you could also finagle the device to control Spotify on your computer as well, which was oddly nice.

So why am I speaking of Car Thing in the near past tense? Last month, Spotify announced that it was discontinuing the device on December 9th. This was a bit of an odd declaration as the company had long since stopped sales of Car Thing. Alas, reading the full sentence Spotify wrote in their missive revealed something much more: “As of December 9th, 2024, Car Thing will be discontinued, and will stop operating.” Yes, in just a few months, Spotify will intentionally and remotely brick all of these devices. Awesome.

To be honest, I didn’t even really know that this was something possible. I suppose I hadn’t considered how the Car Thing worked, so it never crossed my mind that there might be ongoing costs associated with it on Spotify’s end. So, while I might have guessed that I’d have some fun tech relic in my collection when I bought one on sale, I had no idea that I’d instead have a completely disabled piece of glass and plastic a few months after that.

We had a deal

In a classic Seinfeld episode, George Costanza details the “deal” drivers have with pigeons. I feel the same way about the agreement I thought we had with retailers. It boils down to this: if I buy a physical product, it’s mine to do with as I please.

Speaking of Spotify, I think most people realize that there’s a trade-off that comes with the service. While you can pay just a few dollars a month to access a massive database of popular recorded music history, you don’t own any of it. Thus, you can just lose access to certain songs and albums without notice and, although you may be annoyed, there’s little you can do about it. After all, if you wanted unrestricted access to it, you should have bought the CD, vinyl, or tape.

With the Car Thing debacle, Spotify is breaking this physical product deal. Sure, I’d understand if my device broke over time — but disabling it against my will is a huge faux pas. Bringing it back to Costanza and the pigeons, in this case, it’s like Spotify ran over its customers.

Planned obsolescence on a new level

To be clear, the concept of “planned obsolescence” is not something new. Consumers have long complained of companies intentionally lowering the quality of their products so that they’d wear out in a certain period and lead customers to purchase new ones in a somewhat predictable cadence. In more recent years, there’s been no shortage of conspiracies about how your iPhone just so happens to get a bit worse around the time a new model hits the market. Granted, there is actually some truth to this — but it’s because software updates that bring new features also put extra stress on older phones (you’ll recall that Apple was even sued over the fact that it was throttling performance in an alleged bid to prevent phones from losing battery more quickly).

Even in those most recent cases, the obsolescence was partially due to technology moving forward, the limits of tech overall, and — the ultimate thief of joy — comparison. But, with the Car Thing, none of these factors quite apply. Again, the company is literally just killing off a device because they didn’t sell enough.

Whether you prefer the terms “super planned obsolesce,” “planned obsolesce on steroids,” or just “stupid,” unfortunately, this incident is unlikely to be the last instance.

To be clear, while this article may have just seemed like a rant about a Spotify toy I paid $30 for, the truth is that it’s about much more. In my mind, this could be a huge precedent-setting move. In particular, as more devices become “smart,” it seems likely that similar shut downs could impact these products. So, while I love my smart lock now, what will happen if Yale decides it no longer wants my lock to work for one reason or another (guess it’s good I went with one that still has a keyhole!). Unfortunately, I foresee this type of issue continuing, meaning that consumers will need to pay extra mind to these possibilities going forward.


Kyle Burbank

Head Writer ~ Fioney
Kyle is the head writer for Fioney. He is a personal finance nerd, constantly looking for new apps and services to test and incorporate into his own financial game plan. In addition to his role at Fioney, he's written for other publications including Born2Invest, Lifehack, and Laughing Place, as well as his own site Money@30. He also creates personal finance and travel-related videos for Fioney's YouTube channel, which has garnered more than 2 million views. Currently, Kyle resides in Springfield, Missouri with his wife of 10 years. Together, they enjoy traveling (including visiting Disney Parks around the world), dining, and playing with their dog Rigby.

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