Expensive, high-end smart products risk losing features and functionality, or becoming a hacking risk, after as little as two years, new Which? research has revealed.
We analyzed smart appliances in six key household product areas – washing machines, dishwashers, televisions, smartphones, printers and smartwatches/fitness trackers – and found that hardly any brands even came close to matching expected lifespans with their smart update policies.
Far too many brands did not give any guarantees at all, meaning you’re left in the dark as to how long your appliance will remain safe to use.
How long will your phone stay secure? – check to see when your smartphone will stop receiving updates from the manufacturer.
Smart appliances – are you paying more for less?
A network or internet connected smart product opens up an array of sophisticated features and functions that can be helpful for consumers.
You could start, pause and stop your wash with a voice command via Alexa, or choose dishwasher cycles that are water and energy efficient with a tap of your smartphone. Or easily print a document over your home wi-fi so that it is ready for you to pick up from the tray.
However, you generally pay a premium for the privilege. For example, a smart dishwasher costs on average nearly £300 more up front, at £746 versus £455. So you want these products to be built to last.
The reality is, though, that these smart features are put at risk when the product loses software support from the manufacturer, and the danger of online hacking also increases.
Big brands falling short on update support
In November 2022, we surveyed 119 product brands behind hundreds of smart devices about their update support policies. In most cases, we found that the support period was well short of the time a product typically lasts.
Robust analysis of recent product surveys has allowed us to estimate the average time we’d expect a product to last before it breaks down or deteriorates significantly – we’ve called this estimated lifetime (ELT). This is a conservative estimate, so we’re confident that the genuine average is above this value.
Here are some of our key findings:
- LG dishwashers, smart TVs and washing machines are all only guaranteed support for two years – and that is from when the product was launched, not when it was bought. This is also despite our ELT data indicating that televisions last on average 6.8 years, washing machines last 11 years and dishwashers 13 years.
- Sony also only guarantees updates for its TVs two years after launch, whereas Samsung isn’t much better at three years.
- HP guarantees support for its smart printers for just three years, even though the estimated lifetime for inkjet printers is 13 years. However, at least it does have a policy – none of the other big printer brands reported any minimum period to us.
- Some companies such as Hisensewhich supports smart TVs for 10 years, and Miele which supports smart dishwashers and washing machines for 10 years, showing that it is possible to support products for longer periods of time.
Our guide to smart device security includes known support periods for 20 categories of smart devices, so you can make a purchase with your eyes open.
Too many brands aren’t being transparent
Out of the 119 product brands across 20 different categories we approached in November 2022, only half (49%) actually replied with clear information on minimum support periods.
In some cases if a response was supplied, it was filled with vague commitments and frankly confusing policies that made little sense.
This is all despite around nine in 10 consumers stating that security updates were an important factor when they bought a smart product, according to a survey of 1,051 Which? members in October 2022.
In response to our most recent investigation, Apple, AEG, Hoover and LG that did not provide any alternative information to that Which? had already reported, and Epson, Whirlpool and HP did not respond.
New law to make it easier to shop for smart products
The recently passed Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure (PSTI) Act is an important first step in forcing brands to be upfront about how long products will be supported with updates.
Makers of smartphones, washing machines, televisions and other products will have to state minimum guarantee periods for updates when you make your purchase.
However, Which? believes industry must not simply wait for the enforcement of new laws to improve transparency – and that manufacturers should also proactively extend the minimum lengths of time they support smart products.
If they do not step up, the government should build on the action it has already taken and mandate that manufacturers set longer minimum support periods.
Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:
It’s unfair for manufacturers to sell expensive products that should last for many years and then abandon them. This means the product could lose the features that justified the hefty price tag and could potentially create a security risk or add to the electrical waste mountain if it has to be replaced.
‘Manufacturers must up their game and provide vital tech updates for their smart products for longer, otherwise the government should consider further intervention in this area, including specifying a minimum number of years that these products have to be supported for.’
How to shop smart when buying smart appliances
- Check manufacturer update policies before you buy – Visit which.co.uk/smartdevicesupport to find out which manufacturers, across 20 different categories, offer longer guaranteed support periods for smart products.
- Be wary of second hand products – Brands with strong support policies can be great options in these markets, helping consumers buy more sustainably. But in other cases you may end up buying a device that’s already out of support. Second hand products aren’t initially covered by the PSTI law.
- Take security measures – For devices that are still supported, make sure they’re updated to the latest software. Ensure you set strong passwords yourself. If you can add on two-factor authentication, make sure you do so.
- Is smart the right option for you? – For certain products, such as washing machines, consumers could decide they are better off avoiding smart appliances that could lose security support after only a few years and instead stick to more reliable and cheaper non-smart alternatives. In some categories, like TVs, it can be hard not to buy a smart model these days.
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