Who needs backwards compatibility, anyway?

Or, How to Annoy Your Customers in One Easy Step

Manufacturers, web developers, coffeepot makers: anyone who actual makes stuff must have a love-hate relationship with backwards compatibility, where a product can use components of older versions of itself. This is not “planned obsolescence”, that cynical phrase getting people to buy, say, a new car every few years.

Backwards compatibility ensures that loyal users of a product can use a new version of that product the same way they used the old one. Take my trusty new Keurig coffee maker. When I bought it at Target, I failed to see that it was in fact “Keurig 2.0”. As a Nespresso user switching over, why would I care? In fact I did care very much after I tried using a few dozen Keurig pods from someone else’s old Keurig. My new machine glared balefully at me and flashed an error message, uninterested in my early morning caffeine withdrawals.

Keurig 2.0 backwards compatibility

Not a good start to this relationship. How can these new pods be so different? It’s just a plastic cup with a sealed foil lid. It contains my morning coffee, not sensitive state secrets. While some reports show that people can hack their way into the Keurig 2.0 with the old pods, the whole concept is silly. Maybe I’ll stick with my favorite Italian old school espresso maker, or just go to Starbucks.

Keurig 2.0

Angular 2.0

Backwards compatibility was not a silly matter at all when the popular JavaScript framework, Angular, announced its 2.0 version. I myself was just learning Angular and figuring our universal concepts like dependency injection and modular application design. But then I read about the vastly different features in 2.0 and the worries of developers about relearning these features, letting go of old practices, and figuring out what to do with their current Angular clients and legacy projects.

Cutting out access to early features while adding new features – in any product – is a risk. It is not a death sentence and may in fact keep a product alive. Still, Angular 2.0 risks turning people away from any version of Angular, when so many other JavaScript libraries and frameworks are emerging. It has in fact pushed me toward things like React, Backbone, good ol’ jQuery and even plain JavaScript.

This is a good thing; different jobs need different tools, and the more tools I have, the more jobs I do. Angular may be getting left behind if developers are too spooked to use it. Even Google isn’t using Angular in wide production even though it owns it. This is not a fair criticism, because its big products like Gmail have been around for a long time.

iPhone headphone jack

Time will tell if Apple Computer feels the same burn if it switches the round headphone jack, as rumored, to a flat Lightning connector. While saving maybe 2 millimeters of height, it is walking away from an industrial design that has lasted for decades and is as universal as 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper or the name Kleenex.

Backwards compatibility with iPhone headphone jacks
At least my Chromebook will always have round headphone jacks, right? Right?

Apple may be gambling that they have enough market power to force millions of iPhone users and millions of manufacturers to shell out unnecessary cost for this switch. They may be right. However, it is still annoying and does not suggest a great deal of loyalty to its fan base which is highly loyal in return. Meanwhile, I am still trying to figure out my Keurig.

David Kissinger consults with companies, trade associations, non-profits and entrepreneurs on external affairs, public relations, marketing, advocacy, IT strategy, web development and content.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.