Three years is not an acceptable lifespan for a smartwatch, the Disputes Tribunal has ruled in a decision that could have repercussions for shoppers and retailers alike.
Auckland mediator Timothy McMichael bought a first-generation Apple Watch from Noel Leeming in 2015 only to find, just three years later, that it could not handle Apple's latest WatchOS software upgrade.
Noel Leeming's representative argued that the Apple Watch was still fit for purpose because it could still function as well as the day he bought it.
McMichael scoffed to the Herald that he did not want his Apple Watch just to tell the time. It should be able to accept Apple cope with software upgrades for five or six years, including the recent AppleWatch5OS - which includes new workout and entertainment app features, among other enhancements.
He drew on software compatibility timeframes for Apple iPhones and iPads to make his case, which was bolstered by a letter of evidence supplied by Consumer NZ head of testing Dr Paul Smith.
McMichael also noted that the first-generation Apple Watch was sold into 2016, meaning some customers only got two years' of software compatibility.
In a decision filed on April 23, Disputes Tribunal referee Clayton Luke noted that the first-generation Watch was sold "with certain" fine print terms and conditions, one of which stated that Apple would not be bound to provide software support or updates.
"However, I do not accept that this term was sufficiently visible to have a meaningful impact on reasonable consumer expectations," he said.
Luke ordered Noel Leeming to reimburse McMichael for the full cost of his Apple Watch - or $1249.99 by May 7.
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Not in the same manner as if he had won a court case.
Although its is run by the Ministry of Justice, "Disputes Tribunal decisions aren't precedent- setting," Consumer NZ head of research Jessica Wilson says.
"The Disputes Tribunal Act gives referees the right to determine disputes based on what they think is fair in any particular case," she says.
"However, we would expect well-reasoned decisions, such as this one, to be taken into account by referees dealing with similar disputes."
Wilson adds, "The case highlights the growing problem of manufacturers failing to provide software updates for tech products that may only be a few years old. The upshot is these products can end up as e-waste before their time."
"However, both manufacturers and retailers have responsibilities under the Consumer Guarantees Act to ensure the products they sell, including tech products, are of acceptable quality and last the distance. When a product doesn't measure up, the consumer is entitled to a remedy."
The software upgrade issue has been brought more into focus by the rise of smartwatches.
Many people are habituated to upgrading their smartphone every couple of years, so support for software upgrades has not been such an issue.
But most are owning a watch for a lot longer.
But even in the smartphone market, people are losing their patience with constant upgrades.
IDC analyst Scott Manion says his company's recently-released Consumerscape 360 survey found that while in 2015 New Zealand smartphone buyers expected to own a phone for two and a half years, the average expectation is that they will now hold onto it for close to four years.
For his part, McMichael remains an Apple fan.
He says he offered to settle with Noel Leeming for $750, the amount required for him to buy the latest Apple Watch. The retailer countered with a $100 offer that he declined, he says.
Talking to the Herald just days before the May 7 deadline, he said he had tried to contact Noel Leeming five times but not heard anything back.
He wondered if the retailer planned to appeal.
A spokeswoman for The Warehouse Group, which owns Noel Leeming, said the company had no comment on the judgment but did offer, "We will of course be paying the amount set out by the Disputes Tribunal by the due date."
Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.