Western Digital alienates existing WD TV Live customers, confuses potential consumers with its new ‘Plus’ model

I’m all for companies iterating and releasing new products with slight upgrades. I also completely understand that slightly older models will soon after be left in the dust. It’s called planned obsolescence. Apple and other successful gadget companies have taken this strategy to heart and made a killing from it. However, there is always a fine line between doing what is right for the bottom line, and thoroughly alienating and pissing off existing customers, and temporarily confusing potential would be consumers.

A few days ago, Western Digital, one of the larger purveyors of hard drives and, more recently, makers of a successful line of standalone WD TV media players crossed that line. How? By releasing a “new” product called the WD TV Live Plus HD which adds Netflix ‘Watch Instantly’ functionality, and a few other negligible enhancements to the now obsolete WD TV Live HD media player.

I’d not be so frustrated or up in arms about this “new” product had WD actually released a “new” product. Instead, they’ve taken an existing product, the WD TV Live, and added one major new feature, slapped the word ‘Plus’ on the box, and even left the price the same (see screen grabs from the official WD online store; above/below), while at the same time, providing existing WD TV Live owners a new (prerelease) firmware update with all the new goodies except Netflix functionality.

Based on the technical specifications listed on WD’s own site, these two little black boxes are identical in every way, leaving one to assume that had they wanted to, WD could have provided Netflix to existing customers. Hell, I’d be happy to throw down $5 or maybe even $10 for a licensing fee to use Netflix on the hardware I’ve already paid for. Clearly, selling feature updates for identical hardware would go a lot further in the minds of existing customers and potential consumers, than to basically throw all of their waning fan base under the proverbial bus.

Obviously, this is far from the end of the world (looks like BP is taking care of that by itself). But it is a good lesson in what not to do in the age of the Internet. One look at the lovely comments on this official WD TV Live blog post, and anyone can see how many people WD has pissed off by its failure to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. Would it be so hard to create a little app store and sell customers new features from time to time? Seeing how just about every other gadget company has done so within the last year, I think not.

Poor show, WD.