Imagine that you spend 3,600 euros on a state-of-the-art treadmill. You do it because the invention has a 32-inch screen that allows you to follow the routines, but also because you know it can be hacked to be able to watch courses, football or the latest episode of ‘El Pacificador’. Imagine that suddenly the manufacturer caps your machine and prevents you from doing all those things.
That is what has happened with the NordicTrack treadmills. The company did not like that their screens were used for anything other than what they had in mind for them. What did you do? Block the mechanism that allowed it to be hacked, something that has made its users furious. If I spend €3,600 on a product, I want to be able to do whatever I want with it. Or not?
NordicTrack disabled privileged mode, but users have fought back
The touch screen of the NordicTrak Incline Trainer X32i (which costs 3,599 euros in our country) it is intended for one thing and one thing only: that one can subscribe to the iFit platform, which has training routines – automatically changing the incline as you follow the video – and costs about 340 euros a year.
You won’t be able to do anything else natively, but several users took advantage of it to go further. someone discovered that it was possible to hack it easily and access the privileged mode of the screen, which was based on Android and from that moment allowed to install applications through sideloading, browse the internet and, of course, play all kinds of content.
NordicTrack had not hidden its existence in this privileged way, but neither had it advertised it. There was even a guide on the iFit support website to access that mode —it has been removed, but it is possible to access it thanks to Archive.org—, and several users took advantage of that ability to go beyond what the manufacturer proposed.
However, in October NordicTrack started updating the firmware on all of its exercise machines, and it did the same thing on all of them: blocked privileged mode.
That made a lot of users angry. JD Howard, one of them, made it clear in Wired how he got “exactly what I paid for.” I already had a “cheap” treadmill without a screen, and when I bought the NordicTrack I thought I had found the perfect product, but “now they are trying to remove features that are critically important to me. I do not agree with that“.
The company already had bad reviews for its technical service, but complaints about this decision have been lavished on Reddit, where users confess to being “livid” at this blocking of the privileged mode. The protest was unanimous: if I have spent thousands of dollars (or euros) on a machine, I want to use it however I want.
In NordicTrack they indicated that blocking that option it was intended to “maintain the safety and functionality of the machine” and that the privileged mode “was never designed as a functionality for end users”, but to be able to offer remote solutions in case of problems.
We are therefore faced with a new case that brings us back to the debate on the right to repair. In this, however, users have not given up yet, and Howard himself published a method to recover the lost functions.
There are also videos on YouTube trying to help overcome the barrier now imposed by NordicTrak, and that It basically consists of restoring the machine to its factory state and prevent it from updating automatically. The firmware is older, but “from that base, you have access to everything.”