The Planned Obsolescence of Consumer Technology


(Image: Stay Free Magazine)

Source: Glipho

Back in February of 2013, the Brazilian Institute of Politics and Law Software (IBDI), filed a lawsuit against Apple, claiming they’d engaged in unfair business practices. Their justification for this allegation was “Planned Obsolescence” of their iPad line. In October of 2012, Apple had replaced the iPad 3 with the iPad 4, much to the chagrin of many new iPad 3 users who has only just purchased that tablet earlier in March of that year.

I’ve long suspected that tech companies and manufacturers participate in planning the phasing out of old products by deliberately limiting the functionality of new ones and effectively slowing them down and forcing users to upgrade over time. An example of this planned obsolescence can be seen with the iPad 1. The first gen iOS tablet was introduced in 2010 and after only 3 years, it has largely become a slow and virtually obsolete device. In fact, it can only be upgraded as far as iOS 5. Most users now complain that the iPad 1 is barely usable for certain tasks beyond basic web browsing and watching movies.

Just consider how well older desktop computers (and I’m including laptops) hold up over the years, new mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones seem to not fair quite as well.

When a consumer purchases an iOS or Android handset, it seems as if the product life cycle is only about 12 months before they fall behind the technical curve and are suddenly unable to run the latest games and software. For desktop computers this is usually a longer period, perhaps 2 – 3 years in some cases. One has to wonder if this constant progress and rampant consumerisation is caused by the speed by which the mobile market is developing and how quickly manufacturers are innovating.

But perhaps this is all part of the plan. If you’ve upgraded your iPad 2 to iOS 7 recently, you’ll notice just how its performance has been negatively affected. It’s possible that Apple had intended the iPad 2 to slow down over time with each incremental iOS update, thus encouraging users to think “My iPad is a bit slow, I need to upgrade”. By contrast, my Macbook Pro from 2009 and my iMac from 2008, continue to run very well after all these years. I often worry that tech companies have managed to develop a new product category with mobile devices that now allows them to manipulate consumers into upgrading by making them feel like they are out of touch with the latest tech.

What makes this planned obsolescence a truly disingenuous activity is that tech companies predominantly target existing customers with this strategy, almost making them feel bad for investing in their initial purchase now that a newer, faster and shinier version is available. The advertising and marketing campaigns of these companies are very enticing and often manipulative whereby they literally make it seem as if the product they are promoting cannot get any better. All the while, however, they are already planning to release improved versions of said product as part of their long term product road map.

In the past a consumer could spend £400 – £500 on a laptop and get perhaps 3 – 4 years out of it, now this obsolescence tax seems to encourage people to spend that amount of money far more regularly. So please comment below and let us know if you feel pressured to upgrade your tablet or smartphone with each passing generation and do you find your devices becoming slower and less powerful more frequently. Check out my video below in which I discuss the subject of planned obsolescence in greater detail and be sure to subscribe to Lack78 on YouTube.