What is Planned Obsolescence?

Profitable business endeavors are frequently accompanied by disconcerting strategies and consumer technology; one of the largest and fastest growing industries is no exception. These strategies are often only evident, however, after extensive use and research by both technology-focused media companies and conscious consumers. On lists compiled by these media outlets, Apple’s MacBook lines post-2009 and their iPhone line post-iPhone 4 are among the worst offenders in the categories of longevity and upgradability, an unnerving fact that must result in a re-evaluation of the technology industry, as well as, any other company that utilizes similar business models.

First debuted in the early two thousands, Apple’s MacBook is an iconic product that once again revolutionized the industry, just as the Apple II had done, over two decades earlier. Apple, founded by the infamously aggressive Steve Jobs and the technically brilliant Steve Wozniak, brought us this icon from its California-based research facility where engineers and design teams carefully nursed it, despite having their character and work ethic frequently under attack by their intransigent boss.

It is apparent why both the elderly and children revered this product, as the simplistic design was navigable with minimal prior experience. However, in recent years the frequent iteration of the MacBook lines and their decreasing lifespan became exceedingly relevant to both Apple’s critics and fans who claimed that Apples alleged policy of planned obsolescence was driven by greed. The elegant design insignificant to a vocal critic who complained, “If I’m spending thousands of dollars on a product, I expect it to last longer than my dollar store goldfish.” Another reviewer wrote, “If I’m purchasing a product that is half the price of a used car, I expect at least half of the use.” Many reviewers expressed a similar sentiment, all of whom debating whether the lack of upgradability was a result of “design constraints” or a distasteful attempt to force users to upgrade more frequently.

However, much more terrifying than the idea of this practice ripping off millions of Apple users is that the practice is not isolated to Apple’s Ecosystem. By forcing the user to upgrade every few years, the manufacturer has a steady flow of income, in addition to the new users, they get from other companies. Companies, who sell the proprietary parts needed to upgrade a device achieve similar profit streams, boast better customer retention, and have fewer attacks against their business models. The use of proprietary parts is alarming, however, because who granted manufacturers the right to limit the parts we can use in our devices? Regretfully, Apple is guilty of this poor business practice as well, considering the legal feud from several months ago in which Apple would not allow Touch-ID enabled home buttons to be installed from third-party repair shops because it “compromised security.” Alternatively, the “Bend-gate” drama regarding the iPhone 6 plus’s tendency to bend due to its thin form factor also caused considerable debate and uproar.

Apple forcing the use of certified shops to fix problems that Apple caused is akin to permitting an arsonist to extinguish a fire they ignited. If we retain Apple as the gold standard of consumer electronics companies, let us urge them to stop their monopoly on repairs of our devices we already spent a large sum of money on, even if this release of power occurs gradually, model-by-model, generation-by-generation.

Apple’s iPhone 4 was another icon with a sleek glass backing and upgraded capabilities over its predecessors. Its specialized screws were also revolutionary, however, this was not a positive revolution, as it required specialty tools not available in a normal workshop to fix. The device did not have a removable battery and lacked expandable storage, resulting in a device that angered tinkerer's and was not "future-proof" in any sense of the phrase. This product, however, embodied Steve Job's closed system ideology and still proved to be hugely successful. Due to strange design choices, the back of the device was made of glass that had a tendency to shatter, however, rather than pay Apple to have the device repaired, consumers simply colored in the back and gave the phone a unique appearance. Apple lost money because of this, however, the profits from other product’s repairs resulted in increased stock prices and market influence.

Such summary removes the superiority of the device but not by much. The devices biggest impact on many self-reliant people was the need for specialty kit, as it made the upgradability of the devices much more difficult. The MacBook’s soldered on Ram, limited storage capabilities and limited interface options, in addition to, the limited opportunity for user improvements of the Apple iPhone 4, resulted in two cases of planned obsolescence by Apple which went down in technology history as the start of an epidemic that plagued our devices to present day and shows no indications of stopping.

Planned obsolescence affects millions of consumers who are outside the scope of Apple by influencing the automotive industry as well. Ordinary consumers could previously modify and repair their vehicles with relative ease, however, now the abundance of electronics and specialty equipment results in consumers barely able to change their windshield wiper fluid. Consumers are now expected to spend large sums of money by taking their vehicle to certified repair shops for even the most minute of things, such as changing the oil. The lack of after-market upgradability entices many consumers to opt for lease programs, allowing them to drive a brand new car every three to five years. The lease model, however, force manufacturers to upgrade their cars with high frequency and render old cars inefficient sooner in order to keep the consumer in the perpetual cycle.

We must address all industries that utilize planned obsolescence the same way we address Apple and other consumer technologies – we must question their true motives behind their decisions. We must refrain from buying products birthed by poor business practices. We must make our disapproval known. We must end planned obsolescence as it is constantly hurting the consumer.

             

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Hi! My name is Danny Iacobacci, and I am the Chief Editor of the Newspaper here at Newfield High School. Our Newfield Fusfoo page is a culmination of a variety of editorials and videos from students in both the Newspaper and Video Club at Newfield. In addition to helping run our school's Fusfoo page, editing articles, and covering events, I also write many articles on a variety of exciting technology projects, with a particular focus on the Maker Movement, in which I am a proud member. I am also the President and Team Captain of Newfield's Robotics Team, as well as, The President of Newfield's Chapter of the National Technical Honor Society -- which also make up a significant portion of my articles. If you have any feedback on my editorials, or on Newfield's Fusfoo Page as a whole, please feel free to send us an email at NewsfieldWolverine@gmail.com. Happy Reading!

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