So what is Planned Obsolescence?
In simple terms, it’s the way of designing and making a product in such a way that it will have a limited lifespan, and is also more prone to failure and/or degradation in quality, with time. This results in consumers having to buy a new product earlier than usual or having to repair their degrading product sooner and often.
Planning obsolescence can come in multiple ways.
– Making the product with inferior parts or lowering the actual life span, so that they fail quicker.
– Making the design more brittle and easier to break, so that parts with more usage give away due to wear and tear. Like a phone screen or a laptop hinge.
– Purposefully making design complex such that repairs would be harder and with less success rate. Like soldering RAM to the motherboard or gluing battery to phone chassis, so they can’t be replaced.
– Degrading/Limiting the performance of older products through software updates. Apple was caught slowing down older iPhones.
Examples of planned obsolescence
The Phoebus cartel and light bulbs
In 1925, the biggest lamp manufacturers across the world joined hands, which turned the light bulb market into an oligopoly. This cartel included GE which then had 95% of the lamp market share. This cartel lowered the lifespan of an incandescent light bulb from its original 2500hrs to 1000hrs by making the tungsten filament thinner. Since they colluded and appropriated regions for sales, it became a standard. Since there’s no competition they even raised the prices. This is one of the earliest instances of planned obsolescence in history.
Apple slowing down older iPhones
In 2017, Apple was sued for slowing down older iPhones through their software updates. But Apple came out and said they’re doing this to prevent devices from shutting off due to degraded batteries. Apple had to settle the lawsuit by paying around $600M over multiple cases.
John Deere and software locks
Most of the farming equipment made by John Deere comes with its proprietary software with a lock, so only its authorized service/repair center can unlock and fix the issues. And these run into hundreds and thousands of dollars even for simple fixes.
Psychological / Perceived obsolescence
If you watched the launch videos of new smartphones/gadgets, be it behemoths like Apple & Samsung or popular ones like Motorola and OnePlus, you would always notice how they highlight the new features and additional enhancements that the old models don’t have.
And these details are plastered on all marketing materials, which makes the consumers who own the older products feel that they’re missing out on the latest features. So even though their current phone is working just fine, they would be inclined to upgrade.
This is highly prevalent in Veblen goods, which are perceived as a status symbol. So off to buy that iPhone 14 Pro Max in September, to replace iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Most authors and book publishers release a new edition of the book with additional material and content, which is not available separately for sale. You have to get the new book for reading those.
Back in 1924, General Motors started launching new cars every year with design changes to encourage consumers to buy new ones. Now, this is a common practice across cross manufacturers today.
The growing e-waste
The biggest impact of planned obsolescence is the ever-growing e-waste. We are generating e-waste of around 60 Million tonnes every single year and it’s only growing. It’s not only a waste of valuable resources but also environmental impacts. If not properly recycled, they cause harm to the environment. And the process of recycling is also harmful to the ones doing it.