The companies who make you break things

Posted on Apr 8 2015 - 9:45am by Guest writer
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It’s possibly the least exciting subject in the world, it’s called planned obsolescence, but this is a very real thing that we accept as normal practice every single day which in reality should be completely unacceptable, and yet as consumers we accept it, and our behaviour actively encourages and rewards it.

I recently got bitten by this bug as part of the day to day experience of using my iPad.  I’ve had my iPad for three years and have used it pretty much every single day I have owned it, by that logic I would say I’ve had a good run with and good value from this product, however in the last few months, it has been running slowly, and that coincides with the launch of iOS8.

Windows updateHaving researched this topic on the internet it seems that I’m not the only user experiencing this.  In fact, many users of older apple products seem to suggest that having upgraded to the newer software, their appliances were running slower.  It’s something that PC users have been experiencing for years, as software gets better the demands on hardware gets greater therefore it seems reasonable that there is a shelf life on these products.  Apple however are the masters of all things related to iOS and the applications that run on them.  From an end user experience, is the latest operating system that different to the operating system I had when I was given my iPad many years ago?  In my personal experience, not really.

So I stumbled across this Huffington Post article that talks in a little more detail about exactly how apple “adds new features” to enhance the functionality of the iPad and iPhone, and whilst they say it is “highly unlikely” that this is an intentional ploy by apple, they do clearly suggest that as a user of an older piece of hardware it may be in my best interests to continue with an older version of iOS.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/13/apple-new-iphones_n_5967626.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

Whilst that is a useful recommendation, that’s not really practical.  Having stayed on iOS6 for around 8 IOS updatemonths after the launch of iOS7, my girlfriend was finally forced to upgrade after finding a number of her applications no longer worked (such as FaceTime) meaning the option of staying connected was to upgrade.  I have no doubt that she will soon find the same with her iOS8 upgrade.

Realistically the option I have remaining is to accept the new level of functionality with my iPad (with the slower loading times and occasional crashing), or to upgrade to a newer model or product.  As I said at the start, as consumers we are as much to blame as any other.  I’m sure many of you are wondering how somebody who is as excited by technology as I am can use a product that is at least 3 generations behind the current product, and would just encourage me to ‘get with the programme, grandad’ (do people still say that), however as I said earlier, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that a product which cost in excess of £500 to last more than 3 years- my kitchen appliances fall into that bracket and last a lot longer with daily use just like my iPad.

So those of you who thought exactly that, are the same people who encourage this behaviour from companies like Apple.  It’s almost like we’re begging these companies to come up with a reason for us to swap our old tech for new, so when they launch the new operating system that runs great on the latest and greatest hardware, we look for excuses to upgrade and don’t find those excuses hard to find.

iPads are just my personal experience of planned obsolescence.  There are hundreds of others in everyday life.  From children’s toys that have built in batteries that can’t be removed or recharged to ink cartridges which have counters built in and will tell you that it is out of ink when there are hundreds of pages worth of prints still available (they almost all do it and it’s a genuine thing, look it up).

From a technological point of view, video games are a prime example.  Sure as the generations progress the graphics and processing power improves which is acceptable, however the lack of backwards compatibility of these devices is an example of how the games companies have made an industry from pre-owned and retro gaming and modern devices (such as Sony and Microsoft) give you the option to purchase retro games you may have previously owned again on their new formats digitally.  Nintendo are one of the better formats, but understandably their cartridge formats can’t be accommodated in their new technology and are tending to be relaunched on handheld devices.

For other interesting examples of planned obsolescence, even young people are affected as school and university textbooks will often relaunch yearly with similar content, however that content is re-organised meaning that students with older versions of the texts can find it difficult or be left behind.  Light bulbs are one of the greatest examples.  There are examples of light bulbs in the Edison museum which are still going strong after nearly 100 years, I have had bulbs in my house which haven’t lasted more than 2.  Guess why that might be?

By the way, I’ll likely look at buying a new iPad or iPhone fairly soon.  This is the sound of me jumping on the bandwagon.

If you are interested in this subject further there is an excellent BBC documentary available online called “The men who made us spend”.

Chris

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