Before I talk about planned obsolescence, I should have a quick word about what it is. You have either come here because you want to know more about it or because you spotted the title and wondered what the heck it means.
Obsolescence comes from obsolete. When something is obsolete, it is no longer relevant, no longer used; it is out of date. The most common way for a product to become obsolete is for it to be replaced by something new, and this is where planned obsolescence comes in.
Planned obsolescence is when various strategies are used to make a product seem undesirable, useless, and unwanted. There are many ways in which a business can do this, and is one of the building blocks for many companies to make a profit. Have you ever wondered why updated products come out every year? Are the original products really that bad?
Types Of Planned Obsolescence
There are three main ways in which a company can achieve planned obsolescence: unreliable parts, software updates, and clever marketing.
Companies can use all of the above or a combination of all three. The ultimate goal is to make you buy products again and again, and is directly against what we are all about at Durability Matters. I want to find the best products which will last you a lifetime.
Let’s take a closer look at how companies might use these strategies.
If only all companies were interested in looking after their customer as well as turning a profit but, sadly, not all are. The most common way for planned obsolescence to happen is for parts to break down intentionally.
Companies make their products with parts which they know are going to fail, and in products which you know will buy again. How often have you been in someone’s garage or basement and seen one of those old fridges, still working? New fridges (in most cases) do not last as long as the old ones, and there is a reason for that. Companies know that when your fridge dies, you will buy a new one.
There are many other examples where a product will break down, and a consumer will buy a replacement, often a slightly newer model. Unreliable parts are almost always to blame.
Your printer does not work, and you have tried to update your drivers to get it to do anything. Still, it will not print. You search, and you search, and you find that your printer is no longer valid for the most recent software. There is nothing to do but buy a new printer. Software updates can drive consumers to throw out an old product and buy a new one (printers also fall to unreliable parts too).
Think about your phone. It works fine; you can call and text, but after numerous updates, you find that you do not have enough room for everything. You may also find that the most recent software updates are no longer compatible with your phone. There is nothing for it other than to buy a new phone.
There are many perfectly fine products which fall victim to a software update, and companies know exactly what they are doing with this.
One of the most common forms of planned obsolescence is clever marketing. There does not even need to be anything wrong with your product for you to want to replace it. The most com-mon form of this is with cell phones. It is no wonder that another phone comes out every year (sometimes twice a year and multiple new phones).
Where marketing is the most effective is with the fear of missing out (FOMO). Do you want to be the only person still taking photos with “only” a 20 MP camera when you could have a 40 MP camera? How about all the new special effects you can get?
You also have to contend with phones which have bigger screens, are more powerful, have a longer battery life, are waterproof, can do more, have cooler cases, can take more video, have voice control, and are packed with AI. Sure, your phone can do everything which you need it to do but can it do what everyone else’s phone can do?
The fear of missing out is strong, and companies know it. Before you buy a new product, ask yourself if you really need it.
A Famous Example Of Planned Obsolescence
There are many examples of planned obsolescence, including printers and lightbulbs, but one of the most famous instances comes from one of the biggest companies in the world, Apple.
In 2018, French prosecutes went after the company for planned obsolescence. Under French law, it is a crime to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product. As we know from planned obsolescence, there are a number of ways in which you can do this, and consumers end up buying repayment products.
Apple admitted that older iPhone models were slowed down through software updates, though they claimed that this was because of diminishing battery performance rather than the software. Many iPhone users shared details of their phones being too slow to use.
While there was not much of a resolution, Apple slashed the prices of its replacement batteries so that the phones would speed up with the new software, and pledged to do more in the future to ensure that the phones did not slow again.
With a new iPhone coming out every year, I am sure there is some planned obsolescence in there somewhere.
Wrapping It Up
Before you buy a product, think about two things: do you need it? And, is it going to last? Just because you are buying a high-quality and expensive product, that does not mean that you are getting one which is going to last. Just look at the iPhone.
Companies are in business to make money. Some companies use planned obsolescence to make their money while others turn a profit while looking after their customer. When buying a product, take the time to look into the company and what they offer. Companies which offer lifetime warranties (or some sort of extended warranty) are usually ones which have belief in their products.
Look for future-proof products which are not going to be affected by software updates, and check if the product is one in a long line of slightly updated ones.
There are some great companies and durable products out there; you just need to know where to find them.