Planned Obsolescence - How Products are Designed to Fail

Planned Obsolescence - How Products are Designed to Fail - Lovefone, London

Wouldn't it be wonderful to live in our world where our technology never failed? A world where our smartphone batteries didn't eventually give up the ghost? A world where our laptops didn't get temperamental after their 5th birthday? A world where the technology we depend on - and pay good money for - was built to last?

Unfortunately, this marvellous imagined world full of dependable technology with true longevity is not likely to become a reality any time soon. That's because much of  technology we use today, including our smartphones, has been designed with a limited shelf-life, all thanks to a concept known as “planned obsolescence” (and more than a small dose of corporate greed).

What is planned obsolescence?

Also known as in-built obsolescence or programmed obsolescence, planned obsolescence refers to the practice of designing and manufacturing products with a limited useful life. In come cases this means products are deliberately designed to fall out of fashion after a certain period, more commonly it means that products (particularly tech products) are designed to break, slow down and become difficult to use after a set point.

The purpose of planned obsolescence is simple – to force consumers to buy replacement products as frequently as possible without becoming disenfranchised by the brand responsible for the initial product. In corporate circles, this process is known as “shortening the replacement cycle”. In short, companies build obsolescence into their products in order to sell more products and make more money.

Does planned obsolescence affect my smartphone?

It's almost guaranteed that planned obsolescence is at play within your smartphone right now. For example, it's not possible for many smartphone users to simply take off the back of their phone to replace their batteries anymore, which naturally become weaker over time. This means that they will usually buy a fresh phone in order to enjoy restored battery life once their current battery starts to have less longevity.

In other cases, brands like Android stop making software upgrades for specific handsets after a certain period. This means users must buy a new handset in order to access the fresh upgrade for their smartphone.

There are also other, subtler ways in which planned obsolescence speeds up the “replacement cycle”, which depend on omission rather than deliberate sabotage.

The fact that a spilt cup of coffee or an unfortunate case of butterfingers can consign our phones to telephone heaven seems remarkable given the types of technology and materials now available on the market. Waterproofing and reinforcing smartphones would be inexpensive and straightforward, but it doesn't really make sense for technology businesses. After all, the more we break, the more we buy.

The environmental cost

Of course this is very bad news for consumer pockets, especially since all major tech companies are at it. If one quality alternative which offered longevity came to market, the jig would be up for other manufacturers, but today planned obsolescence is a crucial part of business models.

But it's also very bad news for our planet.
In a recent post we explored some the problems we face as a result of electronic waste (also known as e-waste). From the 65.4 million tonnes of e-waste likely to be tossed away in 2017, to the human cost of exporting e-waste illegally and irresponsibly mining for manufacturing materials in countries with few workers' rights, the accepted strategy of planned obsolescence doesn't just cost us money, it costs human lives and the future of our planet.


Do you think your smartphone features planned obsolescence? How long was your last phone's lifespan? Share your thoughts below and escape the cycle by
getting your phone fixed by the Lovefone specialists.

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Published
April 11, 2017