In today’s fast-paced consumer electronics environment, devices such as our smartphones and laptops are designed and manufactured with the intention that they would have to be replaced within a finite amount of time. In addition, some manufacturers don’t provide replacement parts, requiring electronics owners to get repairs done from the manufacturers themselves. Often, consumers will replace their broken electronics to avoid costly repairs, therefore creating excess electronic waste. However, the problems of the planned obsolescence problem aren’t just because of manufacturers, but are also contributed by the demands of consumers.
One of the most popular consumer electronics, Apple’s iPhone, has become the epitome of planned obsolescence. Since releasing in 2007, the iPhone has become less user repair friendly in each generation, with such things as proprietary hardware and components that cannot be serviced. For example, in late 2010 when iPhone 4 owners would get their phones repaired, employees of Apple Stores were replacing Phillips head screws with Apple’s proprietary pentalobe screws. Lacking transparency, employees were instructed to withhold that information to iPhone owners, in order to make self-service almost impossible.
In addition, an earlier generation of the Macbook Pro with its hardware and battery literally glued to its casing led to Apple losing their “Green” status with the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) program. This design made the laptop unrecyclable, a key component of the EPEAT program. Instead, Apple has created their own campaign that showcases their steps towards environmental sustainability.
Nonetheless, Apple remains one of the most profitable electronics manufacturers in the world. New iPhone releases are followed with seemingly endless lines outside every Apple Store, their desktops and laptops remain the standard of professionals across many industries and their iPad tablets and Apple Watch smartwatches rule the high-end segment of those product categories.
Apple’s product designs, although beautiful, are ultimately intended to be replaced. The lack of serviceability is a clear indication that they are not built to last more than a few years. However, part of the planned obsolescence business model can be contributed to the rapid advancements in technology itself. With ways to make computing faster and smaller, manufacturers must conform to the “latest and greatest” specifications of technology in order to remain profitable. It’s a convoluted two-way street that is contributed from the behaviors of both consumers and manufacturers.