Apple and Planned Obsolescence

Because planned obsolescence is part of our lives and Apple uses it “very well”.

Broken Apple Background.png

Two years ago, Spanish public television aired a documentary titled “The Light Bulb Conspiracy” (“Comprar, tirar, comprar” in Spanish). That documentary talked about planned obsolescence and how it impacted our lives in this consumption society. The program started talking about lightbulbs and printers but then moved into the iPod.

It surprised me to see Apple there. My favorite tech company doing dirty tactics in order to sell more? That’s not the Apple I liked. The documentary talked about how Apple limited the battery of the iPods in order to last less. People thought they were scammed when their iPod’s battery died after a year they bought it. After a class action, Apple replaced those iPods with “faulty” battery. And then, peace was back again.

But then, some time after, planned obsolescence hit me. I’m going to talk about my experience with iOS devices here but it may affect other Apple products.

The iPod Touch 3rd generation case

So in 2010 I bought an iPod Touch. I loved it. I had music, apps and the web in a little device that could fit my pocket. The thing is, two years after, in 2012, it became “obsolete”. Apple did not update it to iOS 6, claiming that the hardware was too old for the new OS. I noticed that with each iOS update, the device felt slower and the battery lasted less. At first, one could think, oh yes, the device is old so maybe it can’t run the new OS. Then, the iPhone 3GS enters the game. It featured the same hardware as my iPod Touch but it was updated to iOS 6. Apple contradicted itself. If they had the same hardware and one run the new OS, how can they say that “the hardware was too old”?

Nowadays, I only use my iPod to listen to music and it’s disconnected to the internet, because if I connect it to the net, the battery drains very quickly. Also, I almost can’t use any app (or the latest versions of those apps, I should say) because most of them require iOS 6 (some even iOS 7) to run. I was thinking in buying another iPod Touch, but if I did that, I would be falling in the trap of planned obsolescence. For now, I can use the device to listen to music, and that’s what I want it for.

Now let’s move into the iPad.

The iPad 3rd generation case

In 2012 I bought “The new iPad”, the first one that had a Retina Display. It came with iOS 5.1 and was really fast and worked well. Later that year, I updated it to iOS 6, the new OS Apple released in the fall. It still worked great, but it was somewhat slower than it was with iOS 5.1 and I had some Wi-Fi issues.
Then Apple did something strange. 7 months after they announced the iPad 3, they came up with a new iPad with the Lightning connector and a faster processor. I was a bit shocked, because if I had known that four months after I bought my iPad, they would release a new one, I would have waited for the new model.
After the new iPad was released, a lot of people in the Apple “blogosphere” started talking about how the iPad’s 3 processor was “underpowered from the start” for that Retina Display. Before that, almost anyone (or simply anyone?) talked about that. If I waited a little bit more… But still, the iPad was usable.

Then, a year after iOS 7 came into the world (and strange things started to happen).

The iOS 7 case

Last year, Apple released its new operating system for the iOS devices. It brought a new “flat” design that changed how the entire OS looked. But it also brought new bits of planned obsolescence.

First, let’s start with my iPad (since my iPod is stuck with iOS 5). I’ve told you how after the iPad 4 was released, everyone started talking about the “underpowered processor” it had. Well, with iOS 7 you can feel that. On modern iOS devices, the new OS has some nice blur and cosmetic touches throughout the system. But “older” (or underpowered, however you want to say it) devices don’t have them. For example, in notification center, a new device would have a nice blurred background but on my iPad, it’s just black and boring.

New iPad: (image courtesy of AppleInsider)

My iPad

Also, the OS feels much more slower on my iPad than before. “Your hardware is getting outdated” would say anyone at Apple. But then I take my mother’s iPad Mini (the one without retina display) which has a worse processor and less RAM and… Surprise! It has the nice blur everywhere!
But your iPad has a retina display, and that needs more power from the processor… OK! OK! Then let’s compare to something that has the same specs as that iPad Mini! And we have, the iPad 2. The iPad 2 was updated to iOS 7, but it lacks the blur and it feels extremely slow on the system. OK, it’s old and is becoming outdate… Wait, it has the same specs as the iPad Mini! So, now what is the excuse? Same hardware, slower experience. But one released in the first half of 2011 and the other at the end of 2012.

It’s just to make you sit and think: Hmm, my iPad is starting to be slow and Apple says it’s becoming outdated… I think it’s time to buy a new one. And then, you fall in the trap.

Final words

Apple strategy is to make yourself think that you need a new device. But the real thing is, your device is not slow, they’re making it slow. Your device is not outdated, they made it outdated. This is not the Apple I want to love, nor the Apple want to buy products from. But this is not only done by Apple. Almost every company in this world that produces anything thinks about planned obsolescence. From lightbulb companies, to printer manufacturers.

Günther Anders said in the middle of the 20th century that, the human species is going to be obsolete, and technology will last forever.

We can’t match up the perfection of our products. The products are perfect (they’re eternal) and the human kind is imperfect (we’re deciduous).

But the industry noticed that and reversed the trend. If they created products that were long-lasting they would not earn as much money as they do now, because people wouldn’t have to buy products from them as often. We, consumers have to think reasonably about this. We’re constantly falling in a trap. They give us the shovel, and we end digging the hole.

Dannoritzer, Cosima. Comprar, tirar, comprar. Barcelona, Media 3.14 and France, Article Z, 2011.

Anders, Günther. La obsolescencia del hombre. Valencia, Pre-textos, 2011


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