Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Planned Obsolescence: The Hidden Trend?

By Kate Schneider

We love our smartphones, our tablets, our laptops and whichever nifty gadgets that make us feel technologically hip and up-to-date.  These devices keep us connected to our loved ones every second of the day, take cool pictures, allow us to submit work and correspondence to our teachers and bosses, and help direct us when we get lost with just a few swipes of our fingers.  The capabilities of today’s technology are quite astounding and undoubtedly useful in our daily lives.  When the newest iPhone or Galaxy comes out, many of us become convinced that we must get the latest updated version of what we already own.  These companies have successfully instilled in us the belief that the newest phone has just the specs and features that we have been lacking with our current device.  We also run into the unfortunate problem of a phone that just randomly malfunctions and we are then forced to buy a new one.

Many years ago I worked for a big cell phone company as a sales representative.  A young, naïve me was shocked at the time to learn that many of the leading phone manufacturers were purposefully designing their phones to have a shortened lifespan – about six to 12 months.  They intentionally created software to glitch on the user after a certain period time, or make the hardware of poor quality that would eventually break so that the customer had no other choice but to ditch their old phone for a new one.  Day after day customers would come in irate that the phone they just purchased a few months back defected on them.  We had no in-store tech support, so customers were directed to the 24-hour service line, only to get caught in the endless loop of transfers from one department to the next to try to get the issue resolved.  After the customers angrily hung up, holding their broken phones in their hands, I was then trained to artfully convince them that their next course of action was to buy a new device. 

These cell phone manufacturers have got it nailed down.  Other than customers simply being forced to buy a new product to replace a faulty one, these companies have strategically created a trend that has taken off on its own; when it comes to technology, people want to buy the “latest and greatest” gadget that’s fresh on the market, even when there’s nothing wrong with the device that they currently own.  People will go out in droves, stand in line for hours, and spend hundreds upon hundreds of dollars for a cell phone whose worth will depreciate in just a few months.  And it doesn’t end with just cell phones – we see the same trend occurring with just about every gadget out there from computers to TV’s to car navigation systems.  Mind you, this rant is not intended to be a vilification of the technology industry.  Technology is always advancing and bettering itself due to innovation – that’s a good thing.  But for companies to purposefully create a product with an enormous price tag that will only last a short period of time, or for these companies to manufacture their products in such a way that there’s no option to upgrade certain components (I'm looking at you Apple Watch), we must ask ourselves if it’s really worth it to support these conglomerates whose main incentives are to maximize their profits.


  1. For complex technology we need more disclosure laws instead of trade secrecy laws to prevent this. For now this is only exposed with the help of whistle blowers but laws that protect secrecy help scam artists.

    With simpler stuff this is actually a much bigger problem because people buy them more often but vigilant consumers can help reduce this. The problem extends to appliances sneakers and just about everything.

    By speaking out at a time when the Occupy movement and other fed up customers were speaking out I managed to be part of the outrage that partially and temporarily reversed this process but more reform is necessary.

  2. yes its true these companies are cheating customers indirectly