Planned Obsolescence: What you need to know

by Yoda

Following up my article on Instant gratification and how companies use that to make us buy unwanted things, I also wanted to write about planned obsolescence. This is another technique companies use to force us to spend more on items they sell. It’s the art of deliberately shortening the lifespan of a product and at the same time convincing users to upgrade to newer products sooner than what is necessary. This enables the company to ensure customers keep coming back to generate future revenue.


How do they do it and some examples?

Smartphones are the most ubiquitous technology around and most examples I have below are mostly for it, but the points are valid for other lesser ubiquitous products as well.

  1. Launching new models with “supposed” improvements in processor, features etc. every year. Some manufactures of smartphones now launch 2 big flagship smartphones a year! They try to do this with a lot of hype and marketing.
  2. Most manufacturers make best features available only on latest flagship. Even if they are software tweaks or gimmicks, they will only have them on latest flagship so that entices users to upgrade.
  3. Manufactures nowadays delay software updates or in some cases don’t even bother with updates for older generation phones. Apple has also been caught providing updates that subtly make phone slower.
  4. Making it difficult to repair locally or by yourselves. Most manufacturers like apple have started using proprietary screws, nuts etc. These are not available anywhere else so as to make it as difficult as possible to get your phone fixed if it breaks. When you go in through the official channels, for simple fixes you are usually quoted higher than normal prices. They try to force you to buy a new phone outright rather than paying for repairing it.


How to avoid or work around Planned Obsolescence?

Most electronic items are designed with planned obsolescence in mind, so there is no way to completely avoid it. But what you can do is adopt these techniques. It helps you make sure you are not spending too much of your hard-earned money on things that are essentially going to depreciate to 0 within the next 2-3 years.

  1. Don’t buy the latest generation of the gadget. Companies are now coming out with new iterations of their popular products every year. The development/testing cycle has become very short. Its almost impossible to come out with a great reliable product. Most new smartphones including Apple and Samsung phones are riddled with hardware/software bugs. Some or the other bug make it annoying and difficult to use in day to day life. Complaining to customer care doesn’t really solve the issue. Most manufactures take the risk of releasing faulty/untested product to launch it before their competitor and make small improvements in subsequent production of the same phone a few months later after fixing some hardware bugs! They just use as their guinea pigs for testing and guess what we pay them to do so!
  2. Segueing off the previous point, smartphone depreciate at an insane rate. Cars depreciate about 40-50% off the value in 4-5 years. Phones on the other hand are probably worth 0$ by year 4. Most retailers usually give 1+1 offers, 200$ off on the same phone 2 months after they are launched.
  3. Ideally try and buy the last gen phone when you are looking at phones. Usually you get them at a really good rate and there is not much improvements in the 2 generations. Or else try buying the latest gen phone 8-11 months after its released. This way its tested thoroughly and since the newer gen is about to come out, you get a discount on the current phone. Even better is to buy second hand from reliable sellers.
  4. Use your credit cards to increase the warranty of such products. If you buy them using a credit card you can extend the warranty up to 3 years. In case of repairs at least get your credit card company to pay for them.
  5. Go for quality and open source properties of the products. That makes them easier to repair and make them last longer. For e.g. for cars, look at reliability and ease of availability of OEM parts. Buy used so that it costs less and lasts longer and easier to fix. In case of shoes pay a bit more to get better quality which can lost longer than cheaper shoes.

Hopefully this helps you gain more knowledge about planned obsolescence. Now you can use this knowledge to be more careful making financial decisions in your life.

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