A History Of Planned Obsolescence

Adam Walker
May 28, 2020

If you’ve been paying attention to the world of tech in recent years you would’ve caught the many news stories around the right to repair as well as growing reports of planned obsolescence in some devices encouraging users to upgrade their devices before the lifespan is up – this is being seen most recently within android devices as some users have questioned and targeted the security update scheduling and how it lends itself to this process.

If you’re unsure of the terminology and what it means – essentially it’s the process of forcing users to change and update devices by methods of making devices feel slower, unusable, or unsafe. Both Apple and Samsung have already been fined for this practice by using software updates to reduce device performance, but the recent target has been Android and the ways in which only giving security updates for two years can have a bigger impact. Mobile device sales have already been slowing as prices have steadily increased over the past few years – newer flagship devices are launching closer to £1,000 and oftentimes much higher with newer experimental and enthusiast devices being much higher still, given the hardware within the devices being somewhat unchanging from year to year it’s often difficult to justify the price.

Perhaps the biggest factor is attributed to the ways in which we use our devices – primarily they’re multimedia devices as streamed video content has become one of the most popular uses for these devices and has found growth year on year, but as there have been no major breakthroughs in the display or battery life, the two factors that may impact video streaming the most, there’s no major desire to change from a device launched three years ago to one launched today. Similarly, mobile gaming is up there, but the most popular genres are amongst puzzle and arcade, and casinos and betting – these bingo sites, for example, are also extremely efficient and as such upgrading for a four-year-old phone to a brand new device doesn’t have a larger impact on performance. 

Although frowned upon, there are no laws or major restrictions to prevent manufacturers from doing this – planned obsolescence is not illegal after all, and software changes are just one of the many ways causing these changes – others have been attributed to things such as unibody designs of newer devices removing the ability to change modular components such as batteries may be a cause for concern down the line as OEM batteries have historically had issues, for example. The hope here for many is that attention will now be paid toward this practice as fines simply aren’t enough and with a long history of fines related to the practice, there’s certainly plenty of evidence that it is still an ongoing concern – there is going to be a surge in users changing devices now that 5G is just around the corner and many will change in order to have a 5G ready device, but other than that there currently seems to be no big changes on the way, it’s difficult to find any reason for consumers to buy flagship devices afterwards if not needed.

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