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The uncomfortable truth about Planned Obsolescence in tech

by Azrul Abas on May 08, 2021

Person discarding a broken phone in a bin filled with broken phones

Building for failure

We’ve all seen and experienced this phenomena in every technology device we have used - the incompatibility with older models, newer models being released every year with minor changes, shorter battery cycles - but most of us just accept it as it is, without realizing these are actually deliberate modifications. 

Planned obsolescence, or the building of a product with an artificially limited useful life so that it becomes obsolete after a certain period of time, is a common occurrence that has been associated with large tech companies in recent times. What used to be “how long this device can last” would turn into “how much more can I exploit servicing, software updates, accessories upsell and eventually forcing customers into upgrading regularly. 

Sneaky techniques

A common unique feature that is seen in smartphones and laptops include the difficulty for consumers to repair their devices themselves. For example, Apple was one of the first few companies to eliminate removable batteries (however, they claimed that it was to allow for slimmer frames). This then inevitably forces customers to visit Apple stores or pay additional monthly warranty subscription fees in the form of AppleCare. 

Another feature also includes making older devices useless by slowing them down through software updates that users were never given a choice to. And adding the fact that they also limit certain apps to be downloaded, this adds to the user frustration as well. What this results would be for consumers to purchase newer phone models that are released within short time period intervals of one another. 


All of this not only results in hyper-consumerism but it also greatly affects the planet negatively. E-waste is a major concern with regards to planned obsolescence as it is very difficult to recycle these smartphone products. One of the best ways would be to resell these older models to someone who may really need it or by fixing specific parts to ensure that it has a longer lifespan. Furthermore, continuing to  purchase newer models will only signal to these tech giants that there is a strong demand and that they will continuously produce newer models with lesser features.

Not all hope is lost

Thankfully, there are some government initiatives and regulatory bodies that have been active in mitigating this but the onus still lies in the consumer from exacerbating this issue. Yes, we love using the latest tech products but it is also important to make sure that they last. Even if you can afford the latest phone model, that doesn't mean you should be getting one!

You should be able to enjoy your device to the fullest potential. It shouldn’t get slower or lose functionality due to a software update. The more devices we can keep in circulation, the more we keep it out of landfill sites.

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