As defined in Evans Berman’s Marketing: “Planned obsolescence is a marketing practice that capitalizes on short-run material wearout, style changes, and functional product changes. In material planned obsolescence, firms choose materials and components that are subject to comparatively early breakage, wear, rot, or corrosion. In style planned obsolescence, a firm makes minor changes to differentiate the new year’s offering from the prior year’s. With functional planned obsolescence, a firm introduces new product features or improvements to generate consumer dissatisfaction with currently owned products.”

In recent years, NO company has applied planned obsolescence more than Apple. Yes, this practice has led to rapid advances in the technology of music players, tablets, and smartphones. But, does Apple’s philosophy also spur consumers to buy new product versions that they don’t need?

Apple has recently been criticized for its planned obsolescence strategy. Do YOU agree with this criticism?

Consider these observations by Catherine Rampell, writing for the New York Times:

“The new software and recent app updates from Apple offer fancy new features that existing users want; maybe the battery is sealed with tiny five-point screws for aesthetic considerations. Perhaps, but this isn’t the first time that tech analysts and random crazies on the Internet have noted that breakdowns in older Apple products can often coincide with when upgrades come onto the market. Many have taken this as evidence of ‘planned obsolescence,’ a term that dates to the Great Depression, when a real-estate broker suggested that the government should stimulate the economy by placing artificial expiration dates on consumer products so people would buy more.”

“There is, however, a simple way to effectively render an old product obsolete without fleecing your existing customers. Instead of degrading the old model, companies can offer innovations in the new model that make upgrading irresistible. Apple succeeded at doing this for a while, offering new iPhones that included major improvements. In the past, consumers were so excited about the cool new features, like Siri, the voice-activated interface, that they may not have minded (or even noticed) if their old phones started to deteriorate; they planned on upgrading anyway. This time around, that’s less true. The iPhone 5S and 5C offer fewer quantum improvements. Consumers are more likely to want their old phones to continue working at peak condition in perpetuity, and to feel cheated when they don’t.”

Click the image to read more.

Illustration by Kelsey Dake


23 Replies to “Apple and Planned Obsolescence: Is This Good Or Bad?”

  1. Technological devices are not a perishable good like food so I can see why Apple makes its products to break down after a while, so that consumers continue to buy their products, Apple can continue to releases new products however if the consumer feels that the device they own currently is still in working condition they will not see the need to buy a new product.

  2. Being an owner of thee iPhone 5s, I feel that apple has done nothing but improve their products. I recently was an owner of the iPhone 4 which I was encountering several problems with all the way until the end of having the phone and having it just die on me. The lock button was broken, the battery would be drained within 2 hours of use, and it was becoming slow in general. I think that apple always making these new products gives consumers the option of whether to upgrade or stay with what they have and what’s the harm in that? It’s your decision whether or not to upgrade so I don’t see the problem with Apple consistently offering new products!

    1. Surely they are great phones, but even in your own post you can see the issue the blog is about. You talk about how the iPhone 4 died on you and have a myriad of problems relating to how long you had it but it is OK because you can upgrade. The issue is what if you don’t want to upgrade? You either have a broken phone which isn’t 100%, or you pay to get a new one. This is the pizzo to stay in the club that Apple uses.

  3. I completely agree with the criticisms made against Apple and its practice of planned obsolescence. Although it has brought us many cool and new gadgets, I find it exhausting having to keep up with the latest product. I got my IPhone 5 last October and now there’s the new IPhone 5s. Now I feel obligated to get the new one or else I won’t be “with it.”

  4. I understand perfectly why businesses like this idea of planned obsolesce but as a consumer I dislike the this trend. If I open a business one advantage to my products would be the longevity of them. I know you might sell less in the long run but i feel more people would like a product that lasts. No where in Apple advertising is the idea that having an Apple product will last a long time. This is because they do not last long. Most of my friends own iPhones, but of all my friends almost all of them have broken screens or jammed power button. A lot of them are upgrading to the new iPhones but in the long run this is an expensive habit.

  5. The economy is better off than it has been in the past decade, but that doesn’t mean that consumers still have much disposable income. Times are still tough all over, and if the new Apple products are not significantly improving on the previous model, it is kind of a rip-off for them to be creating new models of phones, tablets and MP3 players. Consumers don’t always give in to the upgrades, either, and it is dishonest as a company for Apple to make old products obsolete in order to get more business. I, personally, have the iPod touch 3rd generation, and there are many apps that I cannot get on it because I need at least iOS5, which I can’t get on my older iPod. I bought the iPod a little over 3 years ago, and it’s been semi-obsolete for about a year or so now. I don’t agree with the actions that Apple engages in when it comes to planned obsolescence.

  6. Well, I personally purchased Iphone 5s not because what features it has but just because I want a new one. I dont really know what Apple has done to improve its phones. My iphone 4s works perfectly well. However, i updated my os system on macbook pro. It did disappoint me a little bit just because some functions are gone,which I was very familiar with. So i think this is really more about personal feelings. For those loyal customers, they wouldnt care that much.

  7. I very much agree with this post. Ever since I upgraded my iPhone4 I’ve been encountering many problems with the phone aspect, the battery life, and so on. I talked to my phone provider making sure it wasn’t the service, and he told me the best way to fix these problems is to splurge and get the new iPhone. The only problem I have with this is I can’t afford to buy a new one. I think Apple’s constantly changing products is fine, but I feel that they come out with these products quicker as time goes on. I’m very loyal to Apple products, but I was annoyed that I have to shovel out more money to buy a new phone. I know that I sound like its a big deal, but I know that once I get the new iPhone, I’ll be happy with the product once more.

  8. The fact that Apple is a big user of planned obsolescence is not news to majority of the world. They use this strategy to squeeze as much profit from their consumers as they possibly can. I currently have the iPhone 5 and around the time the iPhone 5s and 5c were announced, my phone started to freeze more consistently and just isn’t operating like it was a year ago. As for owners of earlier Apple products in most cases, such as the iPhone 4 and 4s, if their phone’s even turn on they are lucky. I know this because both my parent shave the iPhone 4 and they have so many problems with it that they are forced to get a new phone even though they don’t want to. So not only do people upgrade to the newest product just because they want it, they also upgrade because their phone was subject to planned obsolescence and is essentially a “brick” now.

  9. This is such a relevant post because currently my Iphone 4 is completely falling apart to the point that I can’t even use it for it’s main function: calling someone. It glitches and freezes and shuts off on me all the time. I plan to buy the new 5S in a few weeks but not because I want any of the new technology. I’ve spoken to a few of my friends that feel the same they just want the phone they have to work properly. To be honest I don’t see much of a difference between the two new Iphones that have just come out besides the look, camera option, and finger print function. I don’t plan to use the finger print scanner and if my phone would just take pictures (one of the several things it’s no longer doing) then I don’t need a camera that can create slow motion video. I think if Apple would create something completely new and interesting I’d happily buy a brand new phone for more money instead of trying to get by on my old phone.

  10. Although improving products is a good idea and is good for the consumers, planned obsolescence is not. The way Apple markets and creates it’s products is wasteful. They use all forms of planned obsolescence. The minor and often pointless improvements in the phones is an example of functional planned obsolescence. By changing the style of the phone with every release, it makes it obvious what generation iPhone you have. The need people have to stay current shows their style planned obsolescence. Although many people do see through Apple’s marketing strategy and avoid upgrading their phone for the minor perks, it eventually becomes necessary. If your phone is too many generations behind the current model, it stops being compatible to the updates and eventually stops working properly–making it more necessary for a new phone. Planned obsolescence is wasteful and wrong.

  11. I have been a faithful Apple user since the age of eight. Yes, eight was when I received my first Mac computer and I have never looked back. I also have yet to encounter a problem with my iPhone! I currently have the iPhone 4, and yes it is starting to perform very slowly and the home button no longer works. However these minor issues have not deterred my interest in upgrading to the iPhone 5s. All cell phones and gadgets deteriorate over time! There is no avoiding that! I do not believe that Apple is designing their products to have a short lifetime. After nine years my original iPod still holds a charge! Apple also makes it easy to fix your products with the Genius Bar service and the selling of parts. I recently rebuilt my old 2007 MacBook buy purchasing the parts I needed through the Apple store. The instructions were very easy to follow, and now the once dead laptop is good as new! I firmly stand behind Apple not just because the brand holds the highest level of popularity in the tech world, but because they make high quality products!

  12. Apple certainly makes high quality products, no one should disagree with that. The Apple iPhone has changed the way modern society looks at a cell phones functions and all it can do. We can now surf the web while on a phone call, Facetime our loved ones, go on social media, and so much more. I do however believe Apple spends a majority of their time on style planned obsolescence, as seen with the new iPhones that were put on the market this past September. Apples sales with the iPhone 5C have not held up to standard because customers only saw that the main difference was the iPhone color. While Apple wanted the iPhone 5C to be marketed in a way that reflects a persons unique, “colorful” personality, customers saw they can easily customize and color their phones with a case and not needing a new phone.
    The new iPhones do have a new operating system which has caused problems for older iPhones such as slower service, but I have yet to download ios 7 on my iPhone 5 and I have not experienced problems.

  13. I have also had this problem with my Iphone4. My battery dies completely after about an hour or so. I was also told that there was no other option to fix this unless I got the newest iphone. I have a two year contract for phones that are basically only made to last one year! So there is really not much of an option than to spend more money on purchasing the newest phone if I want my battery to last more than an hour. Even if you are uninterested in the iphone5c’s newest features, which is really what you are paying more money for, you have to pay more anyways just to have a phone that works and lasts you the day.

  14. Apple’s planned obsolescence strategy – from a business standpoint – is quite genius. From a consumer standpoint, I hate it. Let look at the facts. Apple has just introduced the iPhone 5S. What is the difference between that and the 4, 4S, and 5? The 5C has the exact same features as the iPhone 5, however, it can be in different colors. It is very obvious how they use this practice when it comes to their hot selling items like the iPhone. However, the more subtle planned obsolescence that Apple uses is its iPhone chargers. Personally, I have had to buy at least 5 chargers for my iPhone since I have had it. The iPhone chargers break so easily if you have them placed down in a bent position. If that wire is not straight, then in a few weeks the outside white casing will begin to break, and the wires inside begin to show. Once that happens, the exposed wires deteriorate and you can’t charge your phone without tilting the charger a certain way. Then, when you go to the store to buy a new charger, they range from anywhere around $15-$30 based on their “durability.” I believe that if we are going to look at Apple’s use of planned obsolescence, we should pay attention to little items like chargers and even headphones rather than the iPhone itself.

  15. I do agree with the criticism Apple has been receiving for their use of planned obsolescence, primarily because I believe that it is unethical for Apple to produce a product, only to have it purposely malfunction. Apple products are high-end expensive technology that many people do not have the luxury of buying periodically. Personally, I owned one of the original MacBook’s that are no longer in production. I have had that computer for quite some time and grew fond of it, mainly because there were not a lot of other people who still owned one of them. After 8 years of keeping my computer in good condition my computer’s backlight failed, battery life would not last more than 5 minutes without being plugged in, and the overall speed of it slowed down. I now, need a new computer because of their use of planned obsolescence so this is why I object to the notion.

  16. I’m a loyal customer with Apple, I have an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and even with the knowledge that Apple is always changing and does have his planned obsolescence strategy I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing for either the consumer or the company itself. With out a doubt apple is always trying to improve their technology, and is holding out on other new devices so that we can give our money to them in more ways than one, but as a consumer wouldn’t this be the best strategy for our amusement. If apple didn’t practice this philosophy, they could just release all of their great technology in one giant iPhone and thus we would be bored and they wouldn’t have the HUGE following that they already have. Sure we might not agree with it, but its something that works, and as an avid Apple fan (who isn’t crazy or caring enough to wait in a 5 hour line for any NEW apple product) I agree with planned obsolescence.

  17. Having had the opportunity to work at Apple Inc. and be a user of their products for the past 8 years, I’ve been looking forward to writing my reaction to this article. The proliferation of Apple hardware and software has never been greater, and the idea of iProduct obsolescence has reached a peak with the recent release of iOS 7.

    The truth is, I believe, that Apple does not employ a product obsolescence business strategy. Although, those without a sufficient understanding of the engineering, manufacturing processes and tech-industry as a whole, one can reasonably perceive otherwise. One of the major gripes right now is that iOS 7 runs significantly slower on the iPhone 4 than it should. What most people forget is that the iPhone 4 is powered by an A4 processor originally designed and produced in 2010. This memory technology allows for 32-bit 200 MHz data transfers at 3.2 GBs/sec. The latest A7 chip in the iPhone 5S allows for 64-bit 800 MHz data transfers at 12.8 GBs/second. The way in which technology, such as processing power, progresses in the tech-industry is not a factor the company controls, but instead something that advances each and every day.

    The iOS 7 software was designed to function on these newer, more powerful hardware technologies, however the company values their loyal customer base enough to provide the update to their older product lines from up to several years ago. Additionally, they optimize the new software to function on older iPhone and iPad models in a reduced capacity to not exploit an extensive percentage of processing power, but still ensure users can experience the new interface and the enhanced security features.

    The bottom line is that some older hardware technologies simply cannot support newer software packages as they are developed. For example, Apple’s latest desktop operating system, OS X Mavericks, sports a feature entitled AirPlay, which enables users to wirelessly mirror their display on an HDTV via an Apple TV. However, the Intel i5 processors in Macbook Pros produced pre-2011 do not have a sufficient number of available threads to balance wirelessly transmitting so much data continuously to an external display. Thus, though some may see this as Apple failing to provide older MacBooks with all of the available software updates, it takes an understanding of the hardware lifecycle to comprehend the limitations of older technologies and their respective processing power.

    Even lithium-ion battery technology is far from perfect, typically only holding 80% of the original charging capacity after 1.5 years. Apple can also not build a bigger battery into their products either. Expanding the battery pack in iPhones would add additional weight and size, which is contrary to Apple’s philosophy of making their devices lighter and thinner with each new product announcement. Therefore, it would take another breakthrough in battery technology to resolve this issue.

    Apple must proactively develop newer technologies based on these discoveries to differentiate themselves from competitors, not to out-shine the value of their own older products. Though new iPhones and iPads are always benchmarked by Apple according to the features of their respective predecessor models, the company still chooses to sell those older models. They do not seek to devalue their old products, or make them obsolete, but rather they’re kept on the market at a lower price point so more users can experience what Apple has to offer.

    Technology becomes obsolete regardless of the company or industry, simply due to the wear-and-tear incurred over time and rapid advances in product innovation. Designing products to last two years matches telecoms provider programs at Verizon, AT&T and Sprint to deliver smartphone upgrades every 24 months. Thus, Apple’s business strategy does not involve deliberately employing product obsolescence, but rather adopting new technologies as they become available, while integrating the features they can into their previous generation legacy products.

  18. This should come as no surprise to anyone. If you are technologically savvy and understand the internals of Apple products, then you will see how Apple does not really improve from one generation of something to the next. They will focus more on the exterior and the coloring more than the actual internals of the technology. They are simply trying to generate a profit while not spending much money on making their next lineup technologically superior. Look at the iPhone 5s: we are all talking about a fingerprint scanner! This feature has been on phones before, but we don’t hear about it simply because many other companies are talking about how the phone performs better as opposed to silly features and aesthetic options.

  19. Apple does practice planned obsolescence. One example is the iphone 5c. They literally took the iphone 5 and added a color backing. They are selling colors and charging people more for it. It is completely rediculous. They did the same thing with the 5s by adding in a finger print reader. Companies like samsung and sony are breaking into the market by being much more innovative and new with each and every product. Some examples are their phones with remote control assecability and underwater protection. Apple is ripping off the common customer and it is not good.

  20. Being an owner of the I-phone 4, I don’t feel that It is necessary for an individual to continuously upgrade their product unless they feel like they need to. I have owned my I-phone since the summer of my senior year in high school, and have not felt it necessary to buy a new one. I see the benefits in upgrading my phone, but I don’t feel with the amount of money it would cost for a new upgrade that it is the smart decision for me at the time. I do however think that apple offering these new models is continuously grabbing the consumers attention and in offering them new products, is keeping them from getting bored with their company.

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