New Technology vs Planned Obsolescence

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based on an old Google plus article from 2015: What you observe as Planned Obsolescence is often the natural outcome of fast product cycles that are necessary for any new technology. When a new thing arrives in the market, it is often barely viable, a minimum viable product .

We are remembering the iPhone 1 as revolutionary, but we chose to forget about is slowness, its clunkyness and the very limited feature set it had. And those of us having purchased a car with built-in satnav now have to deal with a car radio where you have to choose between listening to a CD or putting in the outdated CD-ROM with navigation data - and then wait for a minute until you get the route.

We made considerable progress with satnav systems, and because navigation system product cycles are much shorter than the lifetime of a car, it’s a good idea to have them separate and be able to independently upgrade the satnav. Smart people purchased a suction cup satnav, threw that out three years ago and are using their cellphone now for car navigation.

New products in consumer electronics are often have an initial cycle time of 6-12 months. Every further iteration adds about 3-6 months of additional usefulness. Starting with iteration 4 or 5 you can expect a device to have normal lifetimes. If it’s a mobile device it will be good for about 3 years, until it is being destroyed or useless in the course of normal use. There are people with mobile phones or laptops older than 3 years, but these are often persons that are using their device mostly stationary in a protected environment. But even with stationary use, it’s over after about 6 years.

Why is that? Moore’s law claims a duplication of compute power in our devices every 18-24 months, or 45% per year. So after 6 years we get about an order of magnitude of improvement. And that’s a completely different class of machine than 6 years before.

Of course you can start a debate on planned obsolescence. The European Parliament in fact just did .

But as long as we are dealing with industries and products with a change rate this high, this is of very limited use. Only after stabilizing a technology, when the growth in power is over, when the search for product feature sets is finished and we have a defined and stable set of features, fixed expectations, when the research and innovation are done, we can look at lifetimes and obsolescence. At this point in time for consumer electronics this is not really useful. So if it is inevitable that the devices will be obsolescent because of innovation, the focus has to be on recycling in order to win.

Another issue: Moore’s law actually changes the way we access the same product. Checking email once required a desktop machine with a 150W power supply. Then we had laptops, with less than 30W power draw to do the same. Today you are using a cellphone to check mail, with a power draw of 1W or less to achieve the same result. That is not possible with the same type of device.

So todays email readers have no power supply, no separate monitor and no keyboard any more. They also can’t be opened or extended. Moore’s law works because of integration. There is no CPU, there is a System-on-a-Chip. You can’t simply replace a blown capacitor, it’s now ‘replace the control module’ or even ‘replace the entire device’. That’s not wrong at all, see my comments on Project Ara (in german ).

If you want a small and robust device, you have to tolerate that parts that shall not fall off or can’t come off. Or at least require proper tools in order to disassemble the thing, see the park of special repair tools available to licensed Apple dealers in order to do proper non-destructive maintenance on Apple devices.