Who among us has not felt the burn of what is commonly referred to as planned obsolescence? You buy a new gadget, and a week after the warranty expires, the gadget expires, too. Or, you have good luck with a product and use it for years but the needed replacement isn’t as good.
Manufacturers make money when we buy what they make. But if what they make lasts forever and we use it forever, sooner or later there will be fewer gadgets or tools to buy, and they might be priced out of reach anyway. That brings me to Apple’s sneaky strategy and their planned obsolescence plans.
What Price Profit?
Quick. Name a technology gadget maker that is as profitable or as valuable as Apple Inc. Samsung? Nope. Qualcomm? Uh uh. Sony? Not a chance. Apple has the most money of all technology companies and most countries, and is the richest company ever by stock market capitalization.
Why? How? Blame it all on planned obsolescence. It’s Apple’s sneaky strategy to get you to replace whatever you bought the past few years with something new. That’s how Apple makes more money and executives and shareholders get rich to richer. If it was not for the fact that every company lives off a plan of planned obsolescence of sorts, either the government would intervene, citizens and customers would rise up in revolt, or the makers of almost anything would go out of business.
Ewan Spence, writing for the Forbes contributor network and talking monkey circus show, says Apple has a sneaky strategy to replace your MacBook Pro. That is significant for many reasons, partly because Mac notebooks make up more than 80-percent of all Mac sales, and Apple only designs and builds new Mac models so you feel bad about owning an older model, and you can be enticed and coerced (either one; doesn’t matter) into buying a new one every x-number of years, because; well, just because Apple needs the money.
This month saw Apple declare one of its MacBooks obsolete. The final ‘white’ MacBook with the plastic casing has passed through the system and is now considered a relic. Those out in the wild will not magically stop working, but repairs are going to be uneconomical compared to buying a replacement.
Sad! That never happens with any other product. Only Apple. Not even a product from Whole Foods goes stale, rots, or must be used within an expiration date. Apple is sneaky. Nobody else.
Planned obsolescence must be a sneaky strategy that nobody has ever heard of before Ewan Spence. No. Wait. What? That can’t be right because I read about planned obsolescence when I was young, and there’s a Wikipedia entry dated before Spence’s article. And there’s history.
Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time. The rationale behind the strategy is to generate long-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases (referred to as “shortening the replacement cycle”)
Oh, I get it. Manufacturers plan to make products that do not last forever. After all, if they did, such products would be so expensive that few could afford them, manufacturers might not make much money, so they all got together and came up with this slimy sneaky planned obsolescence gimmick to take advantage of uninformed customers. You know, like what politicians do with voters.
Is there a history of this kind of obviously, or, what should be, illegal scheme?
In the United States, automotive design reached a turning point in 1924 when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation. To maintain unit sales, General Motors head Alfred P. Sloan Jr. suggested annual model-year design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year, an idea borrowed from the bicycle industry, though the concept is often misattributed to Sloan. Critics called his strategy “planned obsolescence”. Sloan preferred the term “dynamic obsolescence”. This strategy had far-reaching effects on the auto business, the field of product design, and eventually the American economy. The smaller players could not maintain the pace and expense of yearly re-styling. Henry Ford did not like the model-year change because he clung to an engineer’s notions of simplicity, economies of scale, and design integrity. GM surpassed Ford’s sales in 1931 and became the dominant company in the industry thereafter.
Spence suggests that Apple’s new MacBook Pro line is part of a strategy for the Mac to have a life cycle that results in customers renewing their Macs on a more regular basis.
Regarding that MacBook Pro model, Spence found a tip on the iceberg of hidden strategies Apple executives have, well, hidden for decades.
It was the first decent refresh since 2012 and Apple is confidently calling it the fourth generation of the MacBook Pro. That suggests a cycle of around four years for the Mac family, and that means you can probably predict when changes are coming.
Well, that explains why my Macs last just four years before they, uh, um, well, I sell them or give them away to deserving relatives who end up using them for yet another few years, thereby depriving Apple of new sales.
By Spence’s formula, we can expect some regularity in when Apple releases new Mac models. You know, like every 21 months, and wholly unlike the iPhone which sees a refresh every 12 months, or the iPad which gets updated almost never, but certainly not less than every 512.2 days. Or, the Mac Pro which saw one upgrade in about four years. And it was an end-of-life upgrade.
Hmmm. Something doesn’t sound right with Apple’s product release schedule.
Desk-bound computer sales will never rival that of the smartphone, but maintaining a steady and slow development pace with only a few leaps forward per decade brings much-needed stability to the market, stability that Apple can exploit for increasing sales and revenue.
So, the iPhone doesn’t count because it’s obsolete every 12 months or so like clockwork, but the Mac is part of a sneaky plan to extend a product’s life cycle beyond a year? What am I missing in Spence’s insightful analysis?
Here’s the deal as I see it and it’s probably close to how it is. Products have life cycles, but only on average. Technology gadget makers build products but not necessarily with a specific life cycle time period in mind, but averages show up over generations of products, and advancements in components and changes in usage are only subject to gravity and laws of physics, not how long or how or when a customer chooses to use a product.
Planned obsolescence might be a thing but so are plans to build and improve upon products, which by its very nature makes others obsolete, but not necessarily according to a plan that could be leaked to the press. If it exists, it can be leaked. Such plans haven’t been leaked, so I’m guessing they don’t exist.
Besides, how does one explain that an iPhone bought two years ago, say, an iPhone 6 Plus, is better today than it was when purchased in 2014? Because Apple upgraded— at no charge to customers– iOS, all the way to iOS 10. Yes, macOS Sierra– which runs on older Macs and makes them better than when they were new (up to a point)– works the same way. Doesn’t that kind of make the sneaky planned obsolescence argument look silly?