Obsolescence. In one regard, it’s the backbone of the tech economy, even if it’s not always intentional. Although, sometimes it is. Thankfully, that’s changing, and surprisingly, it’s starting with the Apple iPhone.
Apple has recently announced they’re doing something no smartphone maker has ever done before. They’re making iOS 12 available for iPhones dating back as far as 2013. Older iPhones will be able to run on a new operating system that will open apps up to 40% faster, and increase the performance of older phones. Although consumers will need to upgrade to a new device eventually, it won’t be necessary for five or six years.
This is unprecedented, and goes against everything that has driven the smartphone market (and any tech market) in the past. It all started with the death of the two-year contract, but I’ll get to that later on.
This is a big deal because Apple has been accused of forcing people to upgrade their iPhones to avoid a slower processing speed. Apple said they were just looking out for their users. They didn’t want old batteries to shut down people’s devices unexpectedly, so they slowed down the old phones.
Apple is leading the way out of obsolescence
Recently, Apple announced that their latest software – iOS 12 – will be compatible with iPhones dating back to 2013. This new operating system is slated to launch September 2018, and gives people a reason to hold onto their old iPhones for the first time. This will be better for consumers, and for our landfills, which are filled with electronics waste.
Obsolescence as a sales strategy is used in every industry. Many businesses create obsolescence by using cheap materials that cause the product to break. Or, they create products that can’t be repaired. For instance, today’s shoes aren’t built to be repaired. They’re built to be discarded. The shoe company Keen is an exception, however. They will repair their shoes, which is highly unusual in today’s world.
When a product is cheap enough, even when it breaks, manufacturers can count on people to keep buying more.
Goods used to last for centuries
Hundreds of years ago, people created products that were built to last lifetimes. They were handed down for multiple generations. When you visit museums, castles, and houses that belonged to famous authors and politicians, the evidence of this fact is clear. Furniture, for example, was made from solid wood, thick and sturdy. Although used often, you can see it’s still in great shape.
Although you may need to search estate sales for furniture that will last centuries, you can still find high-quality furniture built to last decades. For instance, Chairish offers high-quality furniture from a variety of consigners. Some items are pretty popular, like the egg chair that never seems to go out of style. Although, it’s difficult to create electronics that will last lifetimes, considering just 40 years ago, disk drives were the size of washing machines.
Businesses create obsolescence to generate more sales
Some tech products simply don’t lend themselves to generating a cycle of returning customers. For instance, when people buy a laptop or a smartphone, they’re not going to come back to buy another one in six months. They might come back for accessories, but not always. The only way they’re going to buy another device is if the one they just bought breaks, or something better comes along.
Smartphone manufacturers have been generating sales by introducing a fancier, upgraded model every couple of years. When an upgrade is released, in the customer’s mind, their original device becomes obsolete – they must have the new model.
Why smartphone upgrades follow a two-year pattern
A 2015 Gallup survey reported that 44% of people upgrade their smartphone as soon as their provider allows. The same study found that iPhone users are more likely to upgrade as soon as possible, probably because each new iPhone release comes with considerably cooler features.
We’re turning a corner to leave obsolescence behind
Obsolescence, as a sales strategy, is being left behind. Today, people are holding onto their smartphones for a longer period of time – a trend that began about the time providers stopped offering upgrades every two years.
In the beginning, the smartphone market was driven by two things: the frequent availability of upgrades, and a two-year contract, which, when completed, made frequent upgrades extremely affordable. iPhone users must have loved this two-year schedule, since Apple has a reputation for coming out with a new iPhone about every two years. Was this a coincidence? Perhaps. Either way, Apple’s announcement is surprising, yet a relief for many consumers who don’t want to upgrade.