Planned Obsolescence Isn’t A Thing, But It Is Your Fault

The common belief is that big companies are out to get the little people by making products that break after a short period, or with substantially new features or accessories that make previous models obsolete, requiring the user to purchase a new model. This conspiracy theory isn’t true; there’s a perfectly good explanation for this phenomenon, and it was caused by the consumers, not the manufacturers.

When we buy the hottest, shiniest, smallest, and cheapest new thing we join the wave of consumer demand that is the cause of what often gets labelled as “Planned Obsolescence”. In truth, we’re all to blame for the signals our buying habits send to manufacturers. Dig in and get your flamewar fingers fired up.

The idea makes sense; some bigwigs in marketing realized that if they sell a product that will expire, break, or become unserviceable after a certain period of time (long enough that people won’t complain), then the consumer will return and buy a newer, better product. Why build a product that lasts a long time and only get one sale when you can build a product that breaks after a few years and get a few repeat sales?

We can point to microwaves that are older than we are that still function fine and say “see, back then they built gadgets that last, why don’t they do that anymore?” There are lots of manifestations of this phenomenon. You see products that break after a period of time. You see products that don’t have user-serviceable or replaceable parts. You see parts or consumables that are discontinued, rendering the product useless. And especially (I’m looking at you, Samsung and Apple) you see products that are upgraded every year or two with fancy new features and operating systems that make the current version look like a potato. So how is this NOT planned obsolescence?

It’s Consumer Demand

The entire conspiracy is explained away when you consider that manufacturers are giving consumers exactly what they’re asking for, which is often compromising the product in different ways. It’s always a tradeoff, and the things that make a product more robust are the things that consumers aren’t considering when they make a purchase, so they are the first to go when a company designs a new product.

Price

The biggest, baddest, most important aspect of this is price, and Harbor Freight is the poster child for this concept. If consumers valued quality products that don’t break more than they do price, then Harbor Freight wouldn’t exist. After all, it’s easy to get the feeling that Harbor Freight is a store composed entirely of shelves that scream “we know this is a crappy product that will break if you look at it wrong, but it’s cheap.”

So product developers make cuts everywhere they can to reduce the cost of the product. They replace metal parts with plastic parts, screws with snaps, and everything they can do to shave pennies off the cost. All of this is just so that you’ll begin to consider their product.

This isn’t a game of increasing their own margin by keeping prices the same and reducing the quality of the product, this is a game of adding features while reducing the cost so that you’ll see that this product costs $.57 less than the competitor and buy it on price difference alone. The Harbor Freights are the obvious ones, but every company does this. Sure you can find good companies that make quality products, but you’ll pay dearly for it.

Size

Next is size, and here the cell phone industry is our best example. When cellphones first hit the scene, batteries were replaceable by users. This was great, except that it added bulk, and it turned out that people weren’t keeping their phone long enough for the battery replacement to be necessary. Cell phone technology was advancing so fast that people didn’t want to keep their phone running for years; they wanted the latest and greatest and smallest. So the easily replaceable battery was compromised so that we could have skinnier smaller phones.

You could still unscrew the case and replace it, but it wasn’t as easy. But that wasn’t skinny or small enough, and in the effort to reduce costs even further, the screws were removed so that we could have smooth glass on both sides, requiring even more difficult methods for replacing the battery. It wasn’t a conspiracy to make phones obsolete more quickly; it was a direct response to different demands that made compromises necessary.

Accessory Compatibility

Then we have to consider the compatibility of accessories. Here again the cell phone is a great example. Consider the monstrosity that is the old iPhone cable. It had so many pins it could be mistaken for a DIMM memory connector. An industry of accessories sprouted up around this connector, with chargers and audio receivers and all kinds of things having this docking connector. Then Apple announced a new connector, the lightning connector, and immediately all these products were obsolete and a whole industry had to redesign and retool.

So many USB options, including B, A, Mini B, Micro B, and C.

The same thing happened with USB (Mini->Micro->C), so the Android fanbois can’t point fingers. With both lightning and USB-C, the committees tried to make a connector that was tiny (consumer demand), reversible (consumer demand), cheap (consumer demand), and forward thinking, with lots of flexibility for the future. These connectors aren’t designed to be short lived. Manufacturers don’t want to have to spend a lot of time and energy re-engineering stuff when they could design it once and sell it forever. They’re forced into these types of redesign by consumer demand for improved features and reduced cost.

User Training

Don’t eat, in many languages, and a picture. It’s not even toxic; they just don’t want you choking on it.

It’s hard to put this delicately, but it seems users are less patient and willing to learn than they used to be. Manuals are tossed directly in the garbage without consultation, but users don’t hesitate to write a bad review and complain that it doesn’t work because they didn’t charge it first. Manufacturers are marching steadily towards products that are easier and easier to use, with fewer serviceable parts, less friction on the first use, and simpler interfaces.

As an example, a product I helped develop has a non-user replaceable coin cell battery because. The reasons that drove this decision are pretty eye-opening:

  • We couldn’t get the users to be interested in keeping the device running longer than the battery lifetime.
  • Even if they were, we couldn’t get them to order the right battery (CR2032).
  • Even if they did, we couldn’t rely on them to have the dexterity to remove the battery tray and replace the battery.
  • They complained that the battery door made the product look cheap and flimsy.
  • They complained that water and dust ingress was more likely.
  • Sadly, all this complaining was only possible among the users that understood that their wirelessly communicating device had a battery in the first place.

How Do We Fix It?

Manufacturers need to be given feedback on what to prioritize when designing new products. When the only feedback they receive is that it will be purchased in higher volumes if they reduce the price, then the only conclusion to be drawn is that the consumer cares about price more than any other aspect. The way to fix it is to support companies that develop high quality products that are more expensive but designed to last.

Another important bit of feedback is to use open standards so that integrations between products are easier, and interfacing with a product past its expected lifetime is still possible. Even publishing schematics or repair manuals after a product is considered obsolete and no longer available for sale would be helpful, and builds good will among a certain demographic. We write countless articles about the challenges of hacking older gadgets to extend their useful life or find new purposes, but the world would be a better place if that hacking was assisted by documentation from the manufacturer.

Finally, and I know I’m preaching to the choir in this community, but we need to educate people more about how stuff works, and get people interested in understanding the products they use on a daily basis, and to believe that the stuff inside the plastic box is not just magic pixies.

176 thoughts on “Planned Obsolescence Isn’t A Thing, But It Is Your Fault

      1. Engineer here – I have never received a raise for cutting manufacturing costs. Rarely has the subject even been addressed. And I’ve never been asked to redesign an existing product to reduce costs (to replace a hard-to-get component, yes).

        The raise I receive is totally beyond my (and my manager’s) control at this point. You have to get a promotion to get a significant raise any more. People get rewarded for cutting HR costs, too….

        1. Civilian engineer, right? I spent my youth watching city, county, and state engineers vie for promotion by cutting costs. Why do you think government systems are so effed up? Witness the CalTrans fiascos daily to understand.
          Create a flyover freeway ramp, funnel 4 lanes into one, and that lane is an exit lane.. Who does that?
          Changing super heater tubes in a boiler to cut cost of maintenance turns a smooth running power gen station into an unplanned outage 4 months later. How about San Onofre? Changed the tubes, system down permanently.Will anyone actually point out who did that? Hell no.
          I stand by my statement..

          1. The difference between saying you’ll do something cheaper and actually doing something cheaper seems to be something not understood by government types. Once a business has been given a contract (by promising the Earth for a couple of peanuts and a thumb-tack) they’re free to drag out the timeline and demand, over time, the real cost of the work.

          2. As an add on, many city/county/state agencies are engineer led, and they never point out failures. Designs created in-house are used for construction quotes, and the real engineers laugh and agree to the fouled up design, realizing the “Extras” and “Change Orders” will more than pay the bills.
            I’m guessing “Real Engineers” are hired by real companies, those that can’t get work, go to the county..

        2. EE Design Engineer here who has designed consumer products for 10+ brands. I can back your comment. I’ve never seen an engineer get any cash incentive to cutting costs. What I have seen is that competitor X has a product on the market for $, and the only way we can pay your salary is with our slim margins, so we need a competitive product for $. And it’s very normal to go over budget to meet the product specs, so it’s more often that we design more expensive products than we’re asked than it is the other way around.

    1. Or a corporate decision to make the engineer do it for them.
      Or a marketing person realizing that changing tack might be a better idea after doing research.
      My last few devices haven’t died, they’ve been obsolified. AMD’s Bulldozer, Intel’s Skylake, Nvidia’s Pascal, Apple’s iPhone 5, Samsung’s Note– even the stuff that was high quality becomes less useful over time or gets outdated. Do you really want to use a Commodore 64, or a keyboard that can’t handle more than two buttons being pressed at once, or an old Android phone running Froyo or Cupcake as your daily driver when the name of the game is efficiency and speed?
      It’s not always the { electrical | software | computer | mechanical | lead } engineer’s fault.
      We do what we can.
      Life is complicated. If something has a design flaw, I’m sorry.

    2. Not every cost reduction is cutting corners, but of course some are.

      My first project as a Jr engineer was a redesign of a paging controller (ironically shown in the Toys are Us article), in that case a more powerful microcontroller became available, so I have a 40 pin DIP vs a 28 pin, meaning losts of glue logic was replaced extra IO pins. The new version also had a plastic OTP version, That did bite us once in the rear end when the master prom was defective and a batch of 50 clips became landfill.

      Even now part of my job is “value engineering.” If done right it actually makes the product more reliable as it removes unnecessary components & operations that are potential failure points.

  1. HFT is actually making inroads to some quality stuff these days. For example, their inverter generator (basically a rip off of the honda) is supposed to be quite good. They are making an attempt to build decent TIG and MIG equipment that looks t be a rip off of the newer Lincoln power MIG 210. (I still bought the Lincoln) Interestingly enough, and I am not sure who affected whom, Lincoln’s price for the 210 is very reasonable compared to previous Lincoln products. So, this effect (of making cheap semi-crap) may have a second – order effect as well.

    1. I have to agree, Harbor Freight Tools often work well and last well. Part of this comes from improvements in the design and manufacturing, some tools have been good for years. Pittsburg hand tools are excellent quality and have a lifetime warranty that’s better than Craftsman used to have (or do they still? Our Sears store closed some time back and the nearest one is nearly an hour away). If you break a Pittsburg ratchet, you get a new one. With Craftsman, you got a little kit of parts to rebuild the one that broke. I have a Central Pneumatic air compressor that has last for a bit over 5 years with no problem. It’s used in a home shop, but I would at least consider one for heavier use as long as it’s a black one with crankcase oil. I’ve read/heard that the red ones that are “oilless” don’t last as well. Of course, like anyplace, some of the tools/equipment are not as good as others. I’ll keep buying there.

    2. Harbor Freight is a bad example, if the author is thinking that it makes his point re consumers driving quality down. China and other low-wage companies produce tons of products that are usually inferior clones of better products, and these sell in many different markets. HF tools are identical to many other 2nd tier “brands” of tools, except in HF livery. HF succeeds because for many of us, we will never burn out a Milwaukee saw, but the HF saw is good enough. They occasionally find some winners too, as the general quality of stuff from China gets better. HF isn’t driving quality down, they have simply found a US market for all the cheap tools that are out there anyway.

      1. HF (and Chinese stuff in general) quality has improved a lot over the past 20~30 years. Part of that is due to increasing demand for higher quality from export markets, part due to demand for better quality goods from the Chinese. Since taking over Hong Kong, and making the decision to NOT eff up their shiny new to them economic powerhouse, they got a look at how stuff made by and for the rest of the world was so much better than the shite made at home.

        Chinese stuff used to be made to tolerance, fit and finish only where it absolutely mattered. The rest of it would be rough or buried under filler and paint. Now they make stuff like fully polished and chromed wrenches that rival brands like Blue Point. (Snap-On’s ‘downmarket’ brand.)

        Some Chinese vehicle manufacturers are looking to sell into North America and Europe, where the highest and tightest laws are for safety and efficiency. To do that, their overall quality has to increase.

        1. I read a (British) review of a Chinese car, I think it was the Great Wall pickup, and the reviewer was essentially astonished that it was basically an unremarkable, mediocre, no frills vehicle. A few years previously, no Chinese car would have made it onto British roads because the build quality was so poor and they failed crash tests catastrophically, and now they are just “not very good”. Follow the trend and in a few years Chinese cars will be totally credible in the international marketplace alongside European, American and Japanese marques. In the 80’s, people laughed at the idea of Japanese cars, and then in the early 2000’s Lexus and Toyota overtook BMW as the most reliable brand.

  2. We are in a world where light bulb manufacturers formed a cartel to conspire to ship brighter, shorter life bulbs. Where apple slow down phones to ‘mask’ battery effects and allow consumers instead to assume their phone is old and therefore slow and they need a new one. Where HP has shipped firmware updates with delayed timers to disallow 3rd party toner they are already using and windows 10 drivers that override a printers acceptance of 3rd part toner. What I take from your article is that planned obsolescence == design life in a world where hardware schematics and firmware are closed source. Isn’t that what Hackaday is pretty much dedicated to fighting?

    1. Part of Apple’s battery problem is that they were syncing too much data from the previous device when using Transfer Assistant, including information about the life of the battery, leading to accidental artificial limits on battery life.

      1. That and the simple fact is your average phone running a rich ui and multi function OS requires a really good CPU that has ready access to all the power it needs when its dark silicon that should be essentially off more often than not is lit up in response to the users input, some application running in the background, or an OS background service that bulls its way into hogging system resources and runtime. The CPU’s go from sipping a couple dozen miliamps to taking as much as the design can handle without outputting too much heat.

        The battery just can’t go the distance without suffering massive amounts of dendrite build up on the anode reducing the usable capacity of the battery. The really really insidious part of this is that instead of just acknowledging this and explaining to to users or just giving them an option to keep the OS the phone shipped with a kind of security and critical updates only mode Apple just shovel more of the increasingly bloated OSes onto what are basically worn out hardware.

      2. Once in awhile my old android phone would always be warm and have a 3 hour battery life. Sometimes it would be fixed by resetting, but sometime it appeared to be an update that went south. It was hard to determine the actual cause, but it would often clear up on its own after a few days.

      3. No, Apple’s problem was they provided defective batteries that degraded too quickly couldn’t deliver the required current without causing voltage drop outs resulting in system shutdown/reboots.

        Their solution, rather than recall and replace the batteries, was to throttle the phones to limit their current draw. This kept phones from shutting down or rebooting spontaneously and had the added benefit of literally making the phones slower so people were more inclined to upgrade.

        That’s like Chevy removing the backseats from your 2 year old car to limit the number of people who can ride with you because they found that the strain of the extra weight was too much for the aging drive train. “We’re doing this so you can continue to drive the car…”

    2. I was surprised this wasn’t brought up in the article. My wife came to me after that update and immediately said “I need a new phone, this thing is getting slow”. I will never forget that one, even if it wasn’t intentional it immediately drove sales I’m sure.

        1. I had a similar issue with my Galaxy S5. After about 3,5yr it seemed, the battery would not last 2-3 days any more. As this happened quite suddenly, I could not say for sure, if it was battery degradation or a faulty update. But I could get a new battery for around 10€ – and swap it EASILY. I tried to measure charge capacity for the old and the new one but the values were not really unambiguously. Anyway: It works like new.

    3. The lightbulb conspiracy is a fable, because lightbulb lifespan is inversely proportional to its efficiency. Everybody was marketing longer and longer lasting bulbs that consumed more and more energy, so the industry was facing a credibility crisis where consumers could not trust to buy a decent product.

      That effect is called a lemon market, where prices and profits suffer because consumers assume that the product they’re buying is likely to be a dud, so they don’t want to pay more for a quality product. Either you agree to standardize on the brightness (per watt) of the bulbs, or you lose to the fly-by-night crapmongers.

      1. Btw. the exact same effect is happening today with LED bulbs, where manufacturers are pushing cheap strobing low CRI bulbs that achieve high apparent brightness by dubious means, don’t last as long as they advertise, and often also lie in their product packaging about how bright they really are. There’s little means for consumers to test whether these claims are true, and by the time the consumer advocacy organizations have managed to test the claims, the product is already off the market and replaced by another make and model from another brand.

        So you can’t expect to get a decent product – what do you do? All you can do is pay the least price and hope it’s worth it. What would fix the situation is voluntary standardization, again, but the corporations can’t do that because then you’d get another lightbulb conspiracy.

        1. Althoug I’m just a regular home owner, in the last year I started to keep acurate records of LEB bulbs and invoices, in order to ask for warranty covering when the bulb fails.
          In spite of all the promises of thousand of hours lifetime that they print in the packages (I think that this lifetime applies to the LED chips only), the circuit that lowers the voltage to the LED chips is awful.
          In the condo that I live, almost all the LED bulbs that we bought (they’re light activated and keep lighted everyday from evening untill dawn) have failed before just one year. They’re cheap also because the vendor’s know that only a few consummers will really ask for warranty covering.

          1. I work at a museum and we have to replace a lot of bulbs. We have work order records showing when each one was replaced. I have found that the LED bulbs we’ve been buying are only lasting about a year. Not because the LEDs fail, or even the driver board, but because of the wiring going from the driver to the LED panel. There has been a broken wire in each one I’ve opened. Unfortunately you can’t open them without destroying the case or it would be an extremely simple fix.

        1. Yeah, I’m kind of amazed by this article and the comments defending it. Planned obsolescence is most definitely a thing, and it is one of the reasons the ‘hack’ and ‘make’ communities even exist! Is cost cutting for the sake of driving profits sometimes pointed at as a poor example of planned obsolescence? Yes. Does that mean any discussion of planned obsolescence should be scorned as tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy rambling? No. No it does not.

        2. Well duh, how else would you get everyone on board? They were losing profits because of the lemon market effect where consumers would only buy the very cheapest bulbs and not trust what they were telling them about the quality of the product.

          The point is that by -standardizing- on a certain lifespan and therefore a certain brightness/efficiency (as opposed to fixing prices as how cartels usually operate), they still created a level playing field where manufacturers were free to compete in manufacturing cost and price, and they avoided a race to the bottom.

          The fact of the matter still is that tungsten filament lamps are limited by physics, not by some arbitrary decision to make bad lamps. If somebody managed to make a lamp that could last longer at the same efficiency, they could up the filament temperature and achieve lower energy consumption and higher color temperature instead of the orange glow of the “long life” bulbs, thus they would have a better lamp to sell – not worse as it was when they were all competing on who has the longest lasting bulb.

          1. And the conspiracists like to argue that the cartel was suppressing new technologies to keep competition down, but that just isn’t supported by history.

            The cartel was disbanded before WW2, and the next step in innovation on incandecent bulbs came in 1959 with the halogen bulb, and it took until 1980 before it was mature enough for consumer markets in general use.

          2. Yes. But unfortunately many people seem to like conspiracy theories over physics. That’s the reason this hype over “planned obsolescence” exists. In some cases it may be true, but mostly it is just that manufacturers use the cheapest crap possible to make it over the warranty period, as the article explains.

    4. HP has made various models of printers with an internal clock/counter that checks date codes in chips on ink tanks and cartridges, then refuse to print with “expired” ink. Some of those can have the clock/counter disabled without affecting the rest of the printer.

      1. The things that HP does in the printers that they make are unbeliaveble. It seems that the printer is always theirs, because in every moment they can force the printer to do what they want it to do.
        I don’t live in US, I’m not American, so, I can’t understand why never there was not a legal action from US Government against HP, something like was done to Microsoft in 90’s because of Windows x Internet Explorer.

      2. But what would be the “correct” alternative?
        1. Putting in a sensor that measures the real ageing of the ink = Higher cost, no one would buy it when a printer without the sensor would be cheeper.
        2. Letting the user print with old, clogged ink = ruining the printer and having users complain about why it would let you use old ink.

        Maybe the printer can use 1 week old ink without problems but they need to set the limit somewhere.

        1. A possible solution would be to standardize a chip that has basic information (manufacturer, manufacture date, expiry date) so that the printer drivers could warn the user if an expired/third party cartridge was being used, rather than rejecting the cartridge outright. But that’s just not as profitable :P

    1. Companies used to add to the size of products to sell more “value” by selling more product, but eventually it went overboard with people turning off of buying the products.

      I still remember when candy bags were these tiny 50-100 gram pouches that cost pennies, so you’d buy one to have a few and then that was that. Want more, buy another. Then they ballooned up in size to 300-400 gram monsters that you’d buy and eat yourself sick. Then they reduced in size to something in between.

        1. In a free market that doesn’t really happen. If there’s someone who can offer a similar product for less money and still make a profit they will. Companies do have to pass their costs on to customers, otherwise there’s no company.

    2. What’s extra irritating about that is when a lower cost yet still decent quality brand goes along in lock step with the shrinkage. For example, Western Family ice cream. Quite delicious IMHO, and much lower price than, Dreyer’s, Breyers, Blue Bunny etc. Yet when their stock of half gallon boxes was used up they went to the 1.75 quart size like everyone else.

      It apparently wasn’t simply a matter of having the lowest price, they felt they had to keep the same price differential. I expect Western Family could get a huge increase in sales with a small price bump if they went back to half gallons and put FULL HALF GALLON! on the boxes.

      Even worse are the brands that reduced to 1.75 quarts yet boast of “More Scoops!” (than 1.5 quart brands).

      Another one is World Kitchens beef jerky. It used to come in 16 ounce bags. Then reduced to 12 ounces, for the same price. They cut the size again to 10 ounces, made all new artwork for the bags which proclaim “MEGA SIZE!”. But it’s gotten worse. Recently the company has gone to “Sliced and Shaped”. Chopped and formed, same as the low end jerky brands. (Agent Booth would Not Approve.) The bins fuller of their jerky than other brands at stores show their race to the bottom is hurting. Either they’ll have to up their quality and product size while finding other ways to cut costs, or they’ll end up out of business for ruining their product.

      Agent Booth? One must be a fan of “Bones” to understand. ;)

  3. This article seems to boil down to “people are lazy and stupid”, which is a poor argument for willfully shirking the inclusion of useful or necessary features. There will always be smart/energetic ones who will appreciate the extra features and will be the strongest product advocates, particularly on social media.

    “The entire conspiracy is explained away when you consider that manufacturers are giving consumers exactly what they’re asking for…”

    They’re giving the consumers exactly what the marketing operations have spotlighted demand for in the tightest central distribution of potential customers, rather than paying attention to (or developing) longer-tail markets. There is a difference between this and what people “ask for”; it’s the difference between what people actually want and what the most people will put up with most of the time — and has led product developers in many sectors down a tortuous path to a hilariously bad result.

    Also, HF, having found its price point and sales volume, keeps increasing product quality (and market share) while treating its employees very well in terms of insurance, benefits and retirement. No mean feat, that.

    1. While I agree with your sentiment, I still think the article is correct on the overall idea that the people are to blame.
      It is the same problem with most industries actually;

      The people who make the most noise are the ones who get listened to, and what sells dictates what is made.

      The amount of people asking for smart features and repairable devices are mostly irritating to manufacturers because the vocal internet majority follows the asinine reviewers and tech journalists who preach and bemoan the most obscure personal opinions on everything.

      I still get instantly enraged by the tech reviewers who talk about phones having a notch and a chin. Who the hell besides these nutcases actually cares if phone A is 1/64″ different than phone B!?!

      I would place bets that most normal people dont really care if the screen goes to the absolute edge of the phone, but they do care if it breaks easier.
      There is enough of a market demand to make a android app to put a fake notch at the top to look like an iphone, whether it needs it or not. Then other brands literally go backwards to create notched phones.
      People bitch and complain when the headphone jack is removed, but still go and buy the next phone that also doesn’t have a headphone jack, therefore reinforcing the cycle.

      /rant

      1. Who actually wants a phone with a screen that goes all the way to the edge? You can’t hold the damn thing securely without launching apps willy-nilly. That was a problem with phones that didn’t have zero edge screens. I had to put a case on my Galaxy S4 just for that. Protecting the phone was a secondary purpose to working around a stupid engineering flaw.

        1. All the way to the edge is acceptable. Around the edge is stupid. I also just checked which phones still have a IR transmitter diode like my Galaxy S5 – no Samsung ones any more. But I also like the AMOLED screen from Samsung. I can only hope, that my S5 lives some more years.

    2. Agree.

      People are not lazy or stupid. They have been bullshitted since they were kids by marketing that they need “x” with “y features” because it will make their life great.

      The needs are artificial. Not real.
      \
      Then the MSM trots out some garbage spewing geek/engineer saying how great the product is and it’s a must have.

      Look at Apple, it’s a cult with a rabid following because Jobs knew how to upsell shiny and very overpriced Chinese made sweatshop goods to a bunch of mouth breathing poltroons.

      Is there a reason why a glorified cell phone should cost a $1000? no. It’s just that marketing creating a the notion that you need it.

  4. “Finally, and I know I’m preaching to the choir in this community, but we need to educate people more about how stuff works, and get people interested in understanding the products they use on a daily basis, and to believe that the stuff inside the plastic box is not just magic pixies”

    Plenty of education right in the box for films (making of…) and yet people complain about their prices. Books and music, not so much, but then people would complain about the waste that’s their education.

  5. Who is this we?

    I don’t want a thin phone more than I want one that lasts. I used to love my removable batteries! It wasn’t even just about keeping my phone for longer. If I was going to be away from a charger for a while I would bring a couple of extra charged batteries in my pocket. I also had external chargers so that I could keep charge those extras at the same time when I got home.

    My latest phone is thin because that’s what I had to get if i wanted to run up to date software. This thinness is completely wasted on me anyway. Good smartphones are expensive and I do like to protect my investment. my phone isn’t thin anymore once I put it in the Otter Box!

    My choices have been taken away from me. I’m kind of resentful about that. Thanks a lot guys for telling industry that WE all wanted the same thing.

    I miss slide out QWERTY keypads too. Not the crappy ones that were on the later generations of smartphones to have them. I know those are all many people ever experienced. I miss the good ones, if you ever used a Sharp Zaurus you know what I mean. It really did feel like each successive generation had crappier keypads. It was like they were training new users and people with short memories to not want them.

    I wonder, are there so few of us who don’t want the exact same thing as the current fad that there is no money to be made in producing alternatives for those of us that didn’t come out of a cookie cutter? Or is it just that the corporate world is just a bunch of jerks? To me it seems more like it’s the manufacturers that tell the people what they want and most of the people just jump on what they say as though it were their own original thoughts.

    1. Battery replacement came down to a cost issue.
      Do you want to buy a new battery for almost the same cost as a new phone?
      Now that new (smart) phones cost almost $1k the batteries aren’t consumer replaceable.
      I’d rather the batteries be external to the phone, say in the case, so they could be replaced.

      1. What are you talking about? I used to buy batteries off Ebay for just a few dollars each! They didn’t last quite as long as the good ones but a couple of those in your pocket would get you way more use than being limited to just the one original. Name brand, OEM batteries were more expensive but never came anywhere near the price of the phone. What kind of batteries were you buying? Apple?

      1. One cannot just start a new cellphone company. Getting designs FCC certified alone eliminates all but the best funded entrepreneurs. (or with the appropriate agencies in other countries) Even if one can get over that hurdle the cellphone carriers would never allow you on their network. Before you say it, no, starting a new cellphone network is NOT an option either. Just licensing the spectrum would cost in the billions and then you would have to erect thousands of towers!

        Nope. We are pretty much stuck with the shit they want us to like.

        1. That’s a crazy thing about the US carriers. Why the hell are they allowed to decide which cellphone models are allowed to use the network? It’s standards compliant, it should be allowed.

    2. Realistically, if you are on this site, you are the consumer who wants repairable devices.
      I think the aim of the article is to get more exposure to the well-known problem so that we all excercise our circles of influence to buy differently if possible.

      We alone are not enough to exact change, but every time somebody asks “what to buy” I try to be as passive and unbiased as possible.
      “Yes an iphone is easy to use, but these are things you will encounter.”
      “Yes, android can be annoying, but here is what you stand to gain over iphone.”
      “If you want a phone with a headphone jack then dont cave and buy one without. That is becoming part of the problem.”

      …etc…

    3. The manufacturers “proved” that “nobody wants” real keyboards on phones by only making keyboard phones with reduced features. By not making any phones with the fastest CPUs, most RAM, most storage, and highest resolution displays – they could point to lower sales of the keyboard phones and say “See? Keyboard phone sales are much lower than our 1080p Mega Speed SuperXL models. Not enough people want a real keyboard to justify making them anymore.”

      Car manufacturers do the same thing. One example, 2 door SUVs VS 4 door versions of the same models. You’ll often find them not available with the most powerful engines and other features only available on the 4 door. Ford had the 2 door Explorer Sport, but refused to allow it to be equipped with the 302 V8. So much for “sport”. Had it been given a V8 option, it’s likely not a one would have rolled off the line with a V6.

      What it comes down to is infighting in the company. One faction wants a specific model made with some feature(s) they really really want. Some other faction claims “Nobody wants *that* feature!”, and they have an in with others in the company who get to make the decisions, and get things arranged so that those who want what they don’t will get it – but only with the product featuring said feature so compromised in other ways it can’t help but sell poorly.

  6. I get what the article is trying to tell, but I Think that the example of the apple connector is a bad one, in 2007 there was the tecnology to manifacture the lightning connector (not transfer rate, but the meccanical side) and it is really better than the older version from the meccanical point of view, so mutch that usb standard sent out USB-C two years later, but is not a new idea, have you ever tried to put electrical plug into the wall some of those you can reverse it and everithing still works, they were around before 2007..

    1. I know it’s now buried in the hazy depths of antiquity, but the Apple docking connector was originally for the iPod in 2003. At a time when pretty much every manufacturer came up with a different connector for each generation of their MP3 players and phones Apple’s continuing to support its connector and accessories was actually pretty nice.

  7. >”and it was caused by the consumers, not the manufacturers.”

    And who caused the consumers to behave irrationally? Marketing. Why do we need to have a new model of car for every year? Because the manufacturer’s marketing department tells you so.

    It’s the age old adage that a company that makes a product that lasts forever is out of business as soon as they’ve sold one to everyone.

    1. Microsoft?
      It seems that at this point that Microsoft has saturated the market with their software. Any computer that the owner could want windows on has windows. There are few manufacturers without windows liscenses. Now I’m far from adoring the spawn of Bill, but I think this explains the rumors of switching to a subscription based model.

      1. Another effect is “hiding the chaff”, especially with consumer electronics.

        All manufacturing processes have variation, the quality of the product is never the same. Some items are duds, others not. In order to increase profits, manufacturers knowingly stuff some percentage of duds in the mix and give a warranty that simply replaces the item with another one drawn from the lot to deal with the early failures.

        The trick is that many consumers don’t use their warranties, the company refuses the warranty on some edge case (which there are many), or the product breaks just out of warranty, etc. All that would hurt the brand by consumers eventually learning that X from Y is a bad product that is prone to breaking.

        But, what if X from Y is no longer available? Now it’s Z from Y – a different product. Someone googling for “Is Z any good?” isn’t going to find the bad reviews. When you change the product every year, you never build up a critical mass of people who identify your brand with a particular product that everyone knows is bad – you can see that the products are crud only by aggregating multiple products over multiple years – but then what happens? A company merger, change of brand, hey, it’s not G from Y anymore, it’s H from F and the whole gamble starts anew.

    2. There’s a company whose primary product used to be metal panels for underneath the cages at chicken and egg producers. Despite being good galvanized steel, the corrosive nature of chicken excrement would rust holes in the panels every so often.

      Thus they had a steady market to sell into. Then someone at the company had an idea. “Why don’t we make these panels from plastic?” His idea was received with enthusiasm and the company bought equipment to make plastic items, hired people to design the molds – everything required to make plastic versions of their metal products.

      Sales were stellar, until they weren’t. Upon reviewing their records they discovered they had sold an essentially indestructible product to *every one* of the chicken producers in North America that had formerly been using their metal panels.

      Oops!

      But they didn’t panic. Since they already had all the equipment to produce plastic items, and the employees to use it all, they went looking for other plastic products to make, with no relation to chickens. They’ll still make the plastic chicken panels if anyone has a need.

      That’s a summary of a company profile article from an issue of Plastics News several years ago. Sometimes making your product the best it can possibly be can put you out of business, especially when the market for it is fairly small, unless you have the flexibility to branch out into something else.

  8. There is certainly some truth here but it is far from the whole story. User feedback, either intentional or unintentional, didn’t cause Apple to brick phones when a 3rd party screen repair was performed. It sure as heck didn’t cause John Deere to make it nearly impossible to do any maintenance or repairs unless you’re an officially authorized John Deere repair facility. Cell phones are often replaced well before they’re actually at the end of their life cycle. That’s less true of televisions and stereos, and much less true of washing machines and refrigerators and microwaves. Saying that the manufacturers are purely responding to market signals and not intentionally making things less reliable and more difficult to repair is simply not true.

    Yes, Harbor Freight sells a lot of crap that I wouldn’t buy. They also sell a lot of basic, no frills things that are perfectly usable. There’s a significant difference between a high quality mechanic’s set of sockets and the basic ones at Harbor Freight, and if you’re a professional mechanic it’s well worth the price difference. If you’re a shade tree mechanic who changes your brake pads every other year and replaces an alternator once every five years or so, then it’s probably not.

  9. Harbor freight is either a very bad or very good example. Construction contractors, the people who actually need their tools to last and stand up to abuse, wouldn’t go anywhere near Harbor Freight. The more serious and better off hobbyists wouldn’t either. But for those people who just need to get one task done, or new hobbyists just getting their feet wet, the place is a godsend. Buying a high-end tool for a one-off, or before you know what you need is kinda insane.

    1. Actually, a LOT of contractors use HF. Not necessarily for core-use tools, but pretty much everything else they can. Buy it, break it, throw it away bill the customer.

      One of the companies I work for, for example, has policy to just go buy the wrench set(s) before hitting the job site. It costs less than the time to keep them in house (checking in after a job, replacing lost tools, checking out for a job, needing to find the one that got left behind, and so on). A $US30 set of wrenches is a LOT less money than a crew hung up for an hour. Saves money for the customer, as well, since they eventually pay one way or another. Many of them like to see these on the bill, since it means we won’t have a crew sitting there without the tool.

      Other big hitters are come-alongs and hoists (the cost of inspection and repair is much greater than replacement), (within bounds) lifting slings (always clean and have the tag), angle grinders (not worn out and if the guard is missing, you know when and who), and so on.

      Pretty much every other contractor (we do marine and steam plant) work the same way over the last 10 to 20 years. Longer ago than that, I was on jobs (construction and power plant) where Conex boxes of tools- better than HF tools, including things like grinders, welding gear and supplies, hammers and wrenches, and so on- were scrapped, because it is cheaper to replace it all than inventory and store it.

      1. A few years ago dad picked up a box of cheap new 4″ angle grinders at a flea market. $5 each for buying a full box. We sold them on yard sales for $15~20 each. While dad was making the purchase, another fellow was there buying a lot more. Said he had a welding shop and buying the $5 cheapos was way cheaper than investing in Milwaukee, Dewalt etc.

        Doesn’t work out of the box? Take the grinding disc off and toss the rest. Quits after a couple of days? Toss it. Employee takes one home and never brings it back? Pfft. It’s five bucks VS almost $100 for a name brand tool. He could equip five employees with grinders, plus spares, for less than the cost of one big name tool.

        I still have a couple of them, which I “improvified” by making sure the sleeve bearing at the top of the output shaft was properly staked into the gearbox housing, and replacing the cheap open ball bearing at the bottom of the output shaft with a cheap yet much higher quality sealed bearing from a local hardware store. For an expenditure of less than $5 and about 30 minutes time a $5 grinder was made as good as a $50 one, but not as good as an $85 one. If I used one every day and used it hard – without any worry about it possibly “growing legs” – I’d want a really good quality angle grinder.

        But for what little I need one a $5 import plus a better bearing is good enough.

  10. It’s not true, I as a buyer have nothing to do with the decisions that make the product more fragile.
    I always look for a good quality-price ratio but with an emphasis on quality.
    However, what the market offers me always has an emphasis on the increasingly low quality.

    1. If no brands make a quality product or stand behind it, but you buy something anyway because it was the best ‘value’, well that influenced their decision.

      The thought to not buy a product is crazy to some.

  11. I have been asked to modify a product design to cut it’s life in half. I never did it.
    Also if consumers could realize how a more well designed product is absolutely cheaper long run it would help.
    I wonder if a company could be formed to make products costing roughly twice the wal mart price with the benefit coming from solid design and quality materials. I hardly ever buy stuff at wal mart because you can’t find anything of quality.

    1. “Also if consumers could realize how a more well designed product is absolutely cheaper long run it would help.”

      I don’t think so. My first Sony W800i was really well engineered. Even now, it still works. The camera is still not too shabby. Even the battery still holds a charge. It was really well designed. And not cheap either.

      But if I would have still been using it now, instead of my iPhone, I would never have rolled into mobile software development, and would have missed-out on quite a big amount of money. :)

  12. I love Harbor Freight. Sometimes I need a tool for very infrequent use, so I get one of their cheapos because it’ll be good enough. For everything else, I buy top quality. Also, some of HF’s stuff is surprisingly unsucky.

  13. have the printers in the last 10 years improoved so mutch that they need a complete redesign of the container for the ink or powders? often to buy a new printer cost less than to buy new toner for an older printer, that’s clearly a strategy to get money out of a saturated market, what would you call this then

    1. The Printer vs. Ink proposition falls squarely under the “Gillette Principle”, as in the razor, (i.e. you get the handle for free but it uses proprietary blades). Printer manufactures do the same thing. They practically give the printer away in hopes that you will submit to the “lock-in” on the ink. Consumer choice didn’t play a part in some manufactures further enforcing this lock-in by exploiting the DCMA.

      1. King C. Gillette claimed to be an anti-military socialist. Yet he made his decidedly capitalist fortune selling razors and blades to the US government on a contract for the army. Hypocrite, like most socialists.

        1. I have no clue as to what Gillette claim to be. I’m not going to look it up because it doesn’t matter to address the ignorance in your comment. I’m not being personal because many others harbor the same ignorance, and rears up here at Hackaday often as well. In general it’s about commerce, not capitalism, or socialism. Nothing in socialism in it’s top level definitions, that precludes a business person, from earning a fortune by producing, what there’s a demand for. Here in the USA actual socialism begins within our Constitution. Our government of merchants love socialism when it work in their favor. You should give up using words like socialism/socialist pejoratively, and using a broad brush in judging others.

  14. Planned Obsolescence in the 80’s was solely about moore’s law the next product would be better if maybe marginally than the last product to make you want to buy it not make it die so you have to buy a new one.

    for example the nvidia 20 series cards now have ray tracing the 10 and less did not so that obsoletes the 10 series because if games switch over to require ray tracing.

    as a mining card a 2060 would be much faster than a 1060 and would have more memory.

  15. Yeah i don’t completely agree. When your only option is crap, you get that crap. When it breaks it doesn’t matter if i change manufacturer A to B since it’s the same crap. Someone else changes from B to A, because the B was the same crap. If you have a choice, the good one costs usually many times more and still many times they are just riding on their old reputation and it’s not really that much better.

    Like i’ve said before, you are lucky if 10% of your customers are educated enough in the matter and that is just because people can’t be experts in everything. And comparing things is not that easy, when most of the crap aren’t reviewed for an extended time. They are reviewed new, for an hour and by paid people.

    And there are obvious things that do not save the manufacturer a penny and yet they make them weak as hell. For example: every plastic case screw “anchor” (i don’t know what they are called) ever made.

  16. I’ve noticed that many products with heating elements include a completely superfluous thermal fuse with a lifetime of 2 years that cannot be reset. These devices already have another temperature sensor for regulating the temperature that does not fail automatically 2-5 years after the product is released. Bridging the thermal fuse has no effect on operation or safety of the device.
    Planned obsolescence is alive and well.

    1. Extra thermal fuses are added specifically for safety, so that if something goes wrong with the main temperature control the failure mode is not burn down the building.
      Non re-settable thermal fuses is the company being cheap.

  17. You can’t only blame the customers. It is consumer demand, yes, but also the investors demand for higher returns. It is more profitable to sell a product every year than to sell one every two years. Marketing, not providing replacement parts, unrepairable products, not supporting products and a strategy of making stuff only last as long as the warranty lasts (plus a safety margin) lead to customers needing to buy more frequently.
    The thing is: All the companies are the same now. There’s only few companies that don’t work like that. Where do you go for quality products? What’s the difference between an Apple / Samsung / Sony / Xiaomi / HTC / whatnot cell phone. It’s all the same crap. They sell you convoluted, closed down crap phones you can basically throw away after 2, max. 3 years, because they don’t give you security updates or your can’t change the battery without the phone refusing to work afterwards. A mid-range phone could work for 4-5 years, if there were security updates and the battery can be changed, but it makes no sense for the companies.
    But cell phones are only one example… Governments need to do something about this, as this won’t solve itself. A longer warranty period, a law that makes it mandatory that your products can be repaired and key replacement parts can be purchased, lower taxes for repair work etc. There’s a lot of leverage to improve the situation imo.

    1. In the USA there is a law that mandates products with lead based or nickel cadmium batteries must be designed so the battery is easily removable by the consumer for replacement or recycling.

      https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/14322

      But since the law does not specifically mention any other rechargeable battery chemistry, the electronics industry has been able to get away with making all the various types of lithium based batteries sealed inside their products.

      I’d love to see that law amended to replace all mentions of specific chemistries with “rechargeable cell or battery”. Then all the cell phones sold here would have to have easily removable batteries.

      Some politicians are trying, but it will have to be at the federal government level. https://www.extremetech.com/mobile/263101-washington-state-mulls-bill-mandating-replaceable-batteries-easily-repaired-consumer-electronics

  18. “This isn’t a game of increasing their own margin by keeping prices the same and reducing the quality of the product”
    Having just quit a company because they wouldn’t did quality issues, the Division president was tasking engineering with shortening the lifetime of our products. Definitely a marketing/management decision that engineering fought. But the increase in turnover would have meant a nice bump in cash flow and thus stock price. This is the 3rd company of 3 I’ve been at that does this.

    1. So in those markets, a product with a shorter usable life is more profitable to sell? What markets exactly?
      Reminds me of the original metal toothbrushes. Customer’s would rather not brush at all than buy a ‘high-quality’ metal handled toothbrush with replaceable heads. Only when they made them “disposable” did customer’s start buying.

      Similar story with the drinking straw and carpets.

  19. “This conspiracy theory isn’t true; there’s a perfectly good explanation for this phenomenon, and it was caused by the consumers, not the manufacturers.”

    this is not exactly true, there are documented cases where printer manufacturers record the number of printed pages, then after a while the printer stop working, this is planned and is not a conspiracy therory, this is hackaday you shuld know cases similar to this one. Those printer problems are fixed hacking the printer EEPROM.

    1. another example, if you always upgrade the OS of an iPhone the phone eventually will become slowww, that is documented also. Some corporations put some planned obsolescence in their products.

    2. Also prom on cartridges so u dont just refill the toner. Standing BS from manufacturer is “print quality assurance”. Going through all devices designed to fail …nah. Not going to type a book. Some products do have safety devices that actually do provide for safety and must fail.

  20. Bob, you are so wrong. Planned obsolescence IS real. You can call it whatever you want, it doesnt change what it really is. I have worked in the automotive electronics industry for some time. I assure you, it is very much a thing. At times, rather than it being a decision to make the cheapest possible device, it also very much goes the other way. Where the decision is made just to simply not make the device any better, or last any longer regardless of cost. The aftermarket auto parts industry is 100% like this.

    1. Bob isn’t saying Planned obsolescence isn’t real, just that if you buy from those who use it as a business strategy, you’re to blame. You don’t have to buy and they don’t have to innovate or even create a good product.
      Caveat Emptor folks. You shape the market.

      I’ve assisted in the design of ECUs for cheap car manufactures (Chrysler), utility trucks (think street sweepers), big rigs, sports cars (Jaguar) and backup generators. There’s a massive difference in the design requirements. All dictated by what the customer’s want. Customers buying an ECU for a backup generator pay a premium for redundant systems, self testing, and remote diagnostics. Chrysler’s budget for the entire ECU is less than what some Arduino’s cost. A Jaguar’s ECU has optical data links. It’s all about what their market values.

      Bob, you’re so right it hurts.

  21. You are wrong ! Perfect example: the water pump on most cars used to be on the outside of the engine where it was easy to change and would take you half n hour and less than 50 buck to fix . That all ended in the 1980s . Since then most cars have been made with the water pump down deep inside the engine so when it needs replaceing not only will it cost you 5-700 dollars , because it’s just too much hassle for the average Joe to want to take on . And because the water pump in on the same belt as the timing ,so if it’s going and you don’t notice right away and it breaks- it will cause the timing to be off and will in most cases completely ruin the engine ! And if you do catch it in time not to ruin the engine, your gonna need a toe to the shop . Have you seen how much a toe-truck cost lately ? I have many other examples of how we’re being milked . And I’ll leave you with this: where can you buy anything you can count on to last ,cheep or not ???

      1. One of my early cars was a Ford Escort overhead cam. It was well over 20y old by then and still had the original timing belt. I drove ot for many many years. It hard a hard life but in the end I wore out that engine… still with the original timing belt. The motor got exchanged and rebuilt. I never heard of anyone snapping a timing belt or a chain. No one. I then had a Honda Prelude 84 it also had a timing belt which got changed in 2009 because it got too noisy. It was the timing belt tensioner… I got driven for another 140k with no problems. Now a days, if you don’t change the timing belt every 100k look out. I have heard of them snapping on freeways and people trashing perfectly good motors. Honda, Toyota, Subaru etc all say the same….. very much planned obsolescence or skimping to such a degree the goods fail … at our cost.

      2. and, when they do replace such a timing belt they tighten it to full specs….and a month later the bearings in the pump fail….hmmmmm. Ofcourse they would not change the pump at the time because it is a 300-700 item (although no different from the $50 item 30 years ago)….

        1. It would help if you read the owner’s manual. All of what you’re talking about is clearly laid out in there. For example, if they recommend the waterpump be replaced every 75k miles… they mean it. If you don’t like the idea of a car needing it’s water pump replaced every 75k miles, but one that has a longer interval. I think you’ll realize those vehicles are much much more expensive though.

          1. In all the cars I have owned I have never seen a car owners manual citing water pump lifespan or timing belt for that matter. Asking the salesperson or previous owner usually meets with a blank look too. I challenge you to post a pic of the one you have seen.

    1. water pump is a bad example, they didnt redesign them to make cars fail faster, they did it for efficiency.
      You want good water related example? Washing machines. They make the spider (metal part holding the drup) from specially selected metal alloy, selected for what? for CORRODING :D
      Good washing machine will have powder coated stainless steel spider (miele), cheap trash use some alu-like alloy turning into dust after couple of years of water contact. Oh, and just to be sure they arent painted either ;).

    2. So a design change which increases cost of ownership (something buyers ignore) but decreases the purchase price (something buys value) is an example why customer’s aren’t responsible for what the market offers?

    3. Sorry I can’t feel sorry for a person that has the ability to repair something and doesn’t, that’s a nonsense argument. On the flip side the an average Joe has the means to hire the repairs made and does so I wont judge him harshly for that

      1. Yes but they took care of that by hiking up the prices of parts – cars $300-700 water pumps, $600 smart batteries etc, printers – cartridges AND fail counters. Houses – mdf mouldings, counters, floor boards, skirtings/trims etc so when water is spilled they are ruined within 30 minutes. Doors from mdf so you can basically walk through them. Bulbs designed to run so hot basic electronics tells you they will fail in not too distant future. Tiles in the bathroom so you know when the foundations move (guaranteed) they will crack and leak. Mixer taps with replacable parts that no plumber or shop stocks. Large flat screen tv’s with screens as fragile as your phone. Guaranteed to be cracked and dead in next two to three years ie next redeco or house move or party. Need I go on?

  22. I don’t really buy the premise that it’s the consumer’s fault that stuff dies early. Best counterexample is Apple, where people willingly pay a premium for what’s perceived as a better, longer-lasting product. Ditto for high-end cars.

    We bought 5 new appliances about 10 years ago. They were US brand-name and not the entry level or cheapest. All 5 have some problem or other, from mundane stuff like handles cracking or labelling rubbing off, to keyboard connector failure and impossibly stupid controller design (omitting pullup resistors, etc).

    1. Confused as to how Apple is a counterexample.
      If Apple’s marketing says it’s a better product, and the apologetic fanboys keep toting the line and buying it regardless of quality… wouldn’t that be the consumer’s fault?

      1. My Apple MacBook Pro circa 2004 still plows on without a hitch. Same with my iphone 5 (except it had a batt replacement recently after many many faultless years) ipad 4 yep faultless. Back in my intel days we had to rebuild the laptops every 2 years because windows ground to half its speed (designed?) and no matter how expensive the laptops were…most rivalling my apple unit, died within three years with motherboard issues, fan failures, screen issues etc.

        1. Ken is saying Apple/BMW/Mercs/etc customers are buying based on a reputation of better quality and implying they get better quality.
          Although dinkodrams anecdote is interesting, a quick internet search says these brand reputations don’t mirror reality.

      2. I would never buy an apple product. There are repeated failures of motherboards, GPUs, structural problems with motherboard cases, keyboard reliability issues, and the infamous “your’e holding it wrong” issue with the iphone4. Couple this with the shady support practices like requiring boot tests on systems with failed motherboards that obviously can’t boot and suing 3rd party repair vendors. Nope.

  23. Good quality tools are an excellent thing! But.. as a hobbyist who can afford to buy everything that way? So just buy high quality for things you use a lot and things where the low quality ones just don’t work. But… as a hobbyist do you always know which tools that applies to right away? No, me neither.

    So, here’s my strategy.

    If it’s a tool of a type that I did not have before then unless I already know in advance that I really need to get a good one I start with Harbor Freight or Ebay or Deal Extreme or something like that. If it’s something where I need to replace the cheap tool that I bought previously because it broke… then I buy the expensive brand.

    Some things I can stick with the cheap one because honestly the cheap one is just as good. Other things I can put up with the cheap one because it’s good enough and I don’t use it that often anyway. This process weeds out the third category of tools, the ones where I really do need the quality tool.

    Sure, some things I end up buying twice, once cheap once not. So? It’s still more affordable than either buying EVERYTHING expensive the first time or continuously replacing cheap with cheap over and over again. I couldn’t possibly afford to have a functional workshop if I had to buy every tool from the high quality supplier.

  24. Tomato/tomato. If the marketing requirement is cost has to be < X and the lifespan only needs to be Y, then that gets translated into a meantime between failure (MTBF) and written into the technical requirements. Engineers only need to meet the requirement plus some margin and can pick materials, tolerances, etc. that don't go beyond that because improved life = more cost. Knowing the weak spot and when it's expected to fail rather than designing in a weak spot, still both result in an expected failure rate.

      1. This is the perfect example of someone not understanding engineering.

        The answer is that homes are designed and built to be ‘effective’. The desired result is for the company to make more profit than the other companies. Typically this involves selling more product at low margins or ‘moving up’ and maximizing margins at the expense of volume.

        Modern homes are the perfect example of what Bob is talking about. Most homes are shit, but perfectly satisfy what first time home buyers look for. Specifically curb appeal, fancy bathrooms/kitchens, difficult to maintain fancy surface materials, etc. They do not understand what “truss uplift” is or care about insulation unless they live in an area with high energy costs. They don’t want to pay more for an engineered foundation barrier or seamless sheathing. They just want the most attractive house for the money.

  25. Have been in the power conversion and distribution sector for over thirty years. There are two obvious reasons that it is not the consumer driving this.
    1. Industry and the government have become adept at marketing and manipulation. They are very effective at telling us what we should want, and how often we should want it.
    2. Globalization drives the bottom line. In simplistic terms – greed for the multi-nationals and survival for the minions.

    In Southern California, up until the late 90s, there were over 30 component power supply companies. Most had some level of manufacturing within the USA. After over twenty years of mergers and off-shoring, there are no principal power conversion companies in the Southwest U.S. that do both design and manufacturing and marketing. There are but a few niche power conversion companies remaining, and most have well under 50M USD volume.

    This was all driven by demands from the big boys (Microsoft, IBM, CISCO, J&J, GE, Medtronic/Covidien, Siemens, ATT, GM, Cardinal, and many others) for cost reductions. The first round of cost reductions did not significantly affect quality, but many manufacturing jobs, and some engineering jobs, went south of the border or to Asia. The next round of cost reduction demands have all but exterminated domestic elements of this industry sector.

    Wall Street demands a certain level of growth and profit margin. And that is a principal driver of ‘planned’ obsolescence. The consumer is typically without a clue and are just doing whatever they are told to do…

  26. I’m in favor of regulation forcing manufacturers to pay for product disposal or recycling costs up front. This would incentivize products that lasted longer while simultaneously mitigating most of the waste we generate. Products would be made of more biodegradable or more easily recyclable materials to cut costs. I imagine this would work similar to a a bottle bill works. It would penalize both irresponsible manufacturers and wasteful consumers. It’s about time we factored the long term cost into our rampant consumerism.

    1. So when manufacturing moves away to avoid these laws, would your next “FIX” involve massive import tariffs?

      Would you also need to enact the same disposal fees/requirements on imports?

      Manufacturing costs will obviously increase since cheap drop-in biodegradable equivalents aren’t a real sustainable thing. Product costs will, therefore, need to increase, which is fine if you’re just front-loading the disposal costs, but how would that work? A factory makes a plastic part in Ohio, but it’s purchased and shipped to Texas. Does the factory in Ohio have to send funds to the land-fill in Texas?

  27. “HOW DO WE FIX IT?”
    (caution: severe case of heresy)

    Ban advertising. Meaning: Do not sell stuff they don’t really need to people who do not care. These are the people who will only look for judge the price and the outer appearence, because they do not really know anything about the stuff they are about to buy.

    Do the opposite:
    Sell parts, assemblies and services, no a finished product, to people who are interested and have deep knowledge about the wanted item.
    These people will care for the product (they assembled it themselves), be 100% happy with it (they choose themselves, it fits their need much better)

    Example:
    I do not know what the cheapest of China bicycles cost at harbour freight (or if they even sell bicycles), but at the entrances of Germany’s construction warehouses these can be had from 120-140€.
    No one who buys one of these will enjoy it. Each single part says: Kill me please, quick

    Most enthusiasts will choose parts or sets of parts and have their bicycle built in the local workshop of least distrust ;) , or even build them completely alone. Some of them even rework older parts, because they like “the good old indestructible” Sachs hubs (they have long been swallowed by SRAM).

    Same goes for bike and car owners, gamers assembling their own PC, most flat interiors, etc. pp.

    And there you have the happy customers, longtime owners of goods and best caretakers (because they built it themselves).

  28. I’ve heard from an engineer who designes power supplies that they built useless components in the first revision of PSU. And when administration forces them to cut the cost, they just throw out the extra resistors and capacitors to save the money they are forced to save. Without losing the quality or functionalty of the PSU

  29. Wow, Bill Baddely’s trolling harder than Benchoff— (I wouldn’t have thought it possible). He’s like: “I know you all think you’re so smart, but you’re the reason your stuff fails. You’re wrong, and you believe in ridiculous conspiracy-theories; our capitalist economy is really just a benevolent giant who responds appropriately to our needs.” Come on man: either you truly think you’re smarter than everyone here, or you having nothing of value to say, so you troll hard to start a comment-war. You even “predicted” (intended) it.

      1. If this is really Benchoff (whom I actually respect for his particular brand of trolling), and you truly are smarter than me, you’d realize that nothing I’ve said suggests a lack of intelligence on your part, or on the part of the article’s author. In fact, my suggestion was that the author was overestimating his own intelligence, and underestimating that of his audience. Also, your retaliatory comments only make sense if you are so insecure that you feel it necessary to defend yourself even in the absence of any attack, or if you are, in fact, Bill Baddely (or you’re just trolling again- damnit). Either way, I’m sorry if my observations have caused you distress.

  30. Although it’s not uncommon for some businesses to use morally questionable tactics. Most “planned obsolescence” accusations are made by those who don’t understand that engineering design is all about compromise.

    All resources, from the final product cost of the product, to development time to regulatory certifications to packaging, are all part of the design and balanced against each other. I could design your phone to survive a drop front twice as high… at the expense of battery life, or size or cost or time to market or, etc, etc, etc. I could make it easy to disassemble, but it will likely need to be massive in size by comparison or not waterproof.

    Like women’s clothes and politics, the AVERAGE of society determines what the market offers.

    1. So where is this phone of yours? With good advertising it will sell but its nowhere to be seen? And then when you do bring it out do you think all of the sudden your model will be undercut in price/feature/glits/wise? Or all of them, just till you go broke. You bet it will and you will have to wage a war just to survive. Still think it’s just a clean case of engineering specs and tradeoffs?

  31. What a horribly ill thought out article. It begins with a blanket statement (that even a cursory investigation can disprove) that ascribes the low-durability of modern designs to consumerism driving down costs, throws in an anecdote about a design choice that barely relates to a tangential argument, and concludes by providing remedies to a problem that was shoehorned into the initial premise.

    I expect better from this site.

  32. There’s actually a real and valid reason the silica gel packets in your shoes are stamped “Do not eat” – the people making them have zero idea what their customer is going to be putting those packets into. And often the packets end up in situations where that warning is absolutely needed. If the buyer stuffs the silica desiccant packs into bags of dried soup mix, for example, it sure looks like it might be a seasoning packet. So, it’s easier for the silica gel company to just stamp every last packet with “Do not eat” rather than worry about whether the buyer is going to toss it in a shoe or into a pouch of dried fruit.

  33. One thing not mentioned in the article is that the general mean time between failure rate correlates well to Arrhenius equation.

    In the electronics industry “the rule of thumb is that every 10°C increase in temperature reduces component life by half” There is a reason that quality component manufacturers test powered up devices inside high temperature ovens – to weed out early failure outliers on the normal distribution curve.

    If you have tiny high power devices, with lots of tightly packed high temperature hot spots the failure rate will increase (without a lot of cooling). As opposed to large devices with large amounts of copper on larger PCB to help remove and distribute heat generated by the hotter components over a much larger area.

  34. For the most part, I don’t believe there is a “death chip”, which kills a product soon after the warranty period. Probably a few shady companies that use firmware to convince the user it’s time for a new, better model. The main problem, is profit, and a product that lasts a lifetime, and could be handed down to the next generation, isn’t profitable. Pretty much every company, is really a corporation, with shareholders, most of who don’t care about the product, just sales numbers, and profits. It just has to work well enough to keep attracting sales, and at the absolutely lowest cost to produce. Investors don’t care about the company’s reputation, the workers, or the economy, just how much the value of their stock grows, which can be sold or traded, if failing.

    Engineering… Fresh out of High School, I had dreams, that didn’t take much college to shatter. After you graduate, if not recruited before completion, since many companies prefer to train you their way, rather than break you of those crazy principles and practices you learned from book and class. You don’t start off in a high paying, or particularly interesting position either, mostly the drudge work for engineers higher up the ladder. You have to work and fight your way up, before you get to make any sort of important design decisions, even then, you still can get told “no”. It’s a world of “Yes” men (and women), you do what you are told, and don’t argue or complain about it much, if you want the job, and career. You save the company money, you get a gold star (unless someone else takes credit), you get a gold star, if you get you work done quickly, and accurately. An engineer is handed a problem, his job is to produce a solution, within the parameters laid out by the boss.

    There is an incredible amount of date being mined, which gives the marketing team some idea of what most people buy, how much they are willing to spend, and how often they purchase again. Most people choose to replace, over repair, simply because the cost of repair, is about half the cost of a new unit. The price of just getting something looked at, is kind of pricey as well, since you might consider tossing the old to the curb anyway, if the estimate is half the replacement cost.

    Smartphones… Do millions of people really have such an urgent need of a mobile phone, that just can’t wait? I don’t, answering machine works fine for me. Most people use those spendy gadgets for games, videos, FakeBook, rarely anything that would justify the expense. Still bothers me a great deal, when having a conversation with a co-worker, their phone rings, it’s either just some meaningless chatty type conversation, or a text-fest, and I’m sort of left on hold.

  35. “We couldn’t get the users to be interested in keeping the device running longer than the battery lifetime.”
    That’s because when they throw it away, it comes to people like us and we fix it for whoever found it and thought, What A NICE (camera in my case)

    “Even if they were, we couldn’t get them to order the right battery (CR2032).”
    Who here DOESN’T buy these in bulk? raise your hand

    “Even if they did, we couldn’t rely on them to have the dexterity to remove the battery tray and replace the battery.”
    You may have me on that one, but we would try none the less.

    “Finally, and I know I’m preaching to the choir in this community, but we need to educate people more about how stuff works, and get people interested in understanding the products they use on a daily basis, and to believe that the stuff inside the plastic box is not just magic pixies.”

    Yeah, but most of the people who look at me like I’m a mystical wizard truly live in a magical world they have no INTENTION of even trying to understand. so I go through life, fixing their broken shit and get a smile on my face when I think of the future troglodytes loosing it because their shit don’t work and they are forced to buy even more substandard junk because we’re not around to fix it for them anymore. Let me know how educating them goes.

    Let’s end this with the technicians pray:
    We the Underappreciated,
    Working for the ungrateful,
    Have done so Much,
    With so Little,
    That we are now Qualified,
    To do Anything,
    With ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

  36. >It’s hard to put this delicately,

    Idiots. Idiots are to blame then. It’s sad, but it’s not a surprise. An idiot’s money is worth just as much as anyone else’s, as is their vote. God damn symmetrical bell curve.

    I’m fascinated to know what sort of product comes with a non-user-replacable watch battery. For one thing, millions of watches use them, and there are plenty of watch and electronics shops that’ll change the battery if you’re not up to it yourself. Maybe your manual, by which I mean sticker, could say “CR2032 WATCH battery” and mention watch shops will change it. A non-tacky way of doing user-replacable watch batteries is having them unscrew the casing to put it in, usually looks much nicer than a flimsy plastic catch.

    The phone argument mostly only applies to Apple phones, and a few stupidly high-end phones where people are paying to own an item that tells people “I spent a lot of money on this item”. I really can’t see the point of those when there’s worthwhile shit to buy with money, rather than just to tell people you spent it. That’s sort of saying you’re stupid and worthless, and don’t deserve the money you have.

    Every phone I’ve ever had has had a replacable battery. A couple of times I’ve actually replaced them.

    My smart watch cost 10 quid, and it doesn’t do everything a 400 quid one does (including cost 400 quid). But it does most of them, the really useful ones.

  37. Man do I love that “planned obsolescence”, I shudder of the thought of driving vehicle with mechanical drum brake. The old timey composite head lamps.Cloth wind lacing around the doors; to start a long list.

  38. saying that consumer is the main cause is just an alternative (and unbalanced) interpretation of the phenomenom.

    obviously, it is more like an interaction between manufacturers willing to maximize and sustain their benefices, average consumers attracted to low price and/or novelty, and politics willing to maximize and sustain employment and taxes … all of that, indeed, at the expense of the environment and natural resources stock, and with a short-sighted view.

    also :

    what would happen to the growing Chinese economy if all of a sudden we stopped to buy their cheap crappy products which mostly end-up into the (un)recycle-bin after a few weeks or monthes ?

    what would happen to most manufacturer’s buisness, if all of a sudden we stopped to buy their new shinny metal (plastic) crap every one or two years ?

    what would happen to national economies based on consumerism ?

    what would happen to the average (poor and middle class) citizen for whom sense of happyness (and maybe sense of life) and wellfare is mainly based on renewing items he already bought last year ?

    About USB ports, we already had the mini-USB which was small-ennough and durable. Why and how would consumers be the cause of this evil, fragile and unreliable micro-USB that is a great cause of smartphone premature death, which makes me struggle almost every day to recharge mine, and which, at long, cost more to repair than to replace ?

    Talking about smartphones : am I also responsible for Google making its apps’ updates bigger and bigger so that my smartphone has less and less memory space ? Am I responsible for my smartphone’s manufacturer not willing to update/upgrade Android and/or fixes the bugs ?

    And, just to show that Bob’s interpretation is wrong : regarding Apple elitist high-priced items, how and why would their consumers be the cause of the soldered battery or of the vanishing of the headphone jack connector or the cause of the new dunowhat port which makes all previous headphones and accessories obsoletes ???
    Given the price at which Apple sell their items, given their margin of benefice and given the ease with which their clients drop their money, it would be total BS to claim that Apple is presured by their consumers … this is just a company willing to maximize and sustain their benefice at the expense of the environnent and natural resources.

    Maybe for smaller manufacters, selling the cheapest is just a matter of surviving, but for biggers ones, it’s just because they LOVE making money.
    Regarding consumers, they just buy what is available and affordable. If manufacturers don’t sell cheapy-shiny-fake-metal-crapy-crap, then, consumers would not buy it because it would not exists.

    So the problem is not just consumers, or just manufacturers neither. It is our way of life.

  39. 2 years ago I bought not a cheap Toyota RAV4 Limited for $36000. My first brand new car.
    After 2 years of dealing with crappy Entune Multimedia System, Toyota decided to remove Pandora and other apps from headunit. It will happen on next update on November 13 2018.
    Then I decided to update Gracenote (The album cover database) and today I have received sorry you cannot update the Gracenote email from Toyota.
    Basically they sold a car with technology they promise to support that will get obsolete after 2 years. I have to buy a new car with apps I want. Or install aftermarket unit.
    I wish they sold Toyota with a hole for classic Pioneer aftermarket radio. Kind of like Scion.

    1. mine came with a Pioneer aftermarket pice of crap, bluetooth only works on some model of iphone and android, and their app selection for this model is limited to engrish, japaneese and spanish navigation apps all from different developers, who no longer support their apps.

      most of “planned” obsolescence, are software that never get updated..

      any mention of the product disapears from the manuafacturers website as soon as they release a new product.

  40. Thank you so much for this article. As a EE Design Engineer, I’m on the inside. I’ve heard so many planned obsolesces conspiracy theories, and it’s so frustrating. I’ve never been in a meeting where we tried to plan shorter lifetimes to increase sales. I have been in meetings where we tried to make our products more robust so that we are less expensive and OUTLAST our competition. I’ve been in meetings where we had to cut backwards compatibility to older products short because it was technically impossible, and bogging down our SW teams. I’ve designed rugged outdoors electronics, wearables, home automation products, and all sorts of products across many consumer categories. This planned obsolescence is all tin foil hats, and offensive to the people working hard to bring you your latest gadgets! (Also, I love the hacking community. And I’ll deny it if you ever tell anyone, but I try to label every UART, ground, and power pin on my PCBs hoping to see something I designed on here someday.)

  41. Nah. I don’t buy it in the slightest. Blame the victims? You been watching too many american political newsfeeds. One needs only look to the historical examples of inkjet printers and the battles over “Right to Repair”. Most every engineer designs with intent of exceeding required lifetime. These problems can only come from HIGHER UP THE FOOD CHAIN down to the engineer.

    Any manager requiring such limiting designs from his engineering dept is in the wrong field, and really should be in the food industry where the product is naturally consumed and requires replacement.

  42. Ive seen college-level training for planned obsolescence. I’ve seen executives talk about it. Look at Microsoft suing that guy for the $25 backup OS.

    Don’t be a shill and claim it doesn’t exist. That degrades the value of hackaday.

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