A certain question is asked whenever Apple comes out with an major operating system upgrade or an overhaul of their hardware: Is the Cupertino company really creating products with a limited shelf-life, also known as “planned obsolescence”?
No doubt it’s upsetting to many when, after a significant upgrade to their desktop or mobile OS, their devices start acting like decrepit, old gizmos that either tank completely, brick up or no longer do the things we need them to do because apps no longer work correctly, or other issues crop up like significantly shortened battery life, or a sudden reorganization of storage space that causes warnings about storage being suddenly full. Basically, your once impressive (and pricey) Apple gadget needs to be put out to pasture– sold or traded in for Apple’s newest (and yes, ridiculously expensive) products.
There are plenty of conspiracies regarding Apple’s secretive ways and the extent to which the company actually manufactures products designed to lock people out of expansion that would increase the lifespan of their devices, and here we’ll take a look at the top five reasons why many think Apple is being devious, if not slightly evil, in regards to their consumer products.
5. Next-To-Impossible Hardware Upgrades
Mac desktop and laptop computers have replaceable batteries and RAM, but frequently it takes a bit of effort, skill and confident cojones to replace the hard drive and other parts, it’s even worse for mobile iDevices where Apple’s unique (and quite tiny) “pentalobular” screws, which look like average Torx screws but aren’t, and glued on glass are indicative of Apple’s “tamper resistant” approach to consumers overhauling their own hardware. Apple, for the last several years, has gone with a “unibody” design for many of its products including their Superdrives, Apple TV, and other products that, by appearance, look as impenetrable and mysterious as a Lament Configuration box (and are possibly a gateway to Hell, but I digress). If you don’t know what you’re doing, but would like to expand your hardware in any way, it helps to visit the popular Apple teardown site, iFixIt, where you can find step-by-step manuals on cracking open those confounding cases without breaking them and getting into the guts of your Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc. Caveat Emptor: this will void your Apple warranties including AppleCare.
4. Thunderbolt and Lightning (Very, Very Frightening)
Apple’s newest dock and I/O connectors instantly phased out the older cords and peripherals (unless one is willing to wait for a third-party company to offer an adapter). The day Lightning was announced you could almost hear the cry from the Apple faithful and general consumers who decided to take the plunge into all things Apple… This won’t work with my existing gear! Where’s the adapter (car, electrical for charging, etc)?? Why is Apple doing this to us!! Well, technological progress is unavoidable, but in typical premium Apple fashion, the company managed to foist the new connectors onto the public without admitting much about how folks would cope. It took weeks, months and about a year before Apple (and third-party vendors) finally rolled out compliant and compatible adapters, extension cords, and complimentary gadgets (stereos, car adapters, etc.) to make the new iDevices play well with others. The wail of consumer frustration has subsided, but you can easily see how Apple pretty much forced the public to adapt… with Apple it’s frequently their way, or no way at all (well, there’s always Windows, Android, etc… but for some that’s no option at all).
3. Extinction Of Dinosaur Tech (That People Still Love)
The examples are numerous, but the famous ones– ditching the optical disc long before most consumers were ready to abandon CD-ROMS, their dismissal of Flash –are primary in the theories that Apple plans to make certain products obsolete by abandoning them or outright ignoring them. Steve Jobs was famous for upsetting the (ahem) apple-cart in this way… whether it was cables that were too slow, or drives that were too inefficient and no longer of use, Jobs was ready to make the leap before most regular consumers were. Case in point: the floppy disk drive (remember those?). Back in the 80s and 90s 3.5″ floppy disk drives were ubiquitous on beige box PCs and even Apple’s own line computers. Steven was absent for much of the 90s, but on his return to Apple and with the creation of the iMac in the late 90s he offered an immediate change to the way people stored data and uploaded programs by doing away with the floppy disk completely, replacing it with the CD-ROM drive that could hold a lot more information on a read/write disc. Companies that made computer programs and blank storage quickly came around, and then within several years Jobs was ready to instigate another change and do away with CD-ROMS in favor of other alternatives for storage and sharing information… the App Store and iCloud would be central to his concept, but even before that Jobs and company realize that other methods of storage (flash-based thumb drives) proved more efficient and portable than CD-ROMS and soon enough they ditched… you couldn’t find one an the Macbook Air, nor on the Mac Mini, though if you were still needing a CD-ROM drive, you could always purchases one separately.
2. App Fail
This ties into Apple’s upgrade strategies but is mainly tougher on desktop and laptop users who experienced Apple’s change to Intel chips several years ago. Suddenly, if you had a new Mac there was the good chance it would no longer run old legacy programs (no backward compatibility). Yes, Apple did indeed plan this one, though just about every other company that makes an OS (we’re lookin’ at you, Microsoft) does the same… after a while, you just gotta cut ties to old technology, old code, old ways of doing things… and when a complete overhaul of an OS occurs, you can pretty much bet some of your older programs will fail to perform up to speed, or even fail to perform altogether. This happens frequently with Adobe products, but certainly isn’t confined to them… but if you’ve ever waited endlessly for a Creative Suite update to play nice with your upgraded OS, then you’ve felt the cold touch of the grim obsolescence reaper. Of course, this also happens with iDevices and iOS, which leads us to our next bit of evidence…
1. Your iDevices Seem Slow, Sluggish, And Very, Very Sad
You’ve probably experienced this at least once with an iPod, iPhone or iPad… Suddenly, after a major upgrade that Apple execs tout at their big, public adoration fest as being the simplest, easiest, best, most extraordinary, and just plain magical way to run a smartphone, the firmware and hardware no longer seem to work right at all. The device seems ridiculously slow to achieve even the most simple tasks, apps suddenly close or go blank for no apparent reason, or the device will simply decide to go black, and if you’re incredibly unlucky, it may just brick itself and require a trip to the Apple Store where you’ll be at the mercy of geniuses who really don’t know anymore those lighting up the Apple forums do as they wail, bitch, moan and groan, wishing they’d never upgraded iOS in the first place. Sure, you can always attempt a restore before that trip to the Apple store, but hey, when was the last time you did a backup? Erg!
Of course this happens with their computer line, too. At a certain point, Apple creates an OS update that your computer simply isn’t made for, and it’s left in the dust, no longer upgradeable… a relic destined for that museum of tech called Your Garage. Even though Apple makes incredible, useful, beautiful and, some would say, durable products, nothing is forever.
Whether the obsolescence is planned or not, and my feeling is it is indeed thought out by Apple execs and designers, the push toward upgrading to new hardware is what keeps companies like Apple going. One could only imagine if every iPhone lasted 10 years, with only software upgrades keeping Apple afloat financially (they would have to charge for them in this scenario), or if every Mac lasted well beyond its usefulness with old ports and peripherals no longer used because every other company except Apple has moved forward. Truth be told, this is not the type of scenario that can keep a company in business, and would certainly hamper any kind of technological progress from 1 Infinite Loop. Maybe Apple isn’t being so evil, but simply doing what a great tech company needs to do in order to remain competitive, cutting-edge, and stable. That view may not assuage me now that my iPhone 4S has slowed to a crawl, and my old 2008 Macbook is nothing more than a creaky word processor, but it does mean I can depend on Apple to keep me working with the most current technology, now and in the future.
White keyboard courtesy of Shutterstock
Christian Hokenson is a writer based in Burbank, CA. He's interested in technology, movies, and home entertainment. If you're nice to him, he might buy you ice cream.