Electronic devices are becoming increasingly less repairable. The paradigm of disposable products and planned obsolescence of long-term devices is profitable for producers and therefore is widely applied. Even Apple does not shy away from abusing its fans, as it did with the iPods, whose batteries died immediately after the expiration of the warranty period.
The scandal has forced Apple to introduce a battery replacement program for the owners of devices with expired warranty for $100. However, the outraged owners of the popular player with lawyers’ assistance still filed a lawsuit against Apple and won.
The case of Apple is a manifestation of the phenomenon called planned obsolescence. It is a strategy of creating products of a quality that allows products to last no longer than a couple of years of operation. The purpose of such a strategy is to ensure a constant demand for the product. Disposal of equipment instead of repairs is a common phenomenon in Western countries.
Devices may age physically and morally. Moral aging has to do with the emergence of new technological solutions. This is not always justified, but usually is a reflection of a scientific and technical progress. Planned physical obsolescence assumes application of materials in such a way as to ensure that the device becomes unusable after a certain period of time. Moral and physical aging are often linked. Planning for the new features in the next generation devices makes save on quality of the materials used, which makes the device cheaper and more competitive. Creation of resource-intensive programs that forces the consumer to purchase products with more powerful processors is a proven practice of artificial reductions of consumer appeal of intellectual property.
Similar processes occur in other sectors of the consumer economy. Car enthusiasts know that cars built after 2000 “are not the same.” The quality of clothes has decreased dramatically and significantly, and good products are sometimes difficult to find, even for good money. This is because an important element of planned obsolescence is the maximum complexity of maintainability of the product. PCs that any user with a certain skill set could repair are being replaced with laptops that are significantly more difficult to take apart. Users are well aware that current models of laptops are a puzzle difficult to solve without a visual scheme.
Meanwhile, some notebook manufacturers do not even place repair instructions on the Internet. Mobile phone manufacturers also keep the information required for the repairs confidential. The reasons are clear. Users are forced to send their faulty equipment to authorized service center for a very expensive and, most importantly, lengthy repair. The main goal is to force the consumer to refuse to repair and buy a new model.
Hiding instructions, manufacturers argue that these repair instructions are intellectual property and the subject of copyright. Companies not only simply refuse to publicly disseminate this information, but may also prosecute those who do it. Copyright law is used as a tool of blatant discrimination.
In turn, third-party service centers and individual repairers who work often faster and less expensively than authorized workshops exist because of post-warranty repairs and instructions posted on line. In Western countries, some independent service centers have been afraid to share their repair manuals, as the penalty can be up to 150 thousand dollars for a single scheme. Mass legal harassment has not yet been seen, but attempts to intimidate particularly zealous repairmen have occurred.
One of them, Tim Hicks, owns a website where he offers instructions for repair and maintenance. Hicks provides an opportunity to download free PDF-files. On a daily basis, 50 gigabytes of data is downloaded from his website, which demonstrates tremendous popularity of the resource. However, recently Toshiba lawyers sent Hicks a notice requiring removal of three hundred instructions to repair laptop models of this brand. So far this is a single such incident, but the position of the company is the best proof of the strategy of planned obsolescence practiced by the manufacturer and deliberate complication of access to repair instructions and spare parts.
There is a way out. Specialists of private service centers can upload their own repairs instructions. In a broader sense, it is abandonment of environmentally suicidal consumerism devouring the planet’s finite resources and transition to the normal production of reliable and sustainable products. Some manufacturers offering really high quality products are already working in this niche, but obviously at inflated prices. Such an approach would actually lead to a reduction in the number of jobs in the production field, but new jobs would emerge due to the expansion of the service segment over many years of service and modernization of household appliances, cars and other products.
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