Planned obsolescence

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Planned obsolescence refers to manufacturing or marketing techniques generally designed to artificially shorten the life of a product, either by making it actually useless, or appear useless before it would naturally. There are several similar but subtly different types of planned obsolescence.

It should be noted that most of these types of obsolescence can and do occur naturally, without any intent to create the obsolescence. Obsolescence may be the result of true progress in developing industries, such as the computer industry in the 1980s and 1990s.

Non-user-replaceable batteries

Batteries are the one component in portable electronics with the shortest life expectancy.

One of the most egregious examples of planned obsolescence are non-replaceable rechargeable batteries commonly contained in small electronic devices such as MP3 players (such as the iPod), PDAs, and cell phones (such as the iPhone).

Initially, products by Apple such as iPhones and MacBooks were the only ones on the market with non-replaceable batteries. Over time, other electronics vendors such as HTC and Sony increasingly built mobile phones with non-replaceable batteries, marketed under the unibody and premium design euphemisms.[1]

In early 2015, Samsung Mobile, one of world's primary mobile phone vendors, transitioned into the non-replaceable battery design trend with the release of the Galaxy S6 as their first flagship mobile phone with non-replaceable battery, after being one of the final standing vendors to build high-specification devices with user-replaceable batteries.

As a result of said trend, the batteries in many in laptop computers and nearly all smartphones released since then are not replaceable by the end-user, despite of increased user demands due to functionality such as PowerShare (wireless discharging), photography and videography, higher recharging speeds, and 5G connectivity, all of which enormously stress the battery.[1][2] This forces users who wish to keep their device functional longer to restrict their usage of advanced device functionality.[3][2]

The batteries are often soldered into the unit, making replacement almost impossible for the average user (some companies such as Apple do offer battery replacement for a considerable fee). Some of these batteries also contain circuits that regulate and limit the number of charging cycles the battery will take before it fails to charge, limiting the useful life of the battery, and consequently the unit itself. This strategy is even readily admitted by the product developers themselves; a product development firm states, "Cell phones have proprietary lithium batteries that can be charged and discharged for a limited number of times. After the battery stops retaining charge it has to be replaced. The cost of replacing the proprietary battery is often about the same as replacing the cell phone."[4]

Other Examples

False warnings

Another example of planned obsolescence is items that warn the user when it is time to replace them, such as the fading colored strips on razors or the low ink warnings for ink jet cartridges. Generally printers will display low ink warnings even when a considerable amount of ink remains, and many printers actually stop printing once the low ink warning has appeared, regardless of how much ink is actually left. Some cartridges still contain more than 40% of their ink when they display a low ink warning.[5]

Slight increase of functionality

One kind of planned obsolescence has the same effect as technical obsolescence, but it is slightly different; sometimes a company will incrementally introduce features into a product even if it would not cost much more for all of the features to be in a product. For example, a new feature might be to add GPS to every new model, making the new one slightly better than the old one.

Incompatible form factors

Often, batteries for cordless power tools will change such that batteries for working but older tools can no longer be acquired at reasonable prices. This forces the consumer to buy a new tool set when in reality only a new battery is required.


Planned obsolescence is commonly criticized by social critics as a wasteful attempt simply to sell more items. However, marketers, if they admit to using planned obsolescence, generally describe it as a means of making newer, better products affordable and available. For example, if a company designed its MP3 player to last 10 years, then a) it would cost more, and b), consumers would not update it with a better unit because they paid more for it.

Value Engineering

Some product design strategies that are indistinguishable from planned obsolescence are actually meant to provide a more affordable product to the consumer. These strategies are known as "value engineering", the purpose of which is to create the most suitable product at the lowest possible cost.[6] Value engineering may be considered a form of planned obsolescence, but it does necessarily carry the same negative connotation.

An example of value engineering would be building a computer to last only a few years, since by then it would be superseded by better technology anyway. If the old computer were built to last 20 years, it would presumably cost more, which would be wasteful since the computer would be technically obsolete in only about four years (of course, this is negative for anyone who would intend to keep their computer appreciably longer than four years).

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Article Benefits of user-replaceable batteries § History
  2. 2.0 2.1 Kevin Muldoon about irreplaceable batteriesRight to repair
  3. Article Benefits of user-replaceable batteries § Weardown from heavy usage