Emailing: Stay Free! Daily The Wall Street Journal on Planned Obsolescence (2002)

Stay Free! Daily: The Wall Street Journal on Planned Obsolescence (2002)

The below article I ran
accross online kinda depicts how the "capitalist’ regime works….hence "the
vicious cycle".
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The Wall Street Journal on Planned Obsolescence (2002)

Commenters have raised some good questions about the veracity of author
Giles Slade’s claims, so I thought I’d post this 2002 article on planned
obsolescence from those radical rabble-rousers at the Wall Street Journal.

As of Tuesday, July 16, 2002       

Companies Slash Warranties, Rendering Gadgets Disposable

Staff Reporter of THE

A combination of shorter warranties and design changes means that

buyers of even relatively expensive gadgets now have little choice

but to throw them in the trash if anything breaks.

In the past year Dell Computer has slashed warranty periods from

three years to one. Apple Computer’s hot iPod digital-music player

comes with only a 90-day warranty. And Sony requires purchasers to

register to get a full year of support on a Clie organizer —

otherwise, they, too, get 90 days. In addition, many contracts on new

consumer electronics are riddled with strict conditions: The one-year

warranty on RCA digital camcorders, for example, covers only labor

costs for 90 days.

Even if people want to pay for repairs out of their own pockets, some

gadget makers are cutting off that option as well. Many hand-held

organizers from companies such as Handspring, Palm and

Hewlett-Packard have built-in rechargeable batteries that generally

can’t be replaced without sending the entire unit back to the

company. (Typical cost: $120.) Two earlier Palm models, the V and Vx,

were actually glued shut; the heat required to open them risks

damaging the unit. Some Qualcomm cellphones also have batteries that

are sealed inside the unit. But sealed units aren’t limited to the

small portable realm. VCRs throughout the ’80s were built with a

removable bottom plate. Now, they are typically made out of one

plastic shell that is tricky to open even for a professional.

"We joke that we design landfills," says Darren Blum, a senior

industrial engineer at Pentagram Design, which builds portable

devices and computers for companies like H-P.

It’s the latest chapter in the story of planned obsolescence, the

term coined to describe the trend of building things not to last. As

tech companies focus on pumping out new models, they aren’t doing as

much to help customers retain their current ones. They spend less

time on product testing, and offer customers less help when the

products break or malfunction. The result: Many cellphones, PDAs and

other gadgets are essentially becoming disposable devices.

The pace of new-product development plays a big role. Palm, for

example, introduced just six new PDA models from 1996 to 1999. Since

then, it has come out with 16 new models. As the time allotted to

designing electronics has dropped from years to weeks, testing

cycles, too, have been compressed. "No one that I know exhaustively

tests anything that’s built," says Prabha Gopinath, executive vice

president at TestQuest, which creates testing software used by

Handspring, Palm, Motorola and Nokia. "That goes for PDAs,

cellphones, any software that’s out there."

Manufacturers say they do extensive testing and add that prices on

gadgets have dropped so much that it’s cheaper to buy new than pay

for repairs. Between 1990 and 2001, average cellphone prices dropped

from $600 to $162. The average price of a CD player fell from $220 to

$85 over the same period.

But the newer the product, the shorter the life span: A

black-and-white TV sold in 1979 lasted for about 12 years; today, a

cutting-edge LCD-screen TV is replaced after five. Laptop computers

need to be fixed every 16 months on average, while hand-held

organizers last an estimated two years.

Faster than Peanut Butter

Kareem Shehata, an engineering student from Ontario, Canada, goes

through Palm organizers faster than he goes through jars of peanut

butter. He has had seven Palms in the past three years. One was

"flaky," he says, and worked only if he shook it. Several developed

"this digitizer schizophrenia thing" where the screen wouldn’t

register his stylus taps. Mr. Shehata opened up his seventh Palm and

temporarily fixed a loose component with a piece of Scotch tape, but

eventually, that one choked too. Palm replaced six of his broken

hand-helds with refurbished units, since the failures began under

warranty .

Warranty lengths tend to be standard within product categories. But

some lesser-known companies are offering longer warranties to ease

concerns about the reliability of their products. Budget PC maker

Atlas Micro offers a three-year warranty on most parts, and a

lifetime guarantee on labor. On the flip side, established companies

may try to leverage their brand image to get away with unusually

short warranties . Apple’s iPod digital-music player offers just 90

days — against a full year for many lesser-known MP3 makers.

Sony adds extra hurdles, requiring some hand-held customers to jump

online and click through a battery of questions about their

electronics-buying habits in order to get a full year of support.

Tech companies have taken the area of product support, once a

standard service, and turned it into something customers have to pay

extra for. The result is the current boom in the extended-warranty

industry, with profits going to tech companies and the retailers that

administer these programs.

High Repair Costs

Another way tech companies encourage upgrades is by setting repair

costs prohibitively high. At Palm, getting a replacement for a

cracked screen costs $125 — even though Web-based repair companies

like manage to fix them for closer to $50. The site

also offers videos and guides to help users make basic repairs on

their units., another Web outfit, offers life-extending

repairs for Palms like button replacements.

But few customers know about these sites. In the end, many simply

decide it’s easier to buy a newer-model gadget than run the service

gauntlet thrown down by the tech companies.

Updated July 16, 2002

Posted by Carrie McLaren on 04/08/2007 | Permalink


The iPod has always had a one-year warantee for manufacturing defects
and other failures not related to abuse. The 90 days is just for telephone
tech support.

Posted by: Nick | Apr 9, 2007 2:23:29 PM

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