SK Babu


Apple’s ‘planned obsolescence’ isn’t going as planned

iPad sales are down

This morning, I read that iPad sales are down, and I have to admit I took a certain grim pleasure in the news.

The thing is I dislike other people making plans for me. And Apple is guilty of planning obsolescence into my gadgets, which doesn’t sit well with me.

Many of the tasks my iPad 3 used to handle have been taken over by my phones that have grown bigger. So my iPad’s primary function is to serve as a bigger screen, which will be easier on my eye for reading, basic writing, messaging, video and video chats, and the occasional presentation. With such a limited role, I see no reason why I should keep replacing my iPad every two years. I instead planned to stick to a 5 year replacement cycle. That is closer to the replacement cycle for a PC than a phone, which makes sense as the iPad takes over more roles from the PC.

But Apple had other plans worked out for me. I think they believed a 3-year replacement cycle suited me better. So around the time my iPad turned three, it began to slow down, till it became downright sluggish, and would take an inordinately long time to start up. Even after the passcode screen shows up, it wouldn’t respond to touchscreen swipes for another five minutes.

Apps also ran painfully slow. Take Apple News. Clicking on the app meant a wait of several minutes before it finally loads to the last page I was reading. Clicking to go back home (For You) would be another few minutes wait.

The message from Apple was clear.

Get a new iPad.

Which sort of got my goat. You see when I bought my iPad some 3–4 years ago, it was called ‘The New iPad.’ Barely six months later, the iPad 4 came out with a lightning connector and a faster processor, and my New iPad had become the Old iPad.

I sort of forgave Apple for that. But this not so subtle push towards a new iPad wasn’t acceptable, and I wasn’t going to give in without a fight.

In other words, it was time to call in Superman. Otherwise known as the ‘Reset’ button.

I accordingly went ahead and reset my iPad. That wiped out all the apps on it, and I could start from scratch. I reloaded just a few basic apps for email, chat, video, news, browsing and writing. Also, instead of sticking to Apple apps, I tried third party apps, like Flipboard and News360 for news.

The difference was palpable. The iPad felt like it had got itself a fresh lease of life. It’s still sluggish, but bearable. I guess I can run it for another year.

Apple’s planned obsolescence obviously hasn’t gone as planned with me. I think that would make me a deferred customer, whom they would have got this year if things had gone to plan. Anyway, a deferred customer is better than no customer at all.

I must add there is one category of people for whom planned obsolescence in iPads might be applicable. This would be the iPad Pro user who is into complex design work and such. They need faster iPads for their processor intensive apps, and they wouldn’t mind constantly upgrading their devices. But even this would be a small market as the real design professional would be using a Mac Pro or its equivalent.

Unfortunately for Apple, the majority of iPad users are ordinary folk. I’m guessing that most of these folks who planned to buy an iPad, have already done so. And many of these iPad users have put off replacing their old iPads for a year or two, like I did. That would explain why iPad sales are dropping.

I think Apple shouldn’t really be expecting the iPad to sell like the iPhone. After all, what people need from a phone is quite different from what they need in an iPad. That may be why in iPhones, planned obsolescence is a successful strategy.

For instance, my old iPhone 4 doesn’t have a motion processor that will count steps. So any app that is based on the phone counting your steps, won’t work on it. That would make all iPhones before the iPhone 5S obsolete to any iPhone user who’s into exercise.

At least, this was so till fitness bands came along, which are easier to have on your person at all times as compared to a phone. Obviously, Apple wasn’t just going to let its customers walk away. That’s why the Apple Watch. I believe it’s selling well as compared to other smart watches, which makes it a success. It isn’t selling as well as the iPhone, which doesn’t make it a failure. Nothing sells like the iPhone.

Coming back to planned obsolescence. What about someone who doesn’t need a motion processor?

My wife, for instance, is still sticking with her old faithful iPhone 4 as she isn’t interested in step counting apps. She prefers the small, compact size of the iPhone 4 to the bigger iPhones, and it works perfectly to suit her needs which are calls, messages, email, and occasionally browsing and navigation. She is not into tech, but she does get annoyed with Apple’s planned obsolescence in the iPhone 4, the same way that I do about my iPad.

Fortunately for Apple, most iPhone users are more like me, than my wife. I currently own the iPhone 6S+, but can’t stop dreaming about the iPhone 7+ with its dual lens camera and water proof ability. On the positive side, it’s more than six months since the iPhone 7 came out, and I’m still with my iPhone 6S+. With luck, Apple's plans to change my plans may once again not go as planned.

So is there a solution?

I think Elon Musk of Tesla has one. He seems to have figured out this kind of forced purchases is alienating loyal customers, and creating avoidable environmental pollution. So Tesla started fitting its cars with new future-proof hardware that can be updated with newer software. This means an old Tesla car will have the same software and features as a brand new one!

I think that model should be a benchmark for the tech industry.

Edit: Looks like I was wrong about Tesla. Like Musk points out (see below), future proof technology may not be practical. Even in phones, initiatives for modular phones like Google’s Project Ara haven’t got going.

Nevertheless, my point still holds. Companies need to find a balance between innovation and longer product lives. The cycle of consumerism which is killing our environment (and draining my wallet) needs to be slowed, even if can’t be stopped.

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