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Do Companies Actually Design Stuff… To Break?

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Ever notice that your car starts really breaking down a year or two before your lease is fulfilled, or how about the fact that your cellphone always seems to go haywire JUST after your warrantee is up and long before your contract runs out? I doubt it’s just complete accident and one possible explanation is something called planned obsolescence…

Planned obsolescence is when a manufacturer deliberately designs a product to fail or lose it’s attractiveness within a given amount of time (usually before it’s necessary) in order to create the need for you to purchase the next best thing.  There are three ways to accomplish this: 1) make the product using less than ideal materials or labor, 2) get in your head through slick marketing and convince you that you need something new when what you have is perfectly functional, or 3) to discontinue technical and service support for a perfectly functioning product, thereby forcing you to buy the new one once yours becomes troublesome.

Let me say this quick disclaimer cause I’m a mac guy and a huge supporter of Apple and would die for my iPhone (not really, but if you ask my friends they’d probably disagree!), so it is with much sensitivity that I type the following, but I can’t think of a better illustration in my experience for all of those types of obsolescence combined, than the iPhone 4S.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This phone was released last October only 16 months after the iPhone 4 itself had been unveiled and the only significant differences were the introduction of Siri, the interactive and sometimes sarcastic assistant, an 8 megapixel camera and a faster processor. The last two improvements were barely noticeable to this guys eyes and believe it or not Siri already existed in an appstore app before the release of the 4S and mysteriously stopped working on my iPhone 4 a handful of weeks before the release of the 4S. So, apple comes out with a ‘brand new’ phone which was basically an iPhone 4 with it’s braces off, but what did we all do? I want! I want! I want!

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I’ve had my iPhone 4 for not even two years yet and I’m already on my second replacement, so that adds up to three phones in less than two years, two of which were due to manufacturer defect and the other was my fault. Even my third phone which I had replaced in February is already starting to show some age. Coincidence? I’ll tell ya, when the reported iPhone 5 comes out in October, the dang thing better do everything but pop popcorn and should be made out of Abrams tank armor!

Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Which brings us to the third type of obsolescence, when the iPhone 5 is released what is to become of my iPhone 4 if I don’t want to upgrade? My warrantee is long gone and at that point my phone will be two versions too old so once mine breaks I’ll have no choice but to upgrade as companies discontinue or diminish service and repair of older versions of their product once new ones are released. Again, coincidence?

Now, don’t go to Carousel Center and picket in front of the Apple store causing a scene, because when the iPhone 5 finally gets released, I will be clamoring to be among the first in line to get it and will be drooling over it until then, trust me.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

I’m sure you can think of other possible examples of this in your life too, but for all of those crazy inquiring minds out there like mine, maybe this is another possible explanation for one of those random things that we always wonder about that may actually deserve a little more than just a passing thought…

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