Against planned obsolescence: products that last

We've all been there

We all have surely suffered one or more of this situations:

  • The battery of your smartphone barely lasts for one day when it lasted for 48 when you bought it.
  • Your washing machine broke.
  • Your printer doesn't print correctly.

And you started noticing all these events some weeks after it lost its warranty, what a coincidence!

You were quite happy with how all the aforementioned devices were working. You weren't thinking on replacing them at all. But know you must make a decision: repairing or buying a new one?

Let's talk about your washing machine. Given that you bought it 4 years ago, you probably expected it to last at least around 10 years. Even though it's out of warranty, you call Customer Service to ask if it could be fixed. You get an answer, but not the one you wanted, the part needed to fix is:

  • Expensive.
  • Out of stock (will have to wait until it arrives).
  • Requires expert technical skills to replace –which also is expensive.

In the end, it's “worth” buying a new one instead of repairing the “old” one.

I'm talking about Planned Obsolescence. The trick(s) companies do to force customers in an endless consumerism cycle. Business would get hurt if all of their customers only needed to buy one of their products for the rest of their lives –they would need to take some kind of action:

  • They could offer products that last, but adjusting the price taking into account its life-cycle.
  • They could offer inexpensive products, at least in the short term. So inexpensive that you wouldn't mind replacing them after you feel you recouped their cost.

Products that last

This is the path the furniture sector followed during the Baby Boom generation, at least in Spain: married couples would buy a house –instead of renting, specially in Spain– and would populate it all with furniture of good quality, built to last. This furniture would be expensive, but you wouldn't worry about it because it would last all your life.

inexpensive products

Nowadays, young couples will probably buy a furniture set at IKEA.


Companies could've gone either way, but if companies chose this way it's because it's the one where they get the most benefits from.

We are led to think it's time to update this or that device –or the device simply starts malfunctioning.

But perceiving something as inexpensive relying only on its price is misleading. That price carries with it many consequences, known as Externalities:

  • Product X is inexpensive because it was made in a foreing country by workers with shameful low wages, sometimes children.
  • Product X is inexpensive because the factory were it's made is in a country that doesn't comply with enviromentaly friendly regulations.
  • Product X is inexpensive because... you get the picture.

In summary, cheap prices come at a cost.


What can we do ourselves

It's not easy to escape this consumerism cycle:

  • Many users can't afford pricier options –which could, in theory, last longer. What's even funnier is that people that can affor them, usually update annually their products anyway –see the smartphone market.
  • Companies don't usually make it easy to repair.
  • There's social pressure to have the latest product.

But here's something we can try:

  • Follow the rule: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. This will help us avoid increasing waste.
  • Don't fall for marketing tricks. Think twice if you really need to buy/update something, or if it's actually an induced desire.
  • Buy products that have extended support and are known for lasting longer than the competition.

What companies and goverments can do

Companies will usually try to avoid anything that will make them lose money. Luckily, sometimes, governments will create some laws that will make them stop dragging their feet in these matters:

Products that inspired this post

This post was originally thought as a praise to those old products that work like their first day. That provide good results. That are a joy to use.

  • I have a perfectly working +20 years old Microsoft IntelliMouse which works flawlessly.
  • In 2007 I bought an iMac G4 (already 4 years old) which worked flawlessly. It has been rendered obsolete via software –we could say this is “justified”. But it worked for more than 8 years, longer than my computers from that era.
  • I love that my Sony Alpha 5100 that works flawlessly. Although photography in smartphones (specially computational photography) has reached an incredible quality.