The iPhone and ‘planned obsolescence’


Apple last week published a letter to customers in which it apologised for the ‘misunderstanding’ generated around the slowdown of the iPhone and offered discounts for users who want to change the battery of their phone.  It is the revelation that is marking Apple’s year-end and was revealed by a 17-year-old Tennessee High School student.

Apple admits slowing iPhone

Last week, the company acknowledged that it intentionally slows down older phones when a new software update is downloaded, but defended that it does so to lengthen the mobile’s battery and prevent it from failing. People are gobsmacked I presume because the policy reeks of ‘planned obsolescence.’

Planned decay

Planned obsolescence may be defined as a purposeful program of vendors such as Apple to shorten the lifespan or number of performances during which the iPhone will continue to satisfy customers. This planned decay may result from breakage, deterioration, or when critical components wear out.

However, ‘planned obsolescence’ is the best way to describe the business model for the marketing of Apple products, in particular, the iPhone. In most cases planned obsolescence of the iPhone can merely be defined as yearly or other regular superficial redesigns to persuade the public to buy a new phone before the old one is worn out.

Obsolescence technological or psychological

Obsolescence can take the form of technological or psychological.

Psychological obsolescence is created by changing the user’s notion of acceptable alternatives. As a result, many products become obsolete merely because customers consider them old or out of date. I want iPhone X because my iPhone 6 is now out of date

Planned decay is sharply criticised by consumers; on the other hand, quick obsolescence is desirable for specific products.

Newspapers and party poppers are less expensive than phones or hats just because consumers do not want them to last long.

For and against

There are arguments favouring planned obsolescence where consumer interests, choices, prices or information are improved. Other cases suggest obsolescence forces consumers to buy unwanted items, or that it is immoral and deceptive. Clearly, each situation must be examined in light of the consumer.


Society considers planned obsolescence undesirable when scarce resources are wasted, price decreases do not follow, lesser quality products or technology is withheld from the market. It is hard to tell whether Apple withholds features from a model until the next model is released. On the other hand, our present economy condones planned decay if it does not offer lower prices and the best value for money. The iPhone X has already received its fair share of criticism because of its expensive price tag.

Similarly, technological obsolescence may be acceptable if the changes are desired by society and style obsolescence maybe alright if competition allows consumers freedom of choice. Unfortunately, Apple emphasis on style causes it to be preoccupied with the appearance of change instead and tends to force more extravagance into design and create novelty for its own sake

Apple may need to reconsider its approach if consumers continue to retaliate, if iPhone durability is sought, or if competition counters with products that are more durable, it may not be a profitable strategy to follow.

teamSimon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown. Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses. Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment


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