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Apple's planned obsolescence and conspiracy theories

Planned obsolescence conspiracy theories are juicy — especially, it seems, when it comes to Apple.

New York Times columnist Catherine Rampell noticed something odd right as Apple released its latest iPhone 5s and 5c — her iPhone 4 started feeling sluggish and stopped holding a decent battery charge.

“So I could pay Apple $79 to replace the battery, or perhaps spend 20 bucks more for an iPhone 5C. It seemed like Apple was sending me a not-so-subtle message to upgrade.”

Planned obsolescence is a term coined in the 1930s in the automobile industry. (Via Wikimedia Commons)

It originally described the practice of issuing new vehicle designs every year to boost slow sales, but it’s just as applicable to today’s fast-moving tech sector. (Via TheHenryFord)

But is Apple necessarily guilty of the practice? Gizmodo points out Rampell’s iPhone 4 was released three and a half years ago, in the summer of 2010.

“In those last three and a half years, that phone has been through countless firmware updates, taken untold photos, been charged improperly, been dropped. It has, in short, been used. And the more the components within it are used, the more they will degrade.”

And even if her phone was brand new, there’s another force that might have something to do with its performance.

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on any given integrated circuit will double roughly every two years, exponentially increasing the power of our electronics. (Via wgsimon)

The Osborne Executive portable computer had a 4mHz processor in 1982. The first generation iPhone, by comparison, is a couple orders of magnitude faster, smaller and lighter. It even costs ten times less when you adjust for inflation. (Via Casey Fleser)

And we develop software and applications to take advantage of that constantly improving tech.

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Some of it doesn’t work with older hardware, because that hardware simply doesn’t have the muscle. (Via The Oatmeal)

But there is something to be said — or maybe criticized — for how Apple assembles its gadgets. Its current retina macbooks, for example, are some of the least-repairable computers the serial dismantlers at iFixit have ever come across.

Many of the internal components are soldered together, the battery is glued to the case and the display panel is designed as one unit — if any one of its parts fails, you’ll have to replace the laptop’s entire lid.

But Cult of Mac says Apple’s computers and phones were never meant to be opened up outside of the shop.

“The more sophisticated a device is, the less repairable by amateurs it is, and because Apple is so far ahead of the competition, it is often the first accused of ‘planned obsolescence.’”

But a sophisticated device need not be a sealed environment with no chance for incremental upgrades.

Motorola this week unveiled Ara, a modular smartphone system that can swap out its components depending on the users needs, whims or budget.

Developers could start playing around with the prototype hardware as soon as this winter — assuming it’s not obsolete by then.

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