Apple and forced obsolescence: More questions and comments

-May 22, 2012

Wow. It’s good to be back! I’m frankly pretty mind-blown at the popularity of, and response to, last Tuesday’s post, “Obsolescence by design: Short-term gain, long-term loss, and an environmental crime.” As of Sunday morning, when I began writing this follow-up, readers had left more than 70 comments on it, roughly half of those in the first 24 hours it was published. Many of you expressed support for the stances I took, for which I’m grateful.

Others disagreed with one or multiple of my statements, which is also fine. I welcome contrasting positions, among other reasons because they challenge me to regularly revisit mine, thereby providing ongoing learning opportunities. But I admit that some of your statements gave me … pause. As such, I thought I’d devote today’s writeup to responding to a few of them (disregarding, quite frankly, the ones that were little more than excuses to bash Microsoft, Apple customers, etc), addressed below in chronological order.

Steve wrote:

With the exception of the batteries, the OS support is standard practice throughout industry. Do you have an old computer that can host and run Windows 2007? Is Windows still supporting Windows 2000?

Steve, I no longer use (although my garage cleanup earlier today reminds me that I still own) a system that runs Windows 2000, so I can’t comment on its present capabilities and limitations. However, I have several systems that still run Windows XP, both native and virtualized. Windows XP was released in August of 2001; nearly 12 years later I’m still receiving security updates and other patches for it from Microsoft (extended support is currently scheduled to end on April 8, 2014). And plenty of new and updated software developed by both Microsoft and third-party companies still runs on it just fine.

In contrast, let’s look at two other Macs I own (sigh) and forgot to mention in Tuesday’s writeup: a G4 Power Mac and a G4 Cube. They are officially unable to run an Apple O/S more advanced than Mac OS 10.3 “Panther,” even though Power PC CPU support extended through Mac OS 10.5 “Leopard” (exemplified by the fact that you can unofficially run newer Mac OS X variants on the hardware via a hack such as LeopardAssist). Mac OS 10.3 was released on October 24, 2003. Apple’s support for it ended with the release of Mac OS 10.5 on October 26, 2007. That’s a four-year release-to-obsolescence cycle. And other Mac OS X versions had it even worse; Mac OS 10.2 was obsolete in less than three years, and Mac OS 10.1 in just over two years.

todd wrote:

Nothing forces you to upgrade to a new OS, unless you want new features.

You’re not concerned about the cessation of ongoing security patches for an existing O/S revision? I would not want to be your company’s IT department!

gwhiz wrote:

Well, the products are “consumer” level products. Made by the millions and essentially disposable after a product lifecycle or three … at least this is the model.

Perhaps obviously, I wholeheartedly reject that model. It’s not sustainable for the planet; to put it in Judeo-Christian terminology, for example, it doesn’t make us good stewards of Creation. I also frankly find it insulting when Apple or another manufacturer treats us like “iLemmings” (as reader “Skeptical Observer” called it), assuming we’ll dumbly pull out our wallets every few years in response to upgrade-temptation “feature set” baubles that have little or nothing to do with true advancements that will notably improve our lives. And I particularly find it insulting with Apple hardware, which frequently totes a price tag increment over counterparts from other manufacturers.

Battar wrote:

I’m in the consumer product design business, and often our primary objective is to be cheaper than the competition. This is because the vast majority of consumers base their purchasing decisions on the sticker price and can’t be bothered to ask about quality. … A non-replacable internal battery is simply cheaper to manufacture, so the end product is cheaper than the competition, so people buy, so profits rise and shareholders and employees get paid. We, as consumers, are to blame because we consistently refuse to pay for quality.

Alas, I can’t dispute that perspective, especially in today’s lingering economic-trouble times, which make the purchase price point even more paramount than it already is. Unfortunately, most consumers don’t seem to embrace the “you get what you pay for” and “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” concepts until they’ve been burned a time or few.

AndrewT wrote:

You have a very low bar for the word “crime”, it seems. It took me 30 seconds on Google to find the iPhone 3S battery for $30, including instructions on how to do it. Do you take any responsibility for inflating a non-issue into a “crime”?

You must have overlooked the following portion of my writeup; “My buddies at iFixit generously provide detailed battery-swap instructions, plus a tutorial video and the replacement part plus tools you’ll need to successfully conduct the iPhone 3GS surgery. But I think you’ll agree that while the procedure might be a no-brainer for engineers like us, it isn’t for the masses.” And as I mentioned in my follow-up writeup, “Adding insult to injury, if you take any Apple handset hardware in for repair, even under warranty, the company will (without your permission) swap out the conventional screws for pentalobe counterparts.”

Dr.Bob wrote:

You have to be “Special” to one afford a mac. Why? cause you can buy 3 high-end PC’s for the cost of one mac.

With all due respect, Macs don’t have that much of a markup. And they especially don’t in my case. All of my “new” Macs have been factory refurbs. This is one of the Apple policies that I actually like. Refurbs come with notable discounts versus brand-new units, but have warranties that match those of new units, including being candidates for AppleCare warranty extensions.

Airman wrote:

Dipert, how on earth did you ever get a girlfriend?

Ouch, Airman, that hurts. ;-)

Just Wondering wrote:

Do you think it possible that Apple needs to obsolete old products to avoid the chaos involved with supporting too many platforms?

Yes. That’s why I wrote, “Here’s the thing; I pragmatically ‘get’ why Apple chose to chart these particular design courses, from a business standpoint…O/S obsolescence not only guarantees system obsolescence but also simplifies both O/S development (by limiting backwards-compatibility necessity) and subsequent O/S support.”

Comedicles wrote:

I think you would have to throw away 500 iPods before you could make up for the savings in energy, fuel, and resources Apple’s iPod, iTunes, and reformation of the music industry. How many plastic CDs and jewel boxes and paper and carboard boxes and shipping for nation wide or world wide distribution is replaced by ONE iPod? … If you are of the generation that like to say “green” instead of “efficient” you should get down on your knees and kiss the feet of the folks at Apple who produced this huge windfall for greenishness.

The transition from physical to digital media has seemingly been beneficial from a waste standpoint, although I’d like to compare the energy costs of CD production and distribution to those of Apple’s North Carolina data center before I definitively acknowledge your point. However, I’ve never been the type to embrace the concept “the ends justify the means.” Said another way, a sinner who trades one sin for another is still a sinner.

And finally, here’s Jeff in Texas, commenting on my follow-on writeup, “The system retrofit: Thanks, iFixit!

Just so you know that people are reading this. I really enjoy hearing about your various exploits and recommendations like iFixIt. Being an Apple household, it’s useful info. Please keep up the good work.

Thanks, Jeff. My pleasure. Will do!

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