Thoughts on Apple Slowing Down Devices

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I thought that this was a big enough thing that I’d break my silence on here, especially since it’s something that personally impacts me and my device usage. I’ve also found myself in casual conversations with friends regarding this.

The general conclusion derived from this whole fiasco is really feeding into the often-believed notion that Apple builds in something called “planned obsolescence” into their devices, in which Apple intentionally shortens the lifespan of devices by somehow impairing usability so that customers will feel the need to upgrade to a newer model of the device they’re using.

This, to me, is as easy a notion to debunk as it is to believe. The issue of Apple prioritizing profits and margins is one thing – and I personally believe that it is very much a thing – but it’s been so often conflated with the issue of Apple devices not lasting as long as they’re desired to last, and that seems to be coming to a head now.

Apple elaborates that their reason for slowing down devices, particularly iPhones, is to preserve battery life. I believe this to be true, and the reason is simple – it’s the same reason why I believe planned obsolescence is a myth. It’s in Apple's interest to have the usability of iPhones last a long time, not the opposite.

According to Apple themselves in the letter I just linked to:

 

We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.

 

I don’t think the single most profitable product in the history of the world would’ve found its success in being systematically made unusable. People buy iPhones because they’re good products – because they’re of good use – and people vote with their purchases. If people’s needs are no longer satisfied by a product, they’ll look at alternatives. If the alternatives don’t meet their needs – device lifespan being a criterion – then they’ll stick to buying iPhones.

I might come off reductionist in my thinking, but at the very least, it’s unlikely that there are any hidden motives here. Apple’s business model has always been that straightforward.

 

Now, this isn’t to say that bad decisions haven’t been made. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Apple’s problem is a communication problem. The problem is two-fold in that,

  1. if this had been communicated at all in the first place, the consumer and media backlash would at least be controllable; and

  2. if they’d made their initial statement clear and made their initial solution better for customers ($79 for a battery replacement is untenable), I think there might have been a chance at saving face.

Now Apple finds itself in a spot they're rarely in. In my experience, I’ve always found there to be a subset of people who’ve latched onto beliefs that Apple does x, y, and z to wring every last dollar out of customers besides using high profit margins. For example, in the 00’s, there was a sizable number people frustrated at Apple not making batteries removable.

The beliefs are conceivable to some extent, but now there’s a whole lot of people going to be part of that subset after this debacle. How big it’ll be, time will tell. I don’t think a lot of iPhone users are going to be jumping ship, but I think repeat purchasers are going to have a bit more buyer’s remorse knowing Apple, whether for better or for worse, might be doing something behind the scenes they don’t know about.