Why build products that DON'T last

Have you ever wondered why some deodorants smell really good but don't last long or why your AAA batteries drain out too quickly?

Planned obsolescence is a strategy of intentionally rendering products obsolete in terms of their functionality or cosmetics over a period of time.

The idea behind planned obsolescence is to ensure customers keep buying new products as replacements to the older ones, which have become undesirable over a period of time. Designing a product that does not last forever can help companies benefit from consistent sales.

Think about the razor blades used for shaving. The single-use-throw-away razors almost always last for multiple shaves. However, by marketing them as one time use and selling them as packs (pack of 5 razors), razorblade companies are influencing consumers to get through the pack of razors much quicker. Consequently, the consumers have to head back to the stores much sooner than really required to replace the old razors.

Another example of planned obsolescence is the infamous "Phoebus cartel" which included companies such as Phillips, GE, Osram. Members of the cartel decided unanimously to cap the life expectancy of the bulbs they sold to 1000 hours. This was at a period when some manufactures could achieve up to 2500 hours. As a result, consumers would have to buy bulbs more frequently and none of the companies would face competition among themselves.

A more recent example of planned obsolescence was when Apple deliberately reduced the performance of iPhones after a new software update. Apple always wants its consumers to upgrade to the latest iPhone. By decreasing the performance of older iPhones, Apple wanted its users to make that jump of purchasing the latest iPhone much earlier than they might have if the performance of their older iPhones didn't reduce.

(Apple released a statement that said the decrease in performance was to protect the older batteries in iPhones which would be unable to handle intensive processing tasks without a significant fall in the battery charge.)

Only Apple knows whether the strategy to decrease the performance was implemented -

To really save the battery life and if so, was it by a significant factor.


Was it a planned obsolescence tactic to get previous iPhone users to purchase the new iPhone much earlier.

The planned obsolescence strategy can be a very risky move by a company. It is like walking on a tight rope. If a company's product is designed with the idea of it becoming obsolete too quickly, the strategy can backfire and consumers might move competitors or find substitute products.

More importantly, not all products can be designed with planned obsolescence in mind. A Casio watch dying on you within after a few years can be acceptable but a Rolex just cannot. Rolex owners buy the timepiece for its perpetual functionality.

Companies need to learn to match their product's life expectancy with the consumer's expectations.


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