We all know that now a day if you buy something, it is not built to last. Eventually, you are going to have to replace the tires on your car or the blank on your blank. We call this limited shelf life of a product “planned obsolescence”. However is there a point where the life span of a product is utterly too short?
Recently, I was planning on buying an Ipod. I went to the local electronics shop, found the mp3 player that I wanted and headed for the checkout line. As they were ringing me up they asked me if I wanted to buy their extended warranty plan for $75. I usually decline the warranty, however I was curious that the warranty plan was almost half of the price of the Ipod I was buying. The warranty was only good for one year. So I asked the cashier why so much for the warranty? He couldn’t answer my question so I had to find the salesman again. The sales floor manager said that typically the Ipods will stop holding their battery charge properly in about 18 months; this all of course was depended on the amount of use and abuse I put it through. I asked him, “If the battery is going to lose its charge so fast, where can I buy backup batteries?” As he looked around the store, he whispered to me that the batteries are welded to the unit and there is no way of changing them. There was no way to change the batteries on my Ipod! The sales guy’s relaxed demeanor basically summed it up for me that the planned obsolescence for Ipods was around 18 months. Personally, I realize everything in a store has a certain amount of shelf life, but this is ridiculous for a music player.
A week after the Ipod incident my palm pilot that I had for a few years started constantly losing its data. You guessed it; it couldn’t hold its charge. I knew that it had an internal battery so I took it over to my local Radio Shack. We weren’t able to get the back of it open there so I traveled over to Sears figuring I could get the right tool from the world of Craftsmen. There was a friendly manager roaming the tool isle and he helped me find the right screwdriver that actually opened up the palm pilot. That right, he actually let me open it right there and as a matter of fact, he took off the last two impacted screws I couldn’t get out. Once we took off the back of the unit, we found two watch-size batteries welded to the circuit board. The he said it, “Yep, that’s what we call planned obsolescence.” I tried getting the batteries off the back of the circuit panel, but no dice. The palm pilot lasted me about 5 years, not too bad in this world of short shelf life.
In our disposable society, how long should shelf life? Is 18 months too short? In a nutshell, Apple is telling us that in 18 months there is going to be a better, faster, cooler Ipod; so buy now and pay later. In the past, when I bought a music player I knew it wasn’t going to be hip beyond two maybe three years, however I could always still rely on it to work years after its appeal. I could always put batteries in it and it would still play music. Now we don’t even have that option, now we can throw it out or buy the extended warranty so they’ll give you another one. There is a song by Weird Al Yankovic called “It’s All About The Pentiums” and in the song he says, “What kinda of chip you got in your computer a Dorito?” We all know that the moment we buy something it is obsolete, however where do we draw the line.