Forced Failure

Recently, many consumers of products such as smartphones, printer cartridges, and light bulbs claim that the products sold to them were designed to become obsolete or to stop working altogether.  Is this a massive fraud spanning over multiple companies within multiple industries or simply a business tactic used to help the progress of these products?  The answer will usually depend on who you’re talking to and which product you are talking about.

For example, some people would say that printer ink cartridges are built to stop working before they actually run out of ink to force the customer to shell out money to get a new one. Others would say that if companies are doing this they are only doing it to keep the quality of your prints up to par.  With this industry in particular, there seems to be more behind the former argument.  One printer user claimed that he had printed 1,800 pages on a cartridge that claimed it was empty after he had tricked his printer into using it.  In fact, Halte à L’Obsolescence Programmêe a legal group recently took legal action against companies such as HP, Epson, Canon, and other big printer companies.  However, it seems unclear how many companies use this tactic.  Also these companies may have good reasons to shorten the lifespan of printer ink cartridges, like upholding the quality of the consumer’s prints.

There are industries with a reasonable explanation for their obsolete products.  For example, cars and smartphones are always advancing, and there will always be an advancement that will sell a new car or a new phone.  The problem comes when old smartphones become incompatible with new updates.  It usually takes a long time and a lot of updates to make an older phone not work as well though, and a lot of times you don’t need new updates to use your phone.  Another problem a lot of people bring up is yearly releases of smartphones; however, if this release schedule becomes annoying or expensive for a consumer, they can simply choose to not buy a new phone every year.

One solution that people have thought of for the yearly release of smartphone is a modular phone which can be updated and changed by the consumer whenever new technology is put on the market.  For example if a new battery comes out, consumers wouldn’t have to buy a whole new phone.  Instead they could get rid of their old battery and replace it with the new one.  The website follows multiple companies as they try to produce a good modular phone.  Unfortunately the few modular phones that have released haven’t been ground breaking and have been more customize-able than upgrade-able.  These phones let you add features to your phone like a bigger speaker or a projector, but they don’t seem to allow upgrades to the phone itself.  On top of this, if this idea takes off there are aspects of a phone such as the display that might not be upgrade-able.

In a capitalist system, if a company does something to upset its consumers, it risk going out of business.  So remember, if there is a company that you feel is trying to cheat you out of your money there will always be another company eager to get a new patron.