News: Planned obsolescence has been around for decades, and a group of consumers thinks that Apple is engaging in it.
A petition demanding that Apple stop ‘sabotaging’ older devices with iOS upgrades has attracted 150,000 signatures, but how legitimate is the grievance?
The petition by SumOfUs, the corporate watchdog, accuses Apple of engaging in ‘planned obsolence’ by continually pushing out upgrades to its users which will degrade performance on all but the newest iPhones.
Planned obsolescence dates back at least to the 1920s, when an international cartel of lightbulb manufacturers intentionally reduced the life of lightbulbs in order to ramp up demand.
In Apple’s case, the petition argues that owners of older iPhones will find the performance on their devices becomes so poor that they will simply opt to buy a newer device, such as the iPhone 7, expected in September.
The demand is simple: Apple "has to stop aggressively pushing software "upgrades" to devices which will become significantly slower as a result."
It also demands that downgrades be made possible without hacking skills, so that users can undo updates if necessary.
This is not the first time Apple has been attacked over this issue. In December, a class action lawsuit sued Apple for $5 million after the plaintiffs’ iPhone 4S devices became almost unusable after they were upgraded to iOS 9.
Certainly the charge that Apple is or should be aware of potential compatibility issues with new software and old hardware is fair, and it seems fair to expect the company to mitigate this.
However, while the number of signatories suggests demand for change is high, Apple has a fairly dedicated user base and the benefit of strong brand recognition, meaning that these glitches are unlikely to force people over to a rival.
Whether this is an intentional strategy by Apple is however somewhat irrelevant; the point is that for both enterprise and consumer users of Apple products it is a genuine problem. If more demanding software is run on the same hardware, something has got to give.
There are some ways that users can mitigate this effect.
As the petition suggests, one might be to simply ignore the update. The limitation of this approach is that this might make the device less secure, since updates often contain security fixes.
In a business context, the leasing model is gaining traction, with Samsung in May launching a pilot programme in France allowing customers to lease devices and change the model when a new one is released.
In the UK, O2 offers such a model, which offers the latest phone on a 12-month Business contract with no up-front costs. The contract is available with the company’s business tariffs.
It seems unlikely that a petition will force Apple to change the practice, but business and consumer customers with older devices should in the meantime treat updates with some caution and assess them on a case-by-case basis.