Not too long ago Apple found itself embroiled in a PR nightmare when it was revealed that the company was purposely slowing the performance of a number of iPhone models as they aged. Despite the tech giant’s claims that this throttling was intended to counter the diminishing battery life of older phones, it was received in many quarters as a cynical example of “planned obsolescence.” Planned obsolescence is a design strategy that artificially limits a device’s usable lifespan in order to force customers to buy new phones more frequently.
Apple is still dealing with the ramifications of this exposé: in 2018 alone, they’ve been criminally investigated by the French government, forced to testify before the Canadian parliament, and continue to litigate a massive US class action lawsuit. But, as Toshiba’s attempts to keep laptop repair manuals off of the internet show, Apple is hardly the only company with a planned obsolescence agenda.
This leaves consumers in a bind over when to buy a new phone. Upgrading your phone every year is a significant cost. It’s terrible for the planet. And it’s annoying to feel like you’ve been played a fool by advertisers. Today on the blog we’re going to take a stab at separating fact from fiction surrounding the question of when to buy a new phone.
When To Buy A New Phone: Declining Battery Life
Planned obsolescence begins the first time you plug your phone in. Batteries are many orders of magnitude better than they were in the days when handhelds like the GameBoy devoured AAs like Pez. But despite advances, cell phone batteries are particularly vulnerable to performance loss. This is because phones are constantly in use, and often end up being charged and recharged multiple times per day. Each charge cycle wears on the physical structure of the battery itself. In time this reduces its ability to hold power. Smart power banks are designed to mitigate this damage, but no battery is immortal.
In the past, replacing the battery was a simple matter. As we covered in our history of power banks, that changed when manufacturers like Apple began to use custom batteries that increase design efficiency but are virtually impossible for a lay-person to safely remove. This can make out-of-warranty battery replacement prohibitively expensive compared to simply buying a new phone. (Yes, that ringing you hear is the planned obsolescence alarm going off.)
So, does that mean you have to buy a new phone as soon as your screen-on time drops below an acceptable level? Not necessarily. We’ve got a few useful articles on how to increase battery lifespan, and prevent damage to your hardware:
- The Ultimate Guide to Extending Android Battery Life
- When to Replace Your iPhone Battery
- Future-Proof Smartphones with Tomorrow’s Technology
Plus, if you own an iPhone 6 or later Apple model, until the end of 2018 you can still get a replacement battery for just $29 USD.
When it comes to new features, manufacturers often take a drip-feeding approach. Cell phone planned obsolescence as a marketing strategy requires striking a perfect balance between making a device that is irresistible in the present, but not so far advanced it can’t be dramatically improved upon for the following model year.
It’s easy as a consumer to be dazzled by a hailstorm of new features. But many of these may be either irrelevant, merely cosmetic upgrades, or outright useless. Remember Apple’s highly-touted 3D touch system from the 6S? Us neither.
If you’re struggling with the question of when to buy a new phone, consider making a list of the features that matter most to you:
- Is a better camera just a luxury right now, or is it important to your photography practice / selfie game?
- Will the increased charging speed offered by USB-C have a meaningful effect on your day-to-day productivity?
- Do the latest versions of the apps you rely on still run smoothly on your current device?
Fashion Fades, but Planned Obsolescence is… Forever?
Industrial designer and American Modernist pioneer George Nelson had this to say about style and design:
“Design… is an attempt to make a contribution through change. When no contribution is made or can be made, the only process available for giving the illusion of change is ‘styling!’”
Although major advances do sometimes happen year to year, for the most part planned obsolescence relies on making you think you need an improvement on something that already works. Style matters! But so does your wallet, and the planet. In the end, RAVPower will always have a product to make your charging experience better, even if your device is a cute lil’ senior citizen by marketing standards.