Now, welcome to the world of tech obsolescence

Tags: Knowledge
When I was young, I remember hearing my mother remarking about many products that she bought: “The shop guy told us we will never need to buy another one, this will last a lifetime!” Looking back on those days, cola bottles were heavier, car bumpers were so strong a bike hit would never make a dent. I remember how my grandpa used to take the car to the estate and throw coconuts into the back. Imagine doing the same to one of the new-age cars! It seemed everything was “built to last” back then.

Today, in 2014, it seems like everything is built to die soon. A crash in a new 2014 car at 30 km/hr is equivalent to a house payment or more. Of course it depends on when you bought your house. We have disposable razors, plastic cola bottles, disposable cameras and a host of other items. When did it suddenly become okay with the public to buy more and more of the same product and failure or breakage is an accepted norm? Many of the items we get today are made of plastic and do not last the hardship they are subjected to. Look at the lighter iron boxes; they do not have the sturdiness required for the hard task. But, we want things lighter and smoother.

For some products it is easy to see why the producers want them to be obsolete. I can understand why we might want to buy a product because of certain improvements or additions. For example, many people junked their good old dependable black and white televisions for the new and improved colour versions. Even rural markets would not buy black and white televisions in another year or two. Mobiles are obsolete as soon as they are brought home. You are not duped; welcome to the world of technological obsolescence.

These are part of a larger scheme by companies who plan to make things obsolete as they want to add more value to our lives, and theirs. And you will find this in four different ways:

Technological obsolescence: It is another word for the electronics industry. In today’s world electronic companies are forced to introduce new products as rapidly as possible to stay ahead of the competition. In fact, technological obsolescence is becoming very common across product and market categories.

Postponed obsolescence: Do you think folks over at Apple know what 2020 will bring them? Most people would probably say yes. Do the automakers know what features will be on the 2020 cars? Again most people would say yes. Why are they looking so far ahead? They know you have developed an appetite for more power, and more speed, and more convenience. They dole it out in piecemeal, always dangling the carrot just out of reach.

Physical obsolescence: It occurs when the very design of a product determines its lifespan. Car batteries, nylon stockings and light bulbs are perfect examples. Look at also mobile phones. Everyone wants touchscreen, internet ready and sleeker mobile.

Style obsolescence: This is most common in the fashion industry. Making a perfectly good piece of clothing seem out of date and forcing the customer to replace it with current goods. Fashion has often been criticised because of the waste of buying products that are not really needed. The fashion industry would counter with the statement that “people want change." In fact, major clothing brands today change designs every five weeks. Zara is a good example.

Apart from these four forms, in some cases, products are changed and/or discontinued, in order to justify a higher price. We are in a world that demands better ways of doing things. If there were no Steve Jobs, there would have been someone else. Sooner or later we would have had the iPhones and iPads. Sooner or later we would have had two Wright brothers to make us fly.

To make something obsolete due to innovation is one thing. To deliberately design a product to fail is a serious abuse of consumer trust. Planned obsolescence weakens the bond between customer and business and makes the customer more distrusting of business.

If you are in the business of manufacturing, make your product the best one as much as possible. Do not fall prey to the numerous low-quality products, hunting your higher-priced, better product. Remember the lesson Apple has taught? They made products that are higher priced, better in terms of quality, durability and innovation. The cheaper brands like Nokia with its poor quality products could not sustain. Apple never made their products obsolete. Their innovation made customers upgrade! zz

(The writer is CEO and MD

of CustomerLab)

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