Obsolete smartphones: deliberate short lifespans, throttling updates of older models

Reem Hosam El-din
6 Min Read

Smartphones have undoubtedly made our lives easier since their emergence, and they are continuously developing, allowing easier and faster communication with anyone, anywhere in the world. These devices, which mainly rely on internet access to provide their users with unique features, help them cut significant financial expenses with the many diverse, free messaging applications available, in addition to voice and video chat applications.

However, these lovely devices will most probably be discarded within two or three years from the date they were first used. An issue is likely to come up with the phone to make it either no longer usable, or very difficult to use, and it does not matter if the user has taken perfect care of the phone. It seems that smartphones are “made to vanish” after a while. Much like many other technological devices we use with their predetermined, limited lifespans, however, it seems that smartphones fall into a category of devices that could last no more than three years, making our phones sadly irreparable and highly susceptible to being stuck with old operating systems that cannot be upgraded, or dysfunctional built-in batteries that cannot be replaced, pronouncing the end of an era for the whole phone.

Apple has recently made a shocking confirmation of some circulating speculations about its iPhone: that its new iOS software updates slow down the performance of older iPhones, making the phones very difficult and perhaps unbearable to use after the updates. While the company says that iOS does this in order to counteract issues arising with lithium ion batteries as they age, the impact of this matter is still the same on users; they get devices doomed to be obsolete at some point.

This admission made by Apple regarding older device slowdowns has resulted in outrage and raised many questions. Users are starting to come to the conclusion that the company may be deliberately doing this to push customers to buy newer iPhone models, a charge the company has denied.

“Customers are angry that Apple didn’tt disclose the feature when it was first released in an iOS update last year, and two people have already filed lawsuits against the company, claiming that the slow-downs has caused economic damages and other harms,” CNN reported.

“Most modern lithium-ion batteries inside smartphones are designed to last at least 500 full charge and discharge cycles, which works out to around two years of typical smartphone use,” according to The Guardian.

But the shorter the battery life, the more it has to be charged, and the faster it will age in relation to the smartphone.

University of Sydney’s Professor of Media and Communications Gerar Goffin said that mobile phone manufacturers are opting for cheaper components in their products and using more plastics, in an effort to push for a “quick turnover” of products. He added that the phenomenon first emerged for the mobile industry in Hong Kong about 10 years ago, according to ABC News.

It is worth noting that the most common repairs customers ask for their phones are for damages resulting from dropping the phones, usually breaking the screen, according to JC Twining, an owner of a mobile phone repair company in the south Australian city of Adelaide called “Axiom Communications,” according to ABC News.

Another common issue JC Twining reports coming across a lot is the issue of damaged batteries.

Both subtle and unsubtle forms of expiry still very much exist nowadays, from deliberate limited durability where brittle parts are exhausted, to having repairs cost more than replacing an entire phone, to new aesthetic updates to the devices that frame older products as less stylish, according to the BBC.

“It’s almost unbelievable that consumers have not stood up and said the planned obsolescence of the gadget industry is absolutely obscene and not serving them,” said economy expert Rachel Botsman, according to the Guardian. “Why is it the consumers who take all the risk?” Botsman told the Guardian.

According to the same article, Stéphane Arditi, policy manager for products and waste for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said that changes should be made in order to improve the situation. “For example, batteries should be removable, whether by end user or repair shop,” he said.

He added that manufacturers and business models should also be taken into consideration regarding all “obsolete” devices. “For example, it was identified that changing some select parts of a computer could boost the performance without getting rid of the screens and plastic casing, a manufacturer would still get business from upgrading the device,” he noted.

Until the age of obsolete electronic devices comes to an end, manufacturers and consumers remain in conflict, without a solution for those who are clearly bearing the brunt of the short lifespans of devices that should otherwise last for a few more years.

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