Planning for Planned Obsolescence: Extend Gadgets' Useful Life

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By William Peacock, Esq. on October 29, 2013 3:56 PM

An article by The New York Times, "Cracking the Apple Trap," hasn't even been published in print yet, but is already stirring up discussion over planned obsolescence, thanks to the online version of the article going live this morning.

The short version? Apple is forcing upgrades by designing their products to fail after two years. While the tech blogs are (rightly) mocking the article (all batteries die over time, operating system upgrades will, of course make your gadget run slower), that doesn't change the harsh reality for consumers on a budget: that $600 iPhone will perform poorly after two or three years.

Planned obsolescence isn't an Apple-only conspiracy -- it's an industry reality caused by wear-and-tear and innovation. Still, if you want to eke out the longest life possible for your gadgets, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Battery Life

How do you keep your battery "healthy" and minimize degradation over time? Gizmodo offers a plethora of tips, from avoiding long stays in hot cars, to not leaving the battery at zero percent for lengthy periods of time.

Best practice: over the course of the day, try to keep your battery between 40 and 80 percent. Frequent small charges beat leaving your phone on your charger all day, at 100 percent, or running your battery to 0 percent every night.

If your battery is truly suffering after a couple years in service, consider replacing the battery yourself. While Apple may charge $100 or so for a replacement, you can often find a replacement battery online, with tools, for a fraction of the cost, along with YouTube videos showing you the (admittedly painful) step-by-step process.

Operating System

This isn't just a smartphone thing -- its an every device thing. Windows XP probably does everything you need, but Microsoft is ending security updates next year. Security is the only reason why you'd need to upgrade an office computer, as Windows 3.1 handled word processing just as well as Windows 8.1. So yeah, eventually, Microsoft "forces" you to upgrade by ending support for a decade-old operating system.

Best practice: if it ain't broke, and it's still secure, don't fix it.

You may be tempted by a new operating system, especially if it is free. Apple's iOS upgrades are free, as is the new version of its desktop OS, OS X Mavericks. But new OSes bring new features, and old hardware won't run the shiny graphical enhancements as well. We suspect this is why the Times reporter's iPhone 4 is suddenly sluggish: iOS 7 is a complete graphical overhaul running on three-year-old hardware. (Also, the more that single-core processor struggles to run the new OS, the worse her already-aged battery life will be.)

If you're really itching to try the new OS, wait for others with the same phone/computer/tablet to upgrade first, and see if their device has a mild stroke when it tries to run the shiny new software.

Suck it Up

How about just upgrading the darn thing? If your battery life is terrible, three years out, then it might be worth the cost of a new device to avoid the frustration. And if your computer is starting to get sluggish, it might be worth the few hundred bucks to get a new one. After all, hardware failures (obviously) kill your productivity.

Upgrades and obsolescence, much like death and taxes, are certain truths. While you may be able to forestall the inevitable, eventually, that old Windows 3.1 desktop PC, like the senile partner in your corporate litigation department, is going to have to be retired.

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