To read some, many industrialists would use and abuse "planned obsolescence" to increase their turnover.
The villains ! But what is it really?
Chapter 1. Legal Definition
Section 1.1. Principle
The definition in France of planned obsolescence is given by the article L213-4-1 of the Consumer Code :
Scheduled obsolescence is defined by the set of techniques by which a marketer aims to reduce deliberately the life of a product to increase the replacement rate.
Section 1.2. Big difficulty of application
When we analyze this article, we can immediately see the problem: the word " deliberately ».
Indeed, this word emphasizes the need to demonstrate the intention of the manufacturer to reduce the life of a product: in general, it is almost always impossible to demonstrate the intention of a person in front of them. Courts (except to have a writing, but hey ...).
Chapter 2. Examples of planned obsolescence "possible" or "probable"
Section 2.1. Mechanical part deliberately defective
If a manufacturer sells us a washing machine whose engine (part likely to undergo heavy fatigue) is undersized, we can talk about planned obsolescence.
Of course, we should not analyze this obsolescence on a single example:
- if 5% of the machines sold fail after one year, this may be normal (you just pulled the wrong number). In an industrial production, it is impossible to obtain an irreproachable quality.
- if 50% of the machines sold fail after one year, the question is whether the manufacturer does not purposely produce defective products.
However, if the manufacturer sells machines of poor quality, likely to have a lot of breakage, it may be for the purpose of reducing prices (and not " to increase the replacement rate").
The proof of the intention of the manufacturer will be very complex here.
Section 2.2. Software not working after a while
If you buy software (and I'm not talking about an annual license) and it stops working after a few years, the situation may be simpler than before.
Indeed, nothing in itself justifies that software (not likely to fail due to wear) stops working.
This judgment can only be explained by:
- a piece of code providing for this judgment;
- a server (interacting with your software, eg API server) no longer available.
In the event that a new version of the software continues to work, I think we can talk about planned obsolescence without too much difficulty.
Chapter 3. Examples of what is not planned obsolescence
Section 3.1. End of a possible repair period / end of warranty
I could read here and there that an industrialist refusing to repair a product after several years would be an example of "planned obsolescence".
If this process is questionable from an ecological point of view, I see nothing wrong with the article L213-4-1 of the Consumer Code.
Indeed, nothing obliges (in this article) a manufacturer to provide after-sales service out of warranty.
Moreover, nothing in this behavior allows to say that this manufacturer would reduce the life of the product deliberately (a product out of warranty may even have an extraordinary life, who knows ...).
Section 3.2. No update / update not supported by older models
In the field of mobile phones, I was able to read that the release of new operating systems (iOS, Android, etc.) not compatible with older versions of phones (eg iOS10 is incompatible with iPhone4) would be a another example of "programmed obsolescence".
Once again, I do not share this opinion.
First, the update of a device that we bought is not natural: if for commercial reasons the phone manufacturers offer it all, this is not mandatory.
By the way, I read the article L213-4-1 of the Consumer Code in every way, I can not see an update optional a product could be viewed as a deliberate reduction in the life of a product.
If a user does not update their phone, the life of their product remains unchanged: therefore, these updates can not be seen as a "scheduled obsolescence".
Section 3.3. Creation of a new model more efficient / newer / more beautiful
Some also criticize the fact, for some manufacturers, to renew their products very frequently, to trigger in consumers a desire to buy.
Is this behavior another example of " planned obsolescence "? I do not think so…
On a website, I read:
Reading this quote, I can only smile ...
Indeed, Stevens Brooks did not speak here of the " planned obsolescence (In 1954, this concept did not exist yet), but talked about its commercial strategy to get users to buy its products:
- avoid making low-end products that would require quick replacement due to failure (s), and
- to make products of high quality, by encouraging its users to change them before their real end of life.
In short, we are far from the definition given by the article L213-4-1 of the Consumer Code...
Encouraging a consumer to always have better, to always have the latest fashionable product, etc. is clearly a bias of the consumer society and a philosophical debate is clearly justified.
However, do not mix the debates.
We are talking here about planned obsolescence: if the consumer abandons his old product still working to buy a new generation phone, we can regret it, but we certainly can not refer to "programmed obsolescence".
The manufacturer simply did not reduce the life of his product (it still works).