Apple: Planned Obsolescence and Engineered Discontentment



Why is it that Microsoft email services such as Outlook work perfectly on an iPhone, yet on a desktop computer, it’s necessary to configure your Microsoft email as an antiquated POP email service? As a result, laptop or desktop devices don’t offer synchronization across devices (found in IMAP services). That’s frustrating. Perhaps frustrating enough that you’d want to purchase a mobile device for that feature alone.

“But wait, there’s more!…” as they say in late night infomercials.

Let’s say you want a touch-screen experience. Unfortunately, almost a decade after Apple pioneered touchscreen technology in their smartphone, it is still missing from their laptop and desktop computers. Again, something that frustrating enough that you might just purchase an iPad for the touch-screen functionality.

There’s a really cool feature in iOS that allows you to use a single IMAP catch all account for multiple alias email addresses. When you reply, the from address is the alias email originally used by the sender. However, in the Apple Mail program, it’s necessary to go to preferences, and then accounts to manually change the reply-to email address every time you reply to a similar catch-all email. This is another one of those annoyances you might use an iOS device to avoid.

The Facebook app on an iPhone lets you choose between the most recent posts from friends, or a news feed that attempts to show you important posts based on your interests. However, the desktop experience doesn’t provide this functionality.

These are all examples of where a lower-cost mobile device is excelling beyond the higher priced laptop or desktop system.

Why is this?

We’ve all heard of planned obsolescence. That’s when companies manufacture products to break down or become less useful over time.

This ensures consumers will come back for replacements in the future.

However, this approach was primarily used during an age of machines.

Electronic devices have fewer moving parts. Indeed, computers manufactured decades ago still turn on and function.

Manufacturers soon realized that the old approach of having mechanical obsolescence was no longer practical.

Discontentment must be engineered into products for the newer models to seem appealing.

Apple Pioneered Discontentment

Apple was one of the first companies to engineer discontentment into their devices. In fact, they do this in parallel across multiple devices. Consider their current lineup of products.

  1. The iPhone grew in popularity because of the touch-screen experience. (Cost: up to $850)
  2. However, the small screen caused consumers to desire something like the iPad Mini as a larger yet portable touch-screen device. (Cost: up to $830)
  3. Yet, they kept the iPhone for phone calls since the iPad couldn’t do that.
  4. Wanting an even larger touch screen experience, consumers would purchase the full-size iPad. (Cost: up to $930)
  5. However, since it doesn’t have a full operating system, the MacBook Air became popular as a portable device. (Cost: up to $1,850).
  6. With limited power, storage, and expansion of the MacBook Air, consumers still needed something larger like a MacBook Pro for intensive mobile work. (Cost: up to $3,300)
  7. However, working on a 15″ screen can feel a bit cramped, so consumers also purchase the 27″ iMac for projects that require larger screen space. This is how people can end up buying so many devices from a single company. (Cost: up to $3,950)
  8. The higher-end iMac is useful for most tasks, but sometimes the wait time on video rendering and exporting is just prohibitive. That’s where a Mac Pro is necessary. (Cost: up to $16,000 with dual 4K displays)

This is how a person can quickly spend up to $28,000 on technology devices.

The VW Bug Phenomenon

There’s such a thing as a product that’s a runaway success. The early VW Bugs were a wonderful invention – a vehicle that doesn’t need a cooling system, radiator, or servicing of those parts. It was a rugged and reliable vehicle. In fact, it was too rugged. People loved it so much, they didn’t want to purchase any of the new vehicles coming out. So, it was time to scrap the VW Bug.

Integrated Frustration

The same was true for the early iPhones. The transition to iOS 7.0 included many integrated frustrations. The most significant is how difficult the font was to read. Consumers complained. They couldn’t switch to another device because: (a) they were locked into a service contract and breaking it would cost hundreds, (b) they were heavily invested in apps and cloud services that can’t be moved to another platform. During the months after releasing iOS 7.0, Apple began slowly spoon-feeding consumers features that they had taken away.

On 10 March 2014, Apple released iOS 7.1 and provided such amazing features as bold text for input keyboards.

You know something is going on when a company introduces a “new and improved” product  with features that were already present years ago but had been taken out.

The new philosophy of marketplace psychology is born:

“A certain level of consumer frustration and irritation is necessary to ensure forward motion. A donkey can’t be moved simply with a carrot, one must employ a stick as well. Discontentment must be engineered into devices. If necessary, good products must be made worse.”

Reducing Multiple Devices

Samsung has taken an interesting approach to their product designs. With screen sizes from 5″ to 6″, the display is large enough that it can be used in place of a tablet, and with the $100 Samsung dock, you can turn your smartphone into a replacement laptop or desktop computer (just add keyboard, mouse, and full-size display). Rather than looking for ways to build-in limitations and frustrations, Samsung is looking for ways to innovate and help consumers reduce their need for multiple devices.

Dell offers an 18″ tablet device that doubles as a desktop computer. When you’re home or at work, set it on a stand and use a full size keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals such a printers, scanners, and external hard drives.


Why does Apple still not offer a touch screen laptop or desktop computer? Why does Apple still sell tiny smartphones? This is all a part of engineered discontentment.

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