The Right to Repair
September 10, 2015 8:40 PM   Subscribe

WSJ Personal Tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler: We Need the Right to Repair our Gadgets.

After the article, hit the comments to read first person stories of planned obsolescence and unnecessary purchases that have to be made on everything from appliances and door locks to windshield wipers and televisions. The Digital Right to Repair Coalition has more information.
posted by cashman (48 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
from the first link:

There’s a fight brewing between giant tech companies and tinkerers that could impact how we repair gadgets or choose the shop where we get it done by a pro. At issue: Who owns the knowledge required to take apart and repair TVs, phones and other electronics? Manufacturers stop us by controlling repair plans and limiting access to parts. Some even employ digital software locks to keep us from making changes or repairs. This may not always be planned obsolescence, but it’s certainly intentional obfuscation.

there oughta be a law etc ...
posted by philip-random at 8:47 PM on September 10, 2015

The notion that limiting repairs is planned obsolescence is an “urban myth,” says Walter Alcorn, the CEA’s vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability.

It's not an urban myth so much as an overgenerous assumption: That their products are crap on purpose.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 PM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

All of which raises an important question: Why didn’t Samsung just point me to instructions or provide the needed parts?

Hah, because the existence of "capacitors" and "solder suckers" were new to you until you started writing this article.

Samsung isn't going to recommend a course of action that has even the slightest chance of causing electrical burns and/or burning your house down.
posted by sideshow at 9:17 PM on September 10, 2015 [21 favorites]

Yeah, I'm curious what the liability implications would be for companies to recommend people repair their own electronics. There is definitely potential for serious harm, either directly (people not disconnecting things first!) or indirectly (fires, shorts). Even beyond damage to the product itself.
posted by thefoxgod at 9:20 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm all for repairability but I can tell you from experience that a ton of Apple's "non-repairable" devices are that way because they have things like unshielded power supplies that take time to discharge even after power has been disconnected, or exposed soft-cell batteries that catch fire when punctured and the electrolyte is exposed to oxygen. Even working in a safe-ish environment where people knew what they were doing, I've seen people hurt by the dangerous guts of those shiny boxes.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:23 PM on September 10, 2015 [23 favorites]

There are also groups that home-brew repair instructions and advice in person, like a Repair Cafe I attended last week in Palo Alto, Calif.

yes, conveniently if you live in Silicon Valley where there's an electrical engineer every 20 feet and one of them probably designed the gadget you need fixed, this is a good repair strategy.

The other 99% of the planet may not find this quite so trivially easy.

When I was ready to plug the reassembled TV back in, my curious colleagues kept their distance—no one believed a TV was the kind of thing you could fix yourself. But when it turned on immediately, wild applause erupted.

Plugging things into the 120V mains is actually pretty damn dangerous which is why places like UL exist. Your colleagues were quite right to stand back.

Anyway, yes, I have an ifixit poster up around the house somewhere, I have fixed a cheap touch-to-turn-on lamp by replacing a failed triac and I do agree that more stuff should get fixed. That said, labour costs are expensive in the US, DIY isn't for everyone and repairing electronics is easy when it's easy and really, really hard when it's not. I don't know if one successful cap transplant generalizes into making things more repairable. A failed PSU on a TV is a somewhat dangerous thing to mess with.

I'd be happy with a law requiring mandatory disclosure of GPU specs so I don't have to keep dealing with kernel blobs and crap Android OEM customizations.
posted by GuyZero at 9:28 PM on September 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I mean --- I've fixed a lot of stuff myself. And making parts and info available is great. But I am really curious where the responsibility (legally and arguably ethically) comes in. On the one hand, car manufacturers make parts and info available in some cases, and clearly that can be extremely dangerous to repair yourself. But I am not sure if there are specific exemptions for some products, or if self-repair is generally free from liability issues by companies, or only if they actually recommend you fix it yourself....
posted by thefoxgod at 9:28 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I do find it interesting that when I enter "planned obsolescence" into my Chrome browser, the first prompt I get from Google is "apple".
posted by philip-random at 9:48 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

The other 99% of the planet may not find this quite so trivially easy.

Came in to say that its probably the other way around, given environments of material and resource scarcity where every scrap of precious finds its way to be re-used, re-purposed, re-furbished, and definitely re-paired. I will go and dig up links and citations for this and will return to comment on REculture.
posted by infini at 9:53 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is just to kickstart and only one documenter. There are many others.
posted by infini at 10:09 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Of all the companies to accuse of planned obsolescence, Apple seems like a really unfair target. Their products generally have a far longer useful lives than those of their competitors, and they have great resale value.

I actually can't think of any companies that can plausibly be accused of planning obsolescence, though many of them give almost no thought to long term support or durability. That's just because they don't make good products, not because they're purposely making their stuff worse so you'll buy new versions.
posted by The Lamplighter at 10:46 PM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Given that planned obsolescence is an embedded part of the NPD process, and has been since the concept was invented by the industrial designer Brooke Stevens in the late 1950s/60s, I'd be curious to see more documentary evidence of your assertion, The Lamplighter
posted by infini at 11:01 PM on September 10, 2015

pretty much everything I know about planned obsolescence (other than knowing it makes me rage sometimes) I learned from the wiki.

Interesting that it seemed to have started ...

in 1924 when the American national automobile market began reaching saturation. To maintain unit sales, General Motors head Alfred P. Sloan Jr. suggested annual model-year design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year, an idea borrowed from the bicycle industry, though the concept is often misattributed to Sloan.[4] Critics called his strategy "planned obsolescence". Sloan preferred the term "dynamic obsolescence".

I wonder if this "annual model-year design changes" is more in line with what goes on at Apple than deliberately building shoddy products that are designed to fall apart.
posted by philip-random at 11:18 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

There are regulatory precedents: The OBD-II diagnostics interface present in modern cars are due to pressure from the state government of California by way of CARB, to enable non-affiliated garages to work on newer vehicles.
posted by Harald74 at 11:29 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

philip-random, your cite made me go back and dig up the relevant wiki, seems there was controversy over Brooke Stevens' contribution. Natural that I'd have learnt design history instead

Though he is often cited[5] with inventing the concept of planned obsolescence (the practice of artificially shortening product lifecycle in order to influence the buying patterns of consumers in favor of manufacturers), he did not invent it but rather popularized the term. Stevens defined it as "instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary". His view was to always make the consumer want something new, rather than create poor products that would need replacing.[6] There is some debate over his role in this controversial business practice.[7]

Seems to fit your musing on Apple's product development strategy
posted by infini at 11:31 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm not learned and talented enough to take on these sorts of challenges, although I did used to open up older Macs and replace and scavenge parts. But the idea that a smartphone -- a pocket-sized computer that also makes phone calls -- should be tossed aside every couple of years for a new one aggravates me tremendously. Where is it getting tossed? Who is breaking it down for pennies a day? How much of it ends up in a landfill?

A few months ago, the fan on my four-year-old HP laptop gave up the ghost. I called the top repair shop in the city. Their advice was to dump the computer and buy a new one rather than replace the fan. When I pressed them, they quoted an outrageous price which I'm convinced was meant to make me go away, and it worked. I had to do a lot of calling around to find someone willing and capable of switching out a simple fan for a reasonable price. (If I had a desktop model, I'd have done it myself; laptops are dense, though.)

I like new stuff, too, but I hate our throwaway society.
posted by bryon at 11:41 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm curious where all the reports are from the engineers on their deathbeds where they are forced to make things that intentionally break. Surely one must have been willing to narc on their employer.

Or maybe the desire for cheap stuff is so strong that they need to make cheap shit so people can get the cheap shit they desire.
posted by johnpowell at 11:51 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Why is planned obsolescence necessarily and always a bad thing? Nobody's convinced me of this yet; everybody just assumes that all it is is a symptom of consumer culture gone crazy. I'd say if something's going to be obsolete, you might as well plan for it.

For example, a little *more* planned obsolescence in AC units, fridges, and laundry dryers could save insane amounts of energy. People sometimes run these things for 20+ years and have no idea how much more efficient newer units are (and how fast the energy savings would offset the cost of a new one, both in terms of money and environmental cost).

Planning for obsolescence also means not wasting resources by ridiculously overbuilding one part of a system that's going to get thrown out because another part breaks. In a well-designed car, all components have similar design life, which is just good engineering.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 1:02 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

"Planned obsolescence" is one of those phrases that's fun on the internet, because when you see it there's a 99% chance that it means "I do not know what 'planned obsolescence' means." For some reason, people seem to think that making a product break prematurely will make people want to buy a new one, instead of what actually happens, which is that people start to regard that product (and, eventually, maker) as being flaky and unreliable and worth avoiding.

On the other hand, the reason why so much stuff isn't home-repairable anymore is because very few of the replaceable components are large enough to manipulate without specialized tools. The price of a laptop half an inch thick that weighs under three pounds is that the miniaturization required to accomplish this task necessarily mandates that the parts inside are going to be way too small for your lumpy, imprecise fingers to handle.

Strange that the people who complain about how you can't fix things anymore rarely also nostalgize about how great it was for TVs to weigh a hundred pounds and be as deep from front to back as they were tall.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:06 AM on September 11, 2015 [16 favorites]

kleinsteradikaleminderheit: " People sometimes run these things for 20+ years and have no idea how much more efficient newer units are"

There won't be that huge efficiency gain again over the next 20 years.
posted by Mitheral at 1:09 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

mending is better than ending.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:39 AM on September 11, 2015

Mitheral: Apart from the fact that you can't possibly know this, it's really just one example of many:

If you happen to have an older power adapter and a modern one around: Touch them, or just guess which one is warmer (hint: the new one is a switching power supply that wastes close to no energy.) Fixing the old one if it breaks means continuing to burn a couple of pointless watts for years to come. If you live in a hot place, you actually waste it twice, because the next thing you do is pump the waste heat out with your AC.

Also, is anybody sad about the fact that incandescent light bulbs have a limited life? Pretty much the only way to get rid of them.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 1:57 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

mending is better than ending.
[WARNING] This phrase has been deprecated, and will be removed in the next version of the English language.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 2:30 AM on September 11, 2015

"Shame to let a good toaster get away over a frayed cord."
- Proposition Joe.
posted by colie at 2:53 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, is anybody sad about the fact that incandescent light bulbs have a limited life?

I'm pretty annoyed that every CFL or LED bulb I've bought in the past 10 years has been so crappily made that I'm lucky to get a couple of years (and in some cases, six months) before they fail. The promise that we'd never have to replace these things again was hugely overstated.
posted by pipeski at 3:06 AM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't have a problem with wanting gadgets to be repairable (in fact, I have replaced the capacitors in my own Samsung TV which was surprisingly easy), however, I certainly understand why they aren't repairable. If you were to create a graph with repairable on the Y axis and small, cheap and changing on the X axis, start with cell phones on the left, cars in the middle and airplanes on the right, I think you would see a line going up and to the right, and it makes a lot of sense. Something small and optimized for size is hard to repair, it likely won't have modular components, combine it with being inexpensive, you get something that's both hard to repair and potentially not worth repairing. Add in the fact that it's changed or improved over the last few years, there are even more reasons to buy new. Now cell phone have changed a lot in the last 25 years, I mean we've gone from something huge and expensive that acts solely as a phone to basically having pocket computer with access to all the world's data (and many smartphones have two cameras! I feel like I could have predicted one camera, but not two). Also, trying to make something modular typically increases cost, complexity, and adds fragility. Notice how replaceable batteries have disappeared on many phones and some laptops. The car has changed little in the 25 years, but most people have upgraded, as it often eventually makes sense to buy a new or less old car than continuing to repair an old car. A general aviation airplane is the exact opposite of the cell phone. There has been very little change in the last 25 years outside of use of composite materials and whole aircraft parachutes, of course there are things like GPS and XM Radio and Weather but those things are modular and literally meant to be upgradable as part of an airplane's avionics. Also, airplanes are expensive, big, and modular - and as a result I would posit possibly the most repairable thing there is. In fact, what other purchasable good comes with built in times for most of the individual components to indicate when you are supposed to overhaul them? Anyway, I'm not totally sure what my point is, other than probably pointing out the very obvious. This line of thought was triggered by reading an article the other day about how Socata TBM 700 airplanes built in 1991, today literally go for the same price they were offered for in 1991 (not adjusted for inflation). There is no antique or collectors value built in, in this case, that's just the value of the plane compared to other used or new planes. A new plane in this category might be 10% faster and 15% safer, and that's all you have to show for the last 25 years of general aviation improvements, vs a cell phone, just looking at the last 8 years of iPhones you are looking at 5-20x increase in speed, pixels, storage, ram, etc.
posted by ill3 at 3:10 AM on September 11, 2015

A friend and I fixed the fan on my laptop last year. It was not an economic repair - the fan cost a couple of quid, but the teardown and rebuild cost more in time (at his normal hourly rate - he's a freelance IT support guy) than a brand-new laptop.

The low cost of electronics and the very high degree of miniaturisation and complexity means it is very frequently cheaper and easier to just get a new one. But this has been true, more or less, for most of the history of transistorised electronics - and a good thing too, as it provided a steady supply of otherwise-unaffordable panels packed with useful parts to a penniless Devonian in the dark ages, which helped him teach himself how all this stuff worked.

Things are actually somewhat safer to repair these days than in the past: TVs no longer have 25 kilovolts in them, because they are no longer frigging particle accelerators in your front room, wattages are way down, and there are infinite how-to YouTube videos demonstrating things properly. You can buy almost any part online instantly, usually for very little, and service information is in many cases downloadable for free. And if you've ever tried to fix something from a crabby little circuit diagram printed on an A4 sheet, you will scream with delight when you can see the same information, next to the PCB layout, on a large monitor with as much zoom as you like.

The laptop - would not fix again. But my parents are still watching a top-of-the-line 40" Samsung LCD TV some six years after a friend of mine threw it out, because it took me half an hour to swap a capacitor.

Land of contrast, Kevin, land of contrast.
posted by Devonian at 3:13 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm pretty confident at least as far as refrigeration goes. We've both picked a lot of the low hanging fruit and the steps are bigger (IE a seer change from 4 to 8 is twice as hard as a change from 2 to 4 but both are a 100% change in efficiency). Refrigerators have gotten ~4x more efficient in the last 40 years. The Carnot cycle puts an absolute cap on efficiency of this equipment and the absolute max is less than 10 times the current. Short of a physics theoretical breakthrough of some sort affecting A/Cs, refrigerators and heat pumps operation I don't see them getting another 4x more efficient than current models. Especially when you consider some of the energy is consumed by the already 100% efficient electric heaters in frost free fridges.

We might be able to do something with electric dryers but I doubt it. Fundamentally you are evaporating water and are constrained by the physics of that. Microwave dryers might be a future thing that saves energy because they are only heating the water and not the clothes but even then I don't see a 2X increase. The NYT article speculates about a ~25% reduction.

Though maybe we can combine two functions. A heat pump clothes dryer could both cool your house and dry your clothes getting twice the work out the same watt.

pipeski: "Also, is anybody sad about the fact that incandescent light bulbs have a limited life?

I'm pretty annoyed that every CFL or LED bulb I've bought in the past 10 years has been so crappily made that I'm lucky to get a couple of years (and in some cases, six months) before they fail. The promise that we'd never have to replace these things again was hugely overstated.

I'm constantly amazed at the YMMV of CFLs. I don't think I've ever had one last less than 5 years barring mechanical damage and I'd guess more than half of the ones in my house are 9 years old (I replaced all the bulbs in my house with CFLs when I bought the place). I've only got 1 LED (a 1W in my deck/rear door fixture) but it has been going strong for 8 years now.
posted by Mitheral at 3:22 AM on September 11, 2015

Oh, meant to say also - test equipment is now ridiculously cheap and good. Things that were genuinely unaffordable to all but the richest hobbyist - fast storage oscilloscopes, spectrum analysers, microwave frequency generators, you name it - are now available on very modest budgets. And they tend to do much more than their antecedents: I have a test bench at home with more capabilities than the one I used in the 80s when I was in the whoosh-bang-nasty industry. That cost, at a rough guess, about as much as a family home at the time: the most expensive item on mine cost about the same as a month's rent for a room.
posted by Devonian at 3:30 AM on September 11, 2015

> In a well-designed car, all components have similar design life, which is just good engineering.

The Deacon’s Masterpiece or The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay: A Logical Story

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then of a sudden it — ah, but stay,
I’ll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, —
Have you ever heard of that, I say?

Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
Georgius Secundus was then alive, —
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock’s army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on that terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss shay.

Now in building of shaises, I tell you what,
There is always a weakest spot, —
In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,
In pannel or crossbar, or floor, or sill,
In screw, bolt, throughbrace, — lurking still,
Find it somewhere you must and will, —
Above or below, or within or without, —
And that’s the reason, beyond a doubt,
That a chaise breaks down, but doesn’t wear out.

But the Deacon swore (as deacons do,
With an "I dew vum," or an "I tell yeou")
He would build one shay to beat the taown
‘n’ the keounty ‘n’ all the kentry raoun';
It should be so built that it couldn’ break daown:
"Fer," said the Deacon, "’t’s mighty plain
Thut the weakes’ place mus’ stan’ the strain;
‘n’ the way t’ fix it, uz I maintain, is only jest
‘T’ make that place uz strong uz the rest."

So the Deacon inquired of the village folk
Where he could find the strongest oak,
That couldn’t be split nor bent nor broke, —
That was for spokes and floor and sills;
He sent for lancewood to make the thills;
The crossbars were ash, from the the straightest trees
The pannels of whitewood, that cuts like cheese,
But lasts like iron for things like these;

The hubs of logs from the "Settler’s ellum," —
Last of its timber, — they couldn’t sell ’em,
Never no axe had seen their chips,
And the wedges flew from between their lips,
Their blunt ends frizzled like celery-tips;
Step and prop-iron, bolt and screw,
Spring, tire, axle, and linchpin too,
Steel of the finest, bright and blue;
Throughbrace bison-skin, thick and wide;
Boot, top, dasher, from tough old hide
Found in the pit when the tanner died.
That was the way he "put her through,"
"There!" said the Deacon, "naow she’ll dew!"

Do! I tell you, I rather guess
She was a wonder, and nothing less!
Colts grew horses, beards turned gray,
Deacon and deaconess dropped away,
Children and grandchildren — where were they?
But there stood the stout old one-hoss shay
As fresh as on Lisbon-earthquake-day!

EIGHTEEN HUNDRED; — it came and found
The Deacon’s masterpiece strong and sound.
Eighteen hindred increased by ten; —
"Hahnsum kerridge" they called it then.
Eighteen hundred and twenty came; —
Running as usual; much the same.
Thirty and forty at last arive,
And then come fifty and FIFTY-FIVE.

Little of of all we value here
Wakes on the morn of its hundredth year
Without both feeling and looking queer.
In fact, there’s nothing that keeps its youth,
So far as I know, but a tree and truth.
(This is a moral that runs at large;
Take it. — You’re welcome. — No extra charge.)

FIRST OF NOVEMBER, — the Earthquake-day, —
There are traces of age in the one-hoss shay,
A general flavor of mild decay,
But nothing local, as one may say.
There couldn’t be, — for the Deacon’s art
Had made it so like in every part
That there wasn’t a chance for one to start.
For the wheels were just as strong as the thills
And the floor was just as strong as the sills,
And the panels just as strong as the floor,
And the whippletree neither less or more,
And the back-crossbar as strong as the fore,
And the spring and axle and hub encore.
And yet, as a whole, it is past a doubt
In another hour it will be worn out!

First of November, fifty-five!
This morning the parson takes a drive.
Now, small boys get out of the way!
Here comes the wonderful one-hoss shay,
Drawn by a rat-tailed, ewe-necked bay.
"Huddup!" said the parson. — Off went they.

The parson was working his Sunday’s text, —
Had got to fifthly, and stopped perplexed
At what the — Moses — was coming next.
All at once the horse stood still,
Close by the meet’n’-house on the hill.
First a shiver, and then a thrill,
Then something decidedly like a spill, —
And the parson was sitting upon a rock,
At half past nine by the meet’n’-house clock, —
Just the hour of the earthquake shock!

What do you think the parson found,
When he got up and stared around?
The poor old chaise in a heap or mound,
As if it had been to the mill and ground!
You see, of course, if you’re not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, —
All at once, and nothing first, —
Just as bubbles do when they burst.

End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That’s all I say.
posted by jfuller at 4:06 AM on September 11, 2015 [11 favorites]

A heat pump clothes dryer

These are actually a thing! Although there's no household cooling since the cold side is needed to condense the moisture out of the internal air.
posted by indubitable at 4:32 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Deacon’s Masterpiece or The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay: A Logical Story
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Jones, after dumping his computer after hearing that the new version has tint control: "Hackers, as a rule, do not handle obsolescence well."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:44 AM on September 11, 2015

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay [...]

I had not, as a matter of fact. Thanks :)
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 6:03 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

/44r\ 7As people have discussed above, there are two things people think of as "planned obsolescence": shoddy stuff that wears out quick or simply an aggressive development cycle always putting the newest and shiniest out before the luster's worn off the last iteration. For my part, the former seems less of an issue, as most name-brand gadgets honestly seem to last pretty well in my experience. But the latter kind of does interact, even for those of us who don't need the cutting edge, with our ability to enjoy at lest some of our gadgets.

Namely, anything which is dependent on device-specific software and which is expected to have periodic improvements thereto. I'm thinking particularly of cellphones, tablets, game consoles and set-top boxes. The existence of a new iteration doesn't hurt them, but the cessation of official support and development does. This happens to me regularly with phones: currently I own a Samsung Galaxy S3, which by any reasonable metric is a phone with modern specs (not top of the line, but definitely equal to mid-range current-generation phones). Samsung has announced that it will not be getting Android 5.0. Not, presumably, because it's not up to running 5.0, but because they've got three more recent phones in the Galaxy line to support, and they'd like people who want 5.0 to be buying one of those phones.

Now, as with repairs, there are homebrew solutions to this, but the point is that everyday consumers who don't hack their phones heavily have been basically abandoned, and that this is the life cycle of virtually every phone (or similar device). They end up obsolete supportwise long before they either wear out physically or are eclipsed in performance by the state of the art.
posted by jackbishop at 6:23 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year, an idea borrowed from the bicycle industry


I bought my current bicycle 20 years ago. Still works fine, looks like most every other bike out there aside from those gummybear colored fixies.
posted by chavenet at 7:04 AM on September 11, 2015

design changes to convince car owners that they needed to buy a new replacement each year, an idea borrowed from the bicycle industry


I bought my current bicycle 20 years ago. Still works fine, looks like most every other bike out there aside from those gummybear colored fixies.

I guess the bicycle market of 1924 was radically different from the bicycle market of today.
posted by ill3 at 7:26 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Part II - Nine Strategies From page 61, as shown on the scanned pages of the book.
posted by infini at 7:30 AM on September 11, 2015

You gotta fight for your right to parts, eh.
posted by scruss at 7:37 AM on September 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Now, as with repairs, there are homebrew solutions to this, but the point is that everyday consumers who don't hack their phones heavily have been basically abandoned, and that this is the life cycle of virtually every phone (or similar device). They end up obsolete supportwise long before they either wear out physically or are eclipsed in performance by the state of the art.

This actually reminds me of something I sort of wondered about the author, given that he didn't know about soldering and capacitors until he googled it, although he didn't actually come out and say anything that indicated he was confused on the point: phones are computer, and actually they are eclipsed in performance by the next generation by the time the companies drop support, because of Moore's Law and similar factors.

In the case of Android phones, that comes with the consumer expectation that they'll be able to run apps, and especially given that apps very often means games to the general public, processor matters. As someone who often has to consider performance on older hardware, it matters a whole heck of a lot and is honestly kind of hell to work around, and I imagine isn't much fun to directly support either.

Could it be different based on what consumers prioritize in buying smartphones and what they use them for? Sure, but it's ultimately a consumer-driven phenomenon as much as anything else.

Not, presumably, because it's not up to running 5.0

That's actually presuming a lot. There's an enormous difference in customer satisfaction when you take into account the difference between "running" and "running well on hardware with the power it was really designed around". There was a period a few years back where deciding what versions of Android and iOS you'd release your mobile game for was actually a really complicated decision that had to be carefully balanced. Apple and Google have since independently imposed some standards and cut down on the worst of the contortions, but it still needs to be taken into account. "How badly does our game suck to run on [old ass phone]?" is a perennial question, and after a certain point it can really suck to deal with for developers.

I think a lot of the people who feel generally as the article's author do are people who think of their phones as tiny Linux boxes. To a degree I sympathize, because that's how I'm prone to treating my phone and other smart devices, and it's frustrating. But on a broader level, they absolutely are not tiny Linux boxes and it's kind of naive to blame companies for having the development cycle they do, because phones are really tiny game consoles and AppleTVs and YouTube portals.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 7:43 AM on September 11, 2015

I'm pretty annoyed that every CFL or LED bulb I've bought in the past 10 years has been so crappily made that I'm lucky to get a couple of years (and in some cases, six months) before they fail. The promise that we'd never have to replace these things again was hugely overstated.

The elevated expectations is I think more marketing than engineering. Anyone around 30 years ago will recall well the widely-trumpeted robustness and effectively immortal lifespan of CDs -- I recall it was regularly proclaimed that you could take one to the park, have your dog chase it Frisbee-style all afternoon, and then pop it back into the player and get perfect resolution. In practice... well, this is not exactly the case.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:57 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

For some things, such as phones, it's pretty clear that manufacturers have also come to design their products with the average lifespan of the product in mind. If most people replace their phones every two years, it's not *evil* to design your phones to last just over two years, it's a smart choice. A longer-lasting design would cost more, thus fewer people would buy it - and most would get rid of it before they get the benefits from being more durable anyway.

I'm not saying I agree with it, by any means - the environmental impact from products not lasting as long is horrendous, and now is a time when we really need to move toward sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. But if you look from a business perspective, it makes complete sense without needing to look for ulterior motives.

From a different perspective, I bought my first pinball machine earlier this year. Here's a machine meant to have a couple year lifespan for the point of making money for the owner, and now it's 20+ years old and in my house. So I've been learning a lot of these repair skills I didn't have before. I've had to solder wires and connectors and circuit boards. Replace components of various mechanisms. Troubleshoot electrical issues. I bought a nice soldering station and learned how to use it, and the value of both a solder sucker and desoldering braid. I've discovered how not to be afraid of something complex, that I'm going to "break" it, and that it's just a matter of digging in.

It does make me wonder how many of the things that are made today without expectations that they'll really last will still be going strong in 20 years with people to care for and repair them.
posted by evilangela at 8:34 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think the "right to repair" is a bad way to approach the whole question of access to information about how devices work. It's more like "right to extract the full value from your property". Maybe coupled with "right to know what you're buying before you pay".

In some cases, that does mean keeping things running beyond their design lifetimes. I have a 3+ year old high end Android phone that's running Lollipop just fine, and runs every app I care to use just fine. When that's no longer true, I'll replace it. And the reason that it's running Lollipop is that I was able to install software I got from sources other than the manufacturer. I also have a bunch of old devices repurposed for various random things.

But in other cases, it means things like being able to modify and improve the device, either in hardware or in software, with or without third party help. Because the manufacturer's idea of "working fine" may not be the same as mine. And I don't know if there's planned obsolescence out there, but I do know that there's tons of artificial crippling of functionality.

And in still other cases, it means being able to understand the security posture of the device. There are way too many black boxes out there. If I can't know what the thing is doing, and nobody I trust can audit it either, it's impossible for me to trust it, which means I can't use it for lots of things, and I have to put lots of walls around it.

As a security person, I'd be thrilled to see the law require total disclosure of every design document, every service manual, every drawing, every netlist, every PCB layout, every chip mask, every evaluation report, and every line of code in everything offered for sale. And the total elimination of legal protection for trade secrets. I'm confident that business would adapt.
posted by Hizonner at 9:26 AM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Planned obsolescence is just fact. What the official motivation behind it is isn't all that important, IMO. It is planned. It's written right into the requirements documents before a product even exists.

Of course manufacturers can argue that they're just predicting the lifespan in order to design the product efficiently, and not to artificially stimulate future purchases. The primary tool for introducing obsolescence is usually more marketing driven, and that tactic works well enough on its own. The technical obstacles really only catch up the stragglers and manage consumer expectations.

You're not going to see the expected lifespan specs as a consumer, but if you buy a battery-operated product with a sealed battery compartment, or, as with Apple, with those one-off screwhead designs, your product is probably designed to last about as long as the battery at best. If you can't open and repair something, it is designed to last as long as the shortest lived component. Anything designed with unnecessary proprietary parts is designed to stimulate future purchases, too.

I remember back when the DMCA was being passed, people didn't believe me when I told them that it had provisions that meant that you could legally purchase a product and then not be allowed to do otherwise legal things with it. Someone even called it a conspiracy theory.

But now, it's a given. The idea of opening up your consumer electronics to modify or repair them has become foreign and even kind of suspect. Not twenty years ago, people thought that being prevented from doing what you want with your stuff was so absurd as to be unbelievable, and now it's more like the opposite.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:38 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, people tend to associate planned obsolescence with phones these days, but that's really a byproduct of Moore's law - if each generation of phones has 2x to 5x the processing power of the generation before it, no one is going to build phones to last 20 years.

But look at other consumer goods - I have a German AEG washer/dryer set that's lasted 15-ish years so far and I've replaced the washer motor bushes, the water distributor and the dryer drive belt all myself. They're in great shape. I expect to easily get another decade or more out of them.

My car is now 10 years old and it still runs fine. Cars are the avatars of planned obsolescence but they have longer lifespans than ever. My kids have a 5-ish year-old MacBook Pro which is a heck of a good lifespan for a consumer laptop. MacOS has been remarkably stable over the last several years actually and I feel like I could use it as it is today for a long time to come.

TVs are in a fuzzy place - big flat-screen TVs are no longer novelties and aren't improving enough to justify being replaced all that often. I bought my first flat screen only a couple of years ago and I hope to have it... well, indefinitely. I honestly hope to never replace this TV but we'll see how that goes.
posted by GuyZero at 9:44 AM on September 11, 2015

A Galaxy S3 would run Lollipop fine, at least absent TouchWiz. It launched with ICS and has an official Jelly Bean upgrade (some variants have KK even). Both KitKat and Lollipop require less of the hardware than JB and ICS, with the exception of the GPU. The S3, unlike the S and S2, has a good enough GPU to handle the GPU-assisted compositing and other GPU offload that has been added since JB.

I totally understand why they don't want to continue to support such an old phone, especially given the massive number of devices they release every year, but the lack of continued support (or abandonment of the users to malware, depending on your perspective) is not due to hardware requirements, it is due to business requirements.

There are some other devices where there are legitimate issues outside the manufacturer's control that preclude supporting a newer release, whether due to specs being too low or hardware drivers not being available or licenses not covering a new release. The driver situation is one case where the argument that the community can make a release really doesn't disprove that there is an issue with a fully supported OEM release. Old drivers will sometimes run on newer kernels, but often at the cost of stability, glitches, or other issues that can't be worked out without source code.

In Apple's case, what annoys me is less that they eventually stop releasing new OS versions for devices, but that they eventually stop supporting the App Store on the old devices. This significantly reduces the functionality of a device that may otherwise be working perfectly. In the case of everything iOS device since the OG iPhone, they are taking away a feature that was promised at the time of sale. There is no real reason they could not maintain the old API versions and even back versions of apps that work on older iOS releases. Again, that lack of support is a business decision, not an issue with the hardware itself.
posted by wierdo at 10:31 AM on September 11, 2015

Binary drivers also exist only "due to business requirements".
posted by Hizonner at 10:48 AM on September 11, 2015

But not those of the OEMs.
posted by wierdo at 10:55 AM on September 11, 2015

I repaired mainframe computers at a time when some of those repairs involved replacing a transistor. Now some parts cost dozens of thousands of dollars. The advancements in technology mean more stuff is being packed into smaller parts, and usually with better reliability- electronics more often fail at the connectors- the fewer pieces, the more reliability. When you put an entire processor on a chip, the mean-time-between-failure is going to be better than when it was on 1000 cards on 50 boards in 3 different frames.

It is now rarely cost-effective to repair most consumer goods, because of the costs of assembly lines VS. the cost of repair (by hand). Designing repairability is an added cost. It's only done when it's worthwhile. When things are expected to break, they are made to be easier to repair. Cars, for example.

People (with money) are less likely to fix things these days, and there is less of a culture of repair. When was the last time you darned a sock?
When I was a kid, I remember tube testers in my drug store. You could take the tubes out of your radio or TV and bring them to the store, test them and buy replacements. Because it wasn't that unusual for a person to open up the high-tech devices of the day to fix them, despite the thousands of volts lying in wait there. Whereas I got criticized in an AskMe for advising someone how to repair their rice cooker, because it was dangerous.
(I do hope she didn't electrocute herself or burn her house down)
posted by MtDewd at 11:39 AM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

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