15 April 2011

Q: Is there something like planned obsolescence?

For those of you who do not know what this is all about:
Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a productwith a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period. (Wikipedia)
Let me tell you a little story from "real" life:
I once bought an iPod. You know that little thing, where you can store music and hear it whenever you want. I bought a big one: The classical iPod. And it worked for me. I used it everyday not only to listen to my music but also to podcasts, news, radio plays and audio books. It was handy and worked for hours without recharging.

Until the accumulator started to show its age. That's natural. Batteries can only be recharged up to 1000 - 1500 times. Normally  you open that secret door, change battery and life begins again. But where to open. Of course the internet is your friend and you stumble upon various videos, where the exchange is explained. You have to look really for your iPod for every iPod has a slightly different way to open the case.

I found the right one and there was a warning, that it would be difficult. The case is constructed from aluminium. (Looks nice and has a gentle, but cool touch) They also used special tools to open it. Ok, I am not faint at heart and have a lot of experience in opening tuna fish cans, radios, ... I tried it, but I failed. The "bad" trick was, that you really need the special tools and you have to know where that special "hinges" are, which are distributed around the case. The only achievement I got was a damaged case, but the battery was still in that iPod.

To make that story short: I could have exchanged the iPod against a refurbished model by Apple - costs more than a middle new iPod or give it to someone who only changed the battery for less money - which I did.

Q: What is the problem?
A: When I look at my reactions in the last years to this kind of problem:
Oh, that's broken! No problem, buy a new one. Repair costs more than a replacement
 I really had no problem. In the last week I got stuck. It was not only the iPod.

  •  I had to replace batteries in old computers (no problem, there were easy to replace if I found the new one) 
  • I had to replace the battery from my watch. Had to go to the watch-maker to change.
  • I wanted to replace 4 button cells in various equipment. Mostly without success. Could not find the right size, could not open, batteries were soldered
  • This is an ongong story
And when I think about all that fantastic iPads, Xoom, eReaders. They cost a lot of money and time is ticking. You can exactly calculate when doomsday will come and you have to decide whether to buy a new one or bite into the carpet to finance a costly repair.

OK, there is still a new business model: You buy a gadget and you buy an insurance for nearly the same price that will cover repairs for 2-3 years. And after that? Buy a new one.

Still don't know what is going on: I work most of the time on computers which are between 12-6 years old. And they are going strong. And there was although used daily nearly no problems. (I tend to drop them on the floor. But you can heal (nearly) everything with a little piece of adhesive tape.)

So I made up my mind: If I cannot disassemble a gadget by myself, it will never be mine. And I will not buy it until I must. So I am coming back to the good old days of amateur radio and especially QRP

If it is possible build your gadgets by yourself. 
  • You will know how they work,.
  • They have no planned obsolescence. 
  • They are more fun to use.
  • They cost less.
Of course there are some things which are out of reach for homebuilding, but I can check if these products 
  • are really necessary to keep me going,
  • are technical and mechanical as simple as possible, 
  • can be repaired by a technician (not only by the producer)
OK, I know it is a dream, but I can try to fulfill it.