Posted by: dtarraso | 1 December, 2009

Planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence, or built in obsolescence, is a manufacturing decision by a company to make products obsolete after a period of time or amount of use. Planned obsolescence ensures that clients will have to buy the product several times.

We can find examples of planned obsolescence in the early 30s in the USA. One example involved the General Electric company, and how their engineers proposed to increase their sales in flashlights by making their life shorter. They suggested that bulbs should last a third as long as they were originally designed.

There are different kinds of planned obsolescence: style obsolescence, technical obsolescence, notification obsolescence…

Planned obsolescence has become routine for companies to increase profit, but it shouldn’t be that way. Consumers have the right to know the death-date of the products that they´re buying. At the same time, planned obsolescence is presenting an other ethical debate: products should last longer in order to preserve the environment.



  1. Thank you Dolo. I completely agree with you. It is really annoying because when we were little things lasted for ages and now it seems natural that we have to buy new gadgets every few years.

  2. 2 Types of planned obsolescence
    2.1 Functional obsolescence

    Planned functional obsolescence is a type of technical obsolescence in which companies introduce new technology which replaces the old. The old products do not have the same capabilities or functionality as the new ones. For example a company that sold video tape decks while they were developing DVDs were engaging in planned obsolescence. That is, they were actively planning to make their existing product (video tape) obsolete by developing a substitute product (DVDs) with greater functionality (better quality). Another example isthe replacement of telegraphs with telephones.

    Associated products that are complements to the old products will also become obsolete with the introduction of new products. For example video tape holders saw the same fate as video tapes and video tape decks. Likewise, buggy whips became obsolete when people started traveling in cars instead of buggies.
    2.2 Systemic obsolescence

    Planned systemic obsolescence is the deliberate attempt to make a product obsolete by altering the system in which it is used in such a way as to make its continued use difficult. For example new software is frequently introduced that is not compatible with older software. This makes the older software largely obsolete. For example, even though an older version of a word processing program is operating correctly, it might not be able to read .doc files from newer versions. The lack of interoperability forces many users to purchase new programs prematurely. The greater the network externalities in the market, the more effective is this strategy.

    Another way of introducing systemic obsolescence is to eliminate service and maintenance for a product. If a product fails, the user is forced to purchase a new one. This strategy seldom works because there are typically third parties that are prepared to perform the service if parts are still available.


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