Apple unveiled its newest phone, the iPhone 13, on Tuesday. Naturally, it was received with the usual giddy delight.
It boasts a smaller notch, a revamped camera, Apple‘s latest A15 “bionic” CPU, and a brighter, clearer screen than the iPhone X. Since we’re on the subject of superlatives, the A15 features over 15 billion transistors and a “six-core CPU design with two high-performance and four high-efficiency cores,” according to the company.
Fantastic! But one thing: why would you buy this Wundermaschine?
There’s a corporate disorder called “planned obsolescence,” which is actively guaranteeing that the current version of a product becomes obsolete or unusable within a specified time frame.
It dates back to the mid-1920s, when the US car industry reached saturation point and Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors, devised a strategy to keep customers buying new cars.
He implemented annual visual design revisions, or “facelifts,” to persuade car owners to upgrade their vehicles every year. The cars themselves didn’t alter much in terms of their substance, but they did have a different appearance.
As a result, American cars in the middle decades of the twentieth century became known for their baroque absurdities – all that chrome, wild colors, fins, whitewall tyres, and other features that can now only be seen in museums or in Cuba.
Phone corporations may benefit from planned obsolescence, but it is terrible for customers’ finances and much worse for the environment because it encourages people to see their phones as disposable. No one knows exactly how much e-waste (electronic garbage) is produced each year, but one estimate put the figure at 53.6 million metric tonnes in 2019.
In terms of CO2 emissions, a 2018 Canadian university study found that manufacturing a new smartphone — specifically, mining the rare elements inside – contributes for 85 percent to 95 percent of the device’s total CO2 emissions over the course of two years. According to one report, “purchasing a new phone consumes the same amount of energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for a decade.”
Keeping your current phone would be healthy for both your wallet and the environment. But it’s easier said than done because the market isn’t set up to encourage retention, and phones aren’t built with reparability in mind.
Consider replacing the battery on a Samsung Galaxy S7, for example. Then go lie down in a darkened room while your partner wonders what you were thinking when you used the hairdryer.
The fundamental issue is that modern cellphones are designed as hermetically sealed, tightly integrated systems with “no user-serviceable components,” as the legal boilerplate puts it. Any attempt by the user to open the casing and gain access to the insides may void the warranty in some cases. According to the industry, this is the only way to go about it.
What is the story’s moral? Things don’t have to stay the same way they have been. And, before you go out and buy that flashy new smartphone, consider whether you (or the planet) really need it.