Apple’s planned obsolescence strategy: the coolness factor

Khoi Vhin makes a good point about Apple products in Built to Not Last:

Some objects look better when you use them more, but not Apple stuff. Every scratch, scuff, ding and crack serves to alienate us a little bit further from the hardware we own, and to make us yearn a bit more for the newer, more pristine hardware we have yet to buy.

I will go further and say that this is all part of Apple’s planned obsolescence strategy:

[A] policy of planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete, that is, unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time.

What’s interesting about Apple’s version of this well-known policy is how they limit the “useful life” of their products. Planned obsolescence usually refers to things that are manufactured to break after a certain period of time — hence the classic joke about how your washing machine always breaks down a day after the warranty runs out. In contrast, Apple’s products (usually) don’t break after a certain period of time — they become uncool. And they do so by design.

Apple is famous for having no fear about cannibalizing their own products. The classic example is the iPhone, which has vastly reduced the number of iPods being sold. A side benefit of this approach is the planned obsolescence it introduces into the ecosystem. They continue to make cooler products without worrying about killing off one of their own in the process. This makes their old products look uncool, which “forces” users to upgrade to the latest thing.

It’s a devious, brilliant strategy.