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This might be the case for the iPhone. I'm skeptic that this is a general practice because on the surface, customers would just migrate to competing products...

Maybe this practice is common for products that are in the lead/have a monopoly?

From the Daily Mail:

A new study is backing up long held suspicions that Apple slows down older models of its iPhones to encourage users to buy a new release.

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In answer to the stated, rather than the implied question, the thing you're talking about is known as Planned Obsolescence. There are all sorts of indications that it happens sometimes. Admittedly, wikipedia is a very weak source, but the fact that there's an in-depth page on the practice, with a significant number of references, breakdown of different subtypes, and some historical analysis seems like a fairly reliable indication that it exists as a thing and is done sometimes in some places.

for a couple of more specific, reliable links:

Consumer Reports talks about a HP making a $5M settlement WRT printers that consumed ink cartridges more quickly than they should have.
https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2010/11/hp-inkjet-printer-lawsuit-reaches-5-million-settlement/index.htm

The initial proposal (back in 1932) https://web.archive.org/web/20120819154515/http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/London_%281932%29_Ending_the_depression_through_planned_obsolescence.pdf

IEEE talks about an early case, generated by collusion between major lightbulb manufacturers https://spectrum.ieee.org/geek-life/history/the-great-lightbulb-conspiracy/

Overall, it looks like in the current day, companies tend to avoid obvious cases of self-sabotage. Evidence suggests that it still happens (as in the case of HP), but is relatively rare, perhaps because they're punished (by the consumer and/or legal system) when caught. They're much more likely to degrade things in more subtle, defensible ways. In particular, a number of modern alterations offer some defensible advantage or other (slimmer, lighter, or whatever), while making repair and maintenance more difficult or impossible. Still making their product shorter-lived in order to reap the benefits of more frequent replacement, but in a manner much easier to explain away.

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    If you have no reliable information to answer the question, do not write an answer. – BobTheAverage Oct 12 '17 at 17:09
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    @BobTheAverage The actual question asked was whether or not Planned Obsolescence was a thing at all. It is indeed a thing, with a wealth of history behind it. I recognize that wikipedia is a weak source in general, but in this case, the fact that there's an in-depth page on the thing with a significant number of references and historical analysis seems like a fairly reliable indication that it exists as a thing. Do you feel that it's not adequate to demonstrate that there are some people who have done it some? – Ben Barden Oct 12 '17 at 18:14
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    @BobTheAverage if the question had been about the apple products rather than just referencing it when asking about the general case, I agree this would have been a terrible answer and I wouldn't have made it. – Ben Barden Oct 12 '17 at 18:17
  • @BobTheAverage on the other hand, i realize that that defense would actually improve the answer if tweaked and added directly, and I've modified my answer accordingly. – Ben Barden Oct 12 '17 at 18:22
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    The linked Wikipedia article has pretty low standards of evidence, including a fair number of unsourced claims. You might be able to improve your answer by sorting through the sources linked there and finding one or more with a high standard of evidence. – BobTheAverage Oct 12 '17 at 20:16
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Snopes covers this study quite well, which points out it produces no actual evidence that Apple is doing anything of the sort. What the study has proven is that people may generally be a bit more sensitive to the perceived 'slowness' of current generation Apple devices whenever Apple announces a new release.

The study (also featured in the NYTimes) looked at no source code nor did it study any technical feature. Rather it looked at Google Search trends related to specific keywords (e.g. "iPhone slow") and found a correlating increase in searches around Apple product launches.


For the more general question, yes, planned obsolescence is a thing and not just because companies want to make money (though that can be a motivating factor). For some products, making a cheap, disposable model is more economically feasible than making a rugged one that would last a lifetime. The general example for this is a laser pen that etches writings into paper (which would be prohibitively expensive the first time you misplaced it) versus a stick of wood with a graphite core.

  • if it's economically sensible for everyone including the consumer, it is IIRC called avoiding over-engineering rather than planned obsolescence. – cbeleites supports Monica Dec 1 '17 at 18:52
2

The question is about sabotage before sale, but the example given is Apple slowing phones down after they have been sold.

For examples of products sabotaged before sale, see DRM systems. Many products include DRM to prevent unauthorized copying or cheating (e.g. in online games), but it also tends to make the product worse.

Defects introduced by DRM include poorer performance in games and the inability to exercise your legal rights to make backup copies and format shift. Systems that require online authentication can cause the product to stop working completely when the service inevitably shuts down.

Another example is adding dots or other defects to movies to help determine where pirate copies originate from.

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    This doesn't address the claim. DRM, and similar features that target audiences other than the end customer, may have a negative impact on the end-user, but it is not their goal to do so, and the impact will be reduced as much as feasible. – Oddthinking Feb 14 at 12:59
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    @Oddthinking it doesn't matter what he goal is, the outcome is the issue. The legitimate buyer gets a sabotaged, gimped product while the pirate gets one that works and performs much better. – dont_shog_me_bro Feb 14 at 14:49
  • @Oddthinking Apple's stated goal in slowing things down is to avoid crashes. If the phone runs at full possible speed, it might overheat and shut down. Apple thinks this is more harmful than slowing the phone, and so at least intended to remove that behavior. I've seen no evidence that Apple's plan was to make the phone less usable. – David Thornley Feb 14 at 21:27
  • How far do we take this? My car requires me to carry a special key, when a third can carry general tools. Has my car been sabotaged? Perhaps the question is too unclear? – Oddthinking Feb 15 at 3:28
  • @DavidThornley The iPhone has a design flaw, in that the battery is unable to provide enough current when it ages. Most manufacturers check that the battery is able to deliver enough current for its entire lifetime. The claim that they are trying to help you by papering over this defect is laughable. However, it's not deliberate sabotage and I don't see what it has to do with my answer. – dont_shog_me_bro Feb 15 at 9:37

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