Back in the good old times, you could swap a VW Beetle engine in just over a minute or improvise a fan belt out of pantyhose. A new S-class Mercedes Benz has 64 ECUs and a Nissan GT-R’s factory tires are filled with nitrogen. I don’t even want to guess how many degrees you’d need to work on a Tesla.
While a modern car is arguably a better product than the car of the past, they’ve in some cases become impossible to fix unless you’re a mechanic with expensive diagnostic tools and specialized expertise. A simple battery jump start might fry all the electronics and effectively write off the car. The shift in who can fix what, whether it be intentional or unintentional, has clearly tilted from the consumer to the dealership.
The same trend can be observed in laptops and smartphones. Way back in 2003 (two years before YouTube launched), Casey Neistat and his brother Van Neistat filmed the viral hit “iPod’s Dirty Secret” where Casey was quoted over 200$ for a refurb when his iPod’s battery died and then proceeded to stencil Apple posters in NYC with this fact. While all old Nokia phones had a removable battery, that hasn’t been the case for most smartphones for years. MacBook Pros have had a fixed battery for years and the 2016 model has soldered storage and memory chips, making upgrading impossible. Again, a clear shift of power from the consumer to the manufacturer.
What’s going on here? Is it planned obsolescence? Is it designing without compromise? Is it both? Should or can consumers do something about it? Are we at a point where technology becomes obsolete so fast there’s no point in fixing it? Should Apple sacrifice a few millimeters and a few grams to make their devices more modular?
Right now I have a lot of questions and not very many answers.