Is Apple Trying To Break Your Old iPhone?

Hey, remember that time you were like: "God, I just love my two-year-old iPhone?" Nope, because that's never been said. After a year with the iPhone 4, I knew we were growing apart: weary and lethargic, it hesitated a minute or so before opening any application, as if knowing it might not be able to handle the pressure. Phone calls were risky: "WHAT?" my father bellowed down the phone, his voice consumed by random scratching sounds. "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" One day, I felt like living on the edge, so I upgraded to iOS 7. Suddenly, everything went wrong: my iPhone embarked on a rampage of self-destruction, destroying my contacts and photos at will. I thought wistfully of my Nokia 3300, which had been sturdy and reliable as a brick.

Apple must've sensed my disillusion. On Sept. 20, it unveiled the 5S and 5C, shiny and candy-colored and — according to those clean, reassuring ads — ever so speedy. I could make a return to Angry Birds, I thought excitedly. I could text my friends again. I could get my life back. No longer would Apple hold me hostage; no longer would I be found stabbing sadly at my phone for signs of life.

I'd heard of a "trade-in" program, so I logged onto Apple's website. I knew Tim Cook and co had my back on this one. And then this happened.


And I'm not the only one. After Apple rolled out its "revolutionary" iOS 7, the only revolution that many older-model owners witnessed was a hostage situation with their cell phones. Put simply, Apple develops software for its latest edition of hardware. If you're stuck with an older device, which won't properly run the newest operating system, you can buy a new device, or you can suck it. (NB: not direct Apple quote.)

The phrase "planned obsolescence" is often thrown around in regard to Apple. "Planned obsolescence," a shifty retail tactic that's been used by manufacturers for decades, is the strategy of designing a wonderful product that will ultimately self-destruct so that the consumer is forced to buy it again. And again. And again. Conspiracy theorists have been loudly shouting that Apple is the king of planned obsolescence for years, and several lawsuits have been brought against Apple for that reason alone.

A new iPhone battery, for example, only actually works effectively for less than a year before it begins to fail. Why? Well, it's a two-pronged issue: the hardware begins to fail, plus it won't be compatible with Apple's latest software. Sure, Apple is happy to replace your battery, but they'll charge you $86 for the pleasure, take your phone for a week, and wipe your phone's memory to boot. There's no other way to speed up your iPhone, because it's designed to be un-DIY-able. The other option is to buy a newer model, which, if you take into account long-term contract costs, will probably only cost you another ten bucks a month. Sooo, you buy a new one.

The IFixIt blog rages:

Apple wins either way. They’re not selling us phones—they’re leasing them to us! This isn’t just planned obsolescence—this is planned failure. Apple is making billions by selling us hardware with a built-in death clock. It is designed to fail after 400 cycles, conveniently coordinated with their annual hardware release cycle. Dead, hard to replace battery every year. New iPhone every year.

From a very irate Netonomy:

There is a reason for this cycle to happen. The reason is profit. In order to keep the cash coming Apple, and any other large company for that matter, needs to keep its customers coming back to buy more. There is no stopping the money-making machines. Profits need to keep coming, people need to keep buying. Otherwise we stumble upon recessions.

It's all getting a bit Fight Club for us there — but even the New York Times has some very pissed-off iPhone users wading into the debate.

To conspiracy-theory-hungry observers (and some of the rest of us), it might make sense that Apple would employ this business strategy. The tech giant, after all, has reached near-saturation levels in the U.S. smartphone market. If iPhones work forever, people who already own the devices­ won’t buy new ones. Furthermore, selling products with finite life spans can be good for consumers, depending on their tastes and how informed they are.

At Apple's latest press conference, the company's VP of marketing, Phillip Schiller, lovingly traced the cover of Apple's brand-new iPad Air, which weighs in at a pound. "Isn’t it amazing how something new makes the previous thing instantly look old?" he asked.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Well, "amazing" is one word for it.

There's another reason that this strategy would work: Apple markets itself as a luxury-goods company, not a technology company. This is important. Apple's marketing is similar to that of, say, diamonds, which retailers typically sell at 50 to 200 percent of what it costs to obtain them. And it works. If we believe that a product is the very best edition of the thing we want to buy — a Jaguar car; Fiji water; a Hermès bag — we'll separate with almost any amount of money to own it, however gigantic we know the product mark-up to be.

It's why Apple hired YSL's chief designer, and Levi's vice president of retail, who aren't obvious choices to head up a tech corporation. Few people claim that Android is a more capable line than Apple, but it is more affordable — the H&M to Apple's Burberry, if you like. And though that should technically be its strong point, it may also be why Apple is still recording record iPhone sales, quarter after quarter.

After the lukewarm reception to the iPhone 5S and 5C, retailers mysteriously found themselves "grotesquely short" of the models. In fact, the only place you could buy the newest iPhone for a few weeks was an Apple store — which led to all sorts of lines outside the flagship stores, and a short documentary film about said notorious lines to boot. Intentionally or not, that was the good press that Apple needed, and iPhone 5S sales promptly rocketed to record levels.

For the record: I will probably be buying a new iPhone 5S in the next few weeks.