The phenomenon of the obsolete product has become more and more prevalent in our times. As the growth and development of technology expands exponentially many many products are left trailing in the wake of newer, faster, shinier, and ever more capable equipment. Above all other developments it is the smartphone that has rapidly, repeatedly advanced and in doing so doomed a range of other products to obsolescence.
Obsolescence is the condition of passing out of use or usefulness despite remaining in good working order or able to serve purpose. This passing occurs primarily in two ways; planned and technical. Planned obsolescence is a business strategy whereby a product is designed to fail within a certain amount of time, creating a need for the consumer to replace that product. This creates repeat business and, where technology is concerned, assumes that within that time advances will have occurred and a new version of that product will be available, consumers are induced to upgrade. Technical obsolescence is a process of becoming obsolete that is the result of technological advances rendering a product less useful or less convenient, a new product superseding the old.
Examples of technical obsolescence abound in our society, ever obsessed as we are with the newest version. Ultimately, we seek convenience through these advancements, which is leading a drive for the condensation of products and services. Additionally products must be simpler and smaller so they can perform on-the-go to suit our frantic, ambulatory lifestyles. To summarise, convenience is key so absolutely everything must be portable.
The way that we use phones, for example, has changed dramatically in the 40 years since Motorola first demonstrated the use of a handheld mobile phone in 1973. Mobile phones are now dominant to the extent that we are beginning to see the decline of the landline. Young people moving into new homes reportedly eschew landlines in favour of sole use of their personal phones. Furthermore the unstoppable rise of the smartphone has made the mobile phone the epitome of the multitasking product, our phones are now so much more than a telephone. Able to organise our lives with calendars and alarms they eliminate the need for standalone versions of products. In many functions the smartphone not only supplants but vastly improves upon a product it is replacing. Smartphones don’t just make maps as we knew them accessible anywhere but also make them easily searchable, able to find and use your current location, will remember locations you frequent and can even provide custom travel routes. All this just from the maps application, it’s no wonder that a veritable host of products are being rendered obsolete by the smartphone.
The relentless move towards obsolescence for those products the smartphone replaces sees a minor, momentary stalling in the current need to strike a balance between capability and size for the smartphone. At once we desire the smartphone to function as any product you might conceivably need, and still fit into a pocket. So some struggle is seen in developing smaller versions of features like the camera and, most vitally, the battery which remain durable and of a high quality. In addition as the phone does more the most desirable size for the screen to be is tested and debated. The product must remain excessively portable and yet we also require a certain size of screen in order for viewing photos, videos, documents etc pleasantly.
All in all, alongside the rise of the smartphone to dominance we see an increase in the number of products rendered obsolete by this one unbelievably convenient gadget. Undoubtedly we will see many more products fall at the hands of the smartphone before it suffers the fate of technical obsolescence itself, an event which is certainly a long long way off. For the moment we can only hope to trust the intransigence of the retro and revival brigades to allow us continuing enjoyment of products that are in the unstoppable process of becoming obsolete.
What do you think the smartphone will eliminate next?