Apple’s Latest ‘Innovation’ Is Turning Planned Obsolescence Into Planned Failure

January 20, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle Wiens

We’re accustomed to planned obsolescence. New models come out every year—faster, shinier and just plain better. But before the iPhone, cell phones without user-replaceable batteries were almost unheard of. Apple realized that they could sell more phones if they built the phone with an integrated battery, prompting users to upgrade once the battery wore down. A phone isn’t very useful once you can’t take it away from the charger for more than an hour—which is guaranteed to happen with every iPhone. We’ve written extensively about Lithium-Ion batteries in the past—they’re wonderful technology, but they have a finite life of 300 to 500 cycles. If you’re like me and use up your battery completely every day, it’ll only last a year or so. (When I travel, I have to charge my phone at least twice a day.) Once the battery is worn down, it needs to be replaced—just like the light bulb in your refrigerator or the air filter in your car. Until the iPhone, all consumer product designs included a way to replace consumables. Apple’s consumer-hostile approach has turned product design on its head.

Charges are cumulative, and you do not have to completely discharge the battery every cycle.

Imagine if rather than shipping inkjet printers with replaceable ink cartridges, HP forced you to buy a new printer every 400 pages. Or if Ford told you to buy a new car after 40,000 miles rather than replacing the brake pads! We would never tolerate such wasteful engineering—and yet somehow Apple has suckered us all into an involuntary annual upgrade cycle.

Apple defends themselves by claiming that you can always pay them to replace the battery. That’s true—it’s $85.95, takes a week, and Apple will erase your phone’s memory during the procedure. That’s the only way. There are no other officially sanctioned options—Apple refuses to authorize any independent iPhone battery replacement centers. Their onerous replacement procedure is intentionally expensive, because they don’t want you to replace the battery. Apple wants you to buy a new phone—but if you insist on doubling its lifespan by replacing your battery, they want to make some money in the process. Never mind that iPhone batteries retail for just $20, and cost Apple far less than that.

Exploded view of the iPhone 4, battery highlighted in red

Users have two options: buy a new phone every year or so, or pay Apple $85.95 every year or so. 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.

The current iPod Shuffle is the worst example of this. Replacing the battery is almost impossible—in our teardown last fall, the new Shuffle earned the worst repairability score we’ve ever given . This is the first product Apple has ever shipped where their price for battery replacement ($49 + $6.95 shipping) is higher than the retail price of the product ($49, free shipping)! Apple has clearly given up on replacing batteries and is just shipping people a replacement. The Shuffle’s intended design life is exactly the same as its battery, with no hope for extending it.

While the environmental and human consequences of this business strategy are dire, the financial impact is also substantial. This policy helped Apple make six billion dollars in just the last three months.

Replacing iPhone batteries for fun, profit, and to stick it to the man

Fortunately, there’s a way to opt out of the annual hardware replacement cycle: replace your own battery. We’ve put everything in one place to make it as easy as possible—we have step-by-step replacement guides (original, 3G, 3GS, 4), tools, and batteries. Replacing your own battery saves you money, keeps expensive hardware from going to the landfill prematurely, and sends a message to manufacturers that you will not tolerate design for failure.

Apple sees self-replacement as a threat, and they are working on making it harder to open your own phone. That’s a battle that the iFixit community is prepared to fight.

67 Comments

  1. Apple’s free to tell me I have to replace an entire phone every year or two — as long as they can assure and certify that there’s no conflict-sourced coltan-derived tantalum used in their products. Man, creating an artifically high demand for such contentious metals that are linked to such dire suffering would be a serious dick move.

    Comment by HOJD — January 24, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

  2. I actually own two iPhones and I can say honestly one thing that covers apple and other phone makers. If you give a phone to my wife – she IS going to drop it. How about testing out a few other substances for the screen surface before you choose glass? I mean – I’m pretty sure if we look long enough we can find SOMETHING that is clear. Her battery has outlasted her screen by 500% so far…

    Comment by Kevin — January 25, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  3. I’ve an original iPhone and used it every day solid for the past 4 years and not a single problem with the battery! Not even a drop in charge! Deadly peice of kit and the best one so far!

    Also I’ll fight for ifixit!! I fixed my Mac and PS3 and if I have to buy more and more tool’s each year to fix my own kit witch I’m well capable of fixing my self and can show up guys in the Genius Bar any day of the week!

    Comment by Paddy — January 26, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  4. Upon reading this post I couldn’t believe my eyes. “they’re leasing them to us!” Are you kidding? Apple is selling a phone just like anyone else, and the battery happens to be not user replaceable, so now Apple is “leasing phones to us”. This whole post is a joke right? The only reason the battery isn’t replaceable is purely to achieve a simplistic, seamless design.

    It’s unfortunate, you just lost me as a customer.

    Comment by John Appleseed — January 27, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

  5. http://righttorepair.org/main/default.aspx
    This campaign by the independent car repair shops should be expanded to include ALL consumer-owned equipment, including Apple’s crapware.

    Everyone should take the time to fill in the form and send your politicianbots the message. righttorepair.org will handle the sending for all of us. Some politicianbots still haven’t got the Diebold and ES&S voting machines hacked to automatically make them win, so pay us enough attention to vote for us until they achieve complete vote control.

    Of course, like WOPR determined in “War Games”, the only course is NOT to play the game and simply stop buying Apple’s crapware until owners get COMPLIANCE with their wishes without this hacking nonsense.
    Sorry, just dreaming. The mesmerized masses cannot think for themselves.

    Comment by Larry — February 1, 2011 @ 7:16 am

  6. Had a scan through these posts and couldn’t help noticing that iFixit, as useful as it has always been to me whenever I’ve serviced an Apple product (from the original iMac G4 Luxo to Powerbooks and MacBook Pros) has changed its hitherto passive stance. Clearly there have been developments to bolster their business model by decrying the Apple practice of making their products as non user-servicable as possible. Fair play to Apple. And fair play to iFixit for making a bit of a song and dance in order to boost their profile.

    Most of the user comments seem to be on either side an emotionally defensive position. Personally, I carry on as before: wait for warranty to expire and then mod whatever is cost effective (new hard drive, replacement screen, batteries, ram upgrades, etc.). Apple is first port of call for warranty repairs (and they are GOOD at replacing defective iPhones – 4 so far!), iFixit is pretty much the oracle for everything else. iPhone batteries should last a long time (my 2G, 3G, and 3GS still going strong) but users should be aware of apps which cane the life out of them.

    Also, by the time batteries begin to fade in performance, most contracts are up for renewal anyway. iPhone 4G, see you in March, if only for your camera, baby!

    Apple products are generally beautiful and a joy to interact with, and they come with provisos. Just like my wife!

    Comment by Ghigo — February 1, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  7. It is simple, you buy if you want. Apple is not forcing anyone to buy their products.

    Comment by Marco — February 6, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

  8. Let me see here…

    Apple battery replacement: $89.95, parts (a NEW battery) and labor included.
    iFixit 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 8x Superdrive: $199.95 for a USED part, with no installation
    iFixit 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 keyboard: $99.95 for a USED part, with no installation
    iFixit 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4 DC-in board: $79.95 for a USED part, a part that is a power jack and a cable with a mere handful of line filter parts and a short cable, oh, and you still have to install it yourself or pay someone to do it.
    eBay 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4, 1.33Ghz, complete and working: $251.00
    eBay 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4, 1Ghz, complete and working: $167.50
    iFixit 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4, LCD display (display only, B Stock, USED): $149.95
    eBay 12″ Aluminum PowerBook G4, LCD assembly, complete w/case, bezel, cable, USED: $7.22

    I could go on for hours, but I think the point is made. I repair electronics for a living. Am I the world’s best? No, but Bang & Olufsen Authorized Service centers don’t suffer many fools either. I charge $55 and hour labor, and for the high-end audio market, that’s CHEAP. I’d gladly pay $89.95 to have someone else change the iPhone battery, that price is a BARGAIN. I also recycle good, used, tested parts, so I have a pretty good feel for the market value of used parts, and I can tell you the prices certainly don’t approach the retail prices for NEW replacement parts, as certain prices cited above certainly do.

    If you, or anyone else at iFixit wishes to write a scandalous article about high prices in the electronic repair and parts industry, perhaps you should start within your own walls (I bet the fact-checking on such an article would be much improved also).

    P.S. To anyone reading this, and getting this far, I apologize for the length (but thanks for staying with me), because the above could have been summarized in three words:

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    Comment by Don — February 7, 2011 @ 1:33 am

  9. @Don – Cmon… $89? My android phones battery is $29 at Tmobile and $15 on ebay…. no waiting a week (I can’t go a week without it!). No labor required! Plus, I can carry an extra battery with me if I want.

    Comment by Bobby — February 7, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

  10. You say a battery will last one year. I’m still using my 3G phone everyday since 2008, and it lasts the full day. MoveOn.org with your article…

    Comment by Santiago — February 9, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  11. I have been noticing this trend with Apple for a while and, I am disappointed that Apple is so anti-customer but we have a choice and we can vote our displeasure with our $. I have several Apple products but I am already looking at Android as an open source and more customer friendly alternative.My next phone will not be an Apple phone and my next tablet will not be an iPad.

    People we can complain all we want but as long as you keep buying Apple, they have no incentive to hear our complaints. Your $’s speak louder than words.

    Comment by Arun Kapur — February 11, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

  12. Bought a used g4 mac book. Was not worth it. Over $70 for a ac adapt, every thing is apple specific. Has nice looks but it is ass backwards. Should have bought a new dell for 1/2 the price.

    Comment by stephen — February 15, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

  13. C’mon really folks? A few quick points:
    Apple knows consumers. They actually listen to what their users want and react accordingly. How many people do you know who use phones with replaceable batteries, actually carry around an extra battery? I don’t know any. If my iPhone battery dies, I can either take it to Apple or find out how to replace it myself. Just like if my Volvo needs repair, I can take it to Volvo ($$$$) or to another mechanic. Does that make Volvo evil? Nope. I have the choice. My iPhone 3G is nearing 3 years old. My battery still lasts about two days on a charge (with 3G, Bluetooth & Wi-Fi always on). I suspect I will willingly upgrade before I need to change the battery. Will I toss the old phone on the scrapheap? Nope. I will give it to someone who can use it and would appreciate it. My mom uses my old MacBook, my sister uses my old PowerBook, and my iBook is now a media server… Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Seems pretty simple to me.

    I’m not a mindless fanboy. I’m a business professional who doesn’t have the time or the inclination to battle my hardware constantly to make it work with my peripherals. 3 years ago when I got my smartphone there were no other viable alternatives that suited my needs. Because my iPhone has served me well I will definitely buy another. When I do, I’ll keep my screen brightness turned down to a reasonable level so I’m not needlessly draining my battery.

    Comment by Dom — February 16, 2011 @ 6:57 am

  14. p.s. Kyle. If iDevices were easier to repair wouldn’t you guys be out of a job?

    Comment by Dom — February 16, 2011 @ 6:58 am

  15. As soon as someoe says “I’m not a mindless fanboy.” I know that they are.

    Methinks all the Apple people doth protest too much.

    Comment by Joe — February 18, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  16. Interesting debate going on… I like apple products… I have owned hundreds if not thousands of apple laptops and ipods… Admittedly not having a user replaceable battery is a downside but not a deal breaker
    for most people. I have an old original iphone, since it was 2 weeks old…
    (was water damaged when I bought it for $150 and I fixed it and have used it since… have well over 1000 cycles on the battery, and I still get 2 full days out of it before it need a recharge… Thats just my story with the iphone… But then again I truly dislike some apple products, like the ipad… I mean give me a break… $500 for a huge ipod touch!?! (not that I was much of a fan of the touch either… too spendy) for $500 I would just buy a used macbook pro off ebay and call it good… Oops… am I rambling? ;)

    Comment by Nyatha — February 18, 2011 @ 7:21 pm

  17. Its funny how none of this information is listed in Apple’s own posted “Environmental Staus Report” on the Specs page for the iPhone.

    Sounds like FAIL to me if their “Green” effort they like to boast about ends after manufactering and sales.

    Comment by billy bob — February 23, 2011 @ 4:56 pm


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