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Innovation and new technology can be cool, but the dark side of innovation is obsolescence. I recently found that my 5+ year old iPad is considered by Apple to be ‘vintage’. And at the seven year mark, Apple products are officially considered obsolete. Apple’s product design expects that people use their products for a few years before upgrading to an updated and improved product.
It used to be that the creators of products could boast that their products would last a lifetime or could be handed down to be enjoyed by multiple generations. Classically styled clothing and furniture made of real solid wood. Now instead of of multi-generational watches, as Frederic Paul at Network World pointed out, we have the $17,000 gold Apple Watch, introduced in 2015 but which is no longer able to run the most recent version of the operating system.
As products become internet-enabled and the deployment of IoT devices increase, things are pretty good until device problems are uncovered. Replacing, repairing or upgrading devices in the field can be particularly challenging , expensive, and sometimes hazardous. Consider medical devices. In 2017, the FDA required the recall of 465,000 Abbot Lab pacemakers because of security issues. The cost and trouble of locating that many people and remedying the problem can be very difficult.
Consider automobiles as another example. They’re increasingly being outfitted with new technology. But cars are expensive. Technology that becomes obsolete in three or five years will leave behind a car chassis in good shape but controlled by creaky, failing and outdated electrical components.
There are also increased electronic waste, the environment side effect of obsolescence. While innovation has benefits, the consequences of obsolescence need to be accounted for too.