In 2016, Apple openly admitted to the slowing down of their iPhones. This strengthened consumer concerns about the longevity of Apple’s products, and raised questions as to whether the technology firm were deliberately limiting the life of their products. Apple confirmed that software updates were slowing down older models, allegedly to account for reduced battery performance over time. However, the alignment of performance degradation with the release of new iPhone models has aroused suspicion. This is indicated in the graph below.
While some level of natural degradation is to be expected in all products, deliberately accelerating this deterioration is of major concern to the consumer. It is also disputed as to whether this business practice is legal. Furthermore, in a world increasingly focused on sustainability, is this type of business model morally acceptable from one of the world’s largest tech firms?
Why Apple Should Not Deteriorate Performance
The use of performance degradation in iPhones could be viewed as unjust because of the controversial production of sealed units, the increased environmental waste and questionable legality.
Signed, Sealed, Irreparable
The use of sealed units by large tech firms, such as Apple, limits the consumer’s options for repair. This forces the customer to pay for replacement parts such as batteries (as well as the replacement service) or risk voiding the warranty by using cheaper third parties. This has been taken to even further extremes with Apple creating specialised tooling, not available to the public, for the repair process. This blatant obsolescence tactic is just one way in which Apple extort money from customers. Also, is it fair to expect consumers to pay up to £1000 for a new iPhone, just to have access to the latest technology because their previous model failed? Since this is obviously detrimental to the relationship between Apple and the consumer, it could be viewed negatively from a care ethics stand point.
The Environment is Over-raided
Apple’s business strategy of slowing down iPhones seems to be at odds with a world striving for sustainability and environmentally friendly products. It could be argued that this deterioration strategy forces consumers to buy new phones more regularly, therefore increasing waste. One major concern is that finite rare metals such as indium and yttrium, which are used in mobile phone screens, end up in landfills. These two elements can be harmful if ingested or inhaled and can leach into the water surrounding landfills, following the breakdown of the phone’s materials. Another concern is that indium could be so heavily mined that it could run out altogether within the next decade. Would this be the case if people had only used one iPhone over the past decade?
I Rest My Phone Case
Despite software update terms and conditions warning that installation may affect usability of apps and services, it is disputed as to whether this sufficiently protects Apple legally, as contract law forbids deception and concealment. Lawsuits in California and France question the legality of Apple’s methods and, from a deontological ethics view, their moral duty to the consumer. This theory is governed by the morality of an action. In this case, the morality of the action would be improved if Apple highlighted more clearly the performance loss associated with the software update.
Why Apple Should Deteriorate Performance
Apple have argued that performance deterioration and automatic shutdown of devices is required to protect the internal electronic components, due to the inability of aged lithium ion batteries to supply peak currents. Would you prefer to have a slow phone or a broken phone?
Apple is one of the largest tech firms in the world. In 2018, it became the first trillion dollar public company, pipping Amazon to the post. This market valuation would place Apple as the 17th largest economy in the world when compared to national economies. The company is clearly of huge benefit to both the US and global economy, creating jobs and large tax revenues. Apple currently employs 1.76m staff across Europe. Further to this, the App store has created an independent economy, nurturing a range of new startup companies such as Snapchat, Uber and Instagram. There is no doubt that maximising sales of each new iPhone release, potentially through planned obsolescence tactics, has contributed to Apple’s success.
Since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, over 20 models have been released, more than one per year. Comparing the first iPhone to the newest model, the technological advancements would be obvious. Some examples of Apple’s innovative technologies include the retina display, touch ID, and Apple pay — features that provide convenience and security to users. Apps such as Snapchat rely on the improved capabilities of the latest iPhone release to support their ever increasing functionalities. As a society becoming ever more dependent on handheld devices, striving for increased interconnectivity, such innovations are essential to meet consumer demands.
Increasing the sales of the latest iPhone through
obsolescence tactics has brought many of these technologies into the
mainstream. This then increases customer expectations for the next release, and
provides Apple with the profits to continue innovating for future models. It
also promotes competition, forcing other companies, such as Samsung, to keep
up. Performance deterioration has been a key factor in the progression of
technology in recent times, for example, if the original iPhone lasted 10 years
without slowing down, would Apple have reached the iPhone X, or would we all
still own a first generation iPhone?
Utilitarianism provides an argument supporting Apple’s performance deterioration tactics. This ethical theory is concerned with providing the greatest pleasure to the greatest number of people. By driving technological progression, creating jobs, and providing economic benefit (albeit through obsolescence tactics), Apple have increased the quality of life, and therefore the happiness, of a large fraction of the global population. We argue that this pleasure outweighs the negatives caused by performance deterioration.
As engineering students, we are torn between striving for innovation and the desire to design durable, long lasting products. Considering both points of view, we believe the ethical arguments in favour of performance deterioration outweigh those against. Our reasons for this stem from Utilitarianism, since technological progression provides benefits to the masses, such as increased worldwide interconnectivity and economic growth.