Consumer Technology – Low Effort, High Profit

If you’re not at least miffed by consumer technology, you should be.

Mostly, that’s because of ‘planned obsolescence’. Many examples are to be found on the internet, including the controversy about artificially ‘weakened’ lightbulbs compared to Edison’s ‘Centennial Bulb’. In the 1920s, the ‘Phoebus Cartel’, made of several lightbulb companies, colluded to reduce the running time of the commercially available lightbulb to about 1000 hours.

But nowadays it’s far more evident in more advanced consumer technology; computers, phones, and everything else. Barely improved and a little bit more expensive, the [INSERT OVERPRICED CONSUMER TECHNOLOGY] is out now! Sometimes, companies remove basic features; Apple’s newest iphone, which made waves in the tech industry by being worse than its predecessor, lacked a headphone jack.

(Speaking of Apple, I’m not surprised their recently released book hasn’t been mentioned to me, in person or online, since its announcement. Coffee-table books used to have some sort of class.)

I’ve recently come to have a problem with consumer technology in general, just because it never combines all the functions it can into a single device. For example, the newest Kindle e-reader cannot play audiobooks. My broken, seven year old Sony PRS-650 could do that. Why was such an obvious feature removed? And for what reason does Sony continue to reserve the rights to their games Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne?

(I already know the answer is profit. That’s the answer to basically every rhetorical question for the next thousand words.)

They could develop versions for other consoles with ease. But it’s apparently in the company’s best interests not to. Probably because those are the only two games for their consoles worth buying. Obviously the cost/benefit analysis turned up negative.

I understand that most if not all of these decisions are driven by the market, but it annoys me nonetheless. It would be a perfectly easy process to port something like Demon’s Souls to the PC platform, and yet Sony reserves the rights. Apple could very easily have retained the headphone jack on their iphone, and they could refrain from designing every product with planned obsolescence in mind. They could actually bother to add micro-SD slots to their devices, in order that said devices become something more than casual window-dressing; but this would compromise the all-important aesthetic, apparently. I’m all for aesthetic; I enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray too. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of utility when the consumer is paying a premium price. No removable batteries (in any Apple products, let alone phones). Tech support for Apple requires an appointment, as I discovered some years ago. An appointment? Are your ‘geniuses’ goddamn doctors? Ridiculous.

Video game companies are especially guilty of intentional feature exclusion. I used to play video games frequently; but after watching the industry fall over itself to pander to insane leftist politics and graphical fidelity and technological chops at the expense of gameplay, I gave it all up as a time sink and now only occasionally play Chu-Chu Rocket on a game boy emulator while listening to the Andrew Klavan Show. Well, the industry doesn’t care about the games anyway. That’s a whole other topic.

Any computer company could sell far better computers and components for the same prices, because the markup on consumer technology is insane. If an iphone cost 50 cents to make with the help of some child worker in a derelict Asian factory, why does the final product come out to over a thousand dollars? (profit, my son.)

New ink cartridges cost more than the printers they’re used in. My family worked it out; it was cheaper for us to buy a new printer every time we ran out of ink than it was to buy new ink. I’ve also read that many cartridges are equipped with small chips that disable the cartridge when the ink gets below a certain level; i.e. before it’s empty. The culture has ignored this fact and is allowing printing ink companies free reign, ignoring these base practices.

Speaking of cheap tactics and family problems, for the past three years in a row I’ve heard the same complaint about how all too often car manufacturers use plastic screws in cars, instead of metal ones. Per car, that saves them about a cent, which adds up to millions of dollars, but the poor build quality results in problems with the product, and when millions of people complain the company loses millions in reputation anyway.

Computer software is fat, buggy, and slow, and frequently does more than it needs to be able to do at the cost of processing power (which itself is expensive enough as it is.) Adobe Reader, the default PDF document reader which too many people still use, is a bloated, slow mess. Luckily, there are many third-party solutions when it comes to software; readers that possess only the basic function of reading the file without ads and bloat. Itunes is absolute trash. I realised I’d become a software hipster when I was using SumatraPDF and Musicbee instead of these two programs, and my computer was the better for it.

(Speaking of computer bloat, antivirus programs are also useless; the best one is Common Sense 2017. It’s free, with no ads, no installation process, no processing requirements, and it works 100% of the time).

This all came to a head when I read a review of the new Kindle on technology website Wired. The attitude I’ve demonstrated towards technology in the past seven hundred words is slowly spreading throughout the market, and when the incredibly cynical writer of that review channeled that attitude, his review sounded like this:

“I won’t tell you to buy an Oasis. It almost feels fiscally irresponsible to do so, like suggesting you spend twice as much on “organic” lettuce from the gross bodega down the street. But I won’t tell you not to buy it. If you can afford $290 and you want a tiny, lovely, forever-lasting ebook reader that costs at least twice as much as the excellent Kindle Paperwhite, which does all the same things, then buy the Oasis. You won’t regret it for a second.”

When your industry’s become so jaded that comments like this are parsed over like they’re nothing, doesn’t the market have some real problems?

The situation seems simple, as though companies looking for profit are just being cheap and greedy, but the fact is that society at large continues to buy the products. We do vote with our wallets. And if a company isn’t chasing profit, what the hell is it supposed to do?

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