Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Why Do Gadgets Break?

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the besides-entropy-mr.-smart-guy dept.

Media 554

TurboTurnip writes "A post on the Crave blog at CNET asks: Why are modern consumer electronics so easily broken? It argues that the 21st Century is 'The Age of the Flimsy' where 'your gadgets will simply break within the year.' Post author Chris Stevens talks about how computers are fast enough for the average user, and the only way to make consumers upgrade is 'increasingly poor build quality ... Engineers have built obsolescence into mass-produced technology since the 1920s. There are two kinds of planned deterioration in a product: one is technical, the other is stylistic.' The writer compares the build quality of a 20 year-old IBM XT to the modern Motorola Razr phone and concludes that modern gadgets are 'delicate, beautiful supermodels that can't go the distance.'"

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Frosty (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019060)


SO YOU BUY MORE OF THEM... consumers (2, Funny)

inkhaton (938495) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019206)

it's obvious... youre living in america. Do you think ipod nanos didnt exist 7 years ago. Of course they did... but why sell someone ONE mp3 player when you can sell them 5 or 6 of increasing HD space and smaller sizes... that way everyone enjoys getting something "better" while you sell the same product 6 times to each customer. Love America

Re:SO YOU BUY MORE OF THEM... consumers (1)

bigtangringo (800328) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019658)

Don your tin-foil hat, sir.

Re:SO YOU BUY MORE OF THEM... consumers (2, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019774)

Very, very bad example. With flash prices, a 4GB iPod nano 7 years ago would have cost about as much as your car (a 16MB memory stick cost $66 in 1999, so $16,896 worth of flash parts alone). Flash density was dramatically lower, so it would have been significantly larger than a full size iPod (think "Newton" or maybe even "laptop"), would have cost orders of magnitude more than a full size iPod, and would have held 1 GB less than a full size iPod.

Why sell one player at an exorbitant price that almost no one can afford, then wait for the price to drop as technology improves when you can sell players at a reasonable price and improve the features as the technology improves instead?

Supermodel Gadget. (4, Funny)

teiresias (101481) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019088)

Where can I pick up one of those delicate, beautiful supermodels gadgets everyone's talking about these days? At an Apple store?

Re:Supermodel Gadget. (2, Insightful)

Mobius01 (1008677) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019230)

Pretty much. Form over function is usually not the best way to go, but the manufacturer's don't care. They only want you to be trapped in a perpetual upgrade cycle, so even if you're happy with what you have, it breaks in a short time (and replacement parts are intentionally not available) and you end up left with no choice. It's only going to get worse.

Re:Supermodel Gadget. (1)

diersing (679767) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019710)

They only want you to be trapped in a perpetual upgrade cycle
Sounds like my ongoing love affair with Linux (and I do know its true of other OSs, but MS releases a rehashed version of NT every 5 years or so, I've upgraded SuSE and FC annually since installing them, I'm not saying, I'm just saying is all).

Because (5, Insightful)

atomicthumbs (824207) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019090)

People drop them, spill water on them, 8764 [] put them in the washing machine, etcetra. People are stupid and careless. In addition, capacitors and other parts DO have a limited lifetime.

Re:Because (4, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019232)

Yes, they do that. And we expect them to survive. Your point is?

How do you tell a good company from a bad company?

The bad company tells their customers what to do with the stuff they buy, and yells at them when they complain.

The good company pays attention to what their customers do with their purchases and upgrades so that the next version will be able to do it better. That does NOT only mean 'more memory'. It also means shock resistant case and water proofing, and batteries that don't wear out (or explode).

Which makes it more expensive (4, Insightful)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019806)

The good company pays attention to what their customers do with their purchases and upgrades so that the next version will be able to do it better.

A lot of products have a dropproof/waterproof/dustproof alternative, at an increase in cost. People opt for the cheap model. The consumer makes the choice in the end.

Re:Because (1)

nra1871 (836627) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019892)

batteries that don't wear out Please let me know where I can find these wondrous batteries.

Re:Because (3, Informative)

triffid_98 (899609) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019936)

People have always been stupid and careless. Capacitors (excepting electrolytics) won't be breaking in your lifetime. Even those are fairly durable, provided you aren't using one of these... [] Feel free to take my comments with a grain of salt, but I'm typing this message on a 22 year old keyboard, while listening a 30 year old stereo with 20 year old speakers. In other news, my sister's 3 year old ipod won't hold a charge anymore.

People are stupid and careless. In addition, capacitors and other parts DO have a limited lifetime.

Cost savings? (5, Insightful)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019178)

An original IBM PC cost thousands of dollars when they were new. An iPod costs 200 dollars new, approximately. Surely a 10-fold difference in price reflects more than advancements in technology, it also must reflect a decline in longevity/quality based on price? If you made a $2000 iPod and focused that money on making a lasting piece of equipment, it would probably come out significantly longer-lived than the $200 model.

Is this surprising? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019744)

It would also be a waste of money and materials. In 1981 you didn't replace your computer every couple years, so it made sense to build them like tanks. Today manufacturers know that you're going to get something better (bigger / faster / etc) in a couple years, so designing their product to last for 15 years would make it 10x more expensive than their competitors with no real benefit to most people.

Then again, the iPod is a bad example of this. They're built like tanks. I have an original 2001 iPod (5 gigabytes!), and it's still as good as the day I bought it. It may outlive me, and I'm still pretty young.

The electronic gadgets I have whose designers knew they wouldn't be obsolete in 3 years generally did a great job at making them last. I have an inexpensive laser printer, and a reasonably-priced stereo receiver, and both are *solid*. Laser printer and stereo receiver technology isn't improving at the rate of, say, computers, so they're engineered to last much longer.

It's not as simple as "everything's cheaper, and you get what you pay for". Cars are much cheaper now than they used to be, and also far better. In fact, many things are.

Re:Cost savings? (1, Redundant)

emilyridesabmx (1009713) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019772)

You are 100% correct, you stole the words right out of my mouth. At this point in time consumer electronics are dirt cheap, especially if you factor in the amount of design and engineering work it takes to bring something to market. You can buy a decent computer for $400 USD now, and if I remember correctly my first computer (a lighting quick 286 with DUAL floppies) cost somewhere around $2000 Used. That article is shoddy reporting, anyone of us engineers could have brought this major point home.

Re:Cost savings? (1)

thewiz (24994) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019934)

Yes, but could you carry it in your pocket?

Keyboards (4, Funny)

bmo (77928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019180)

Keyboards these days are neither supermodels nor even remotely stylish. Yet they are exceedingly flimsy. If you bludgeon someone over the head with a keyboard these days, it simply shatters into dozens of pieces. The old XT keyboard, however, could have been used to dispatch Jimmy Hoffa.


Re:Keyboards (3, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019276)

Hoffa dissapeared YEARS before the introduction of the 88-Key!

Re:Keyboards (1)

qbwiz (87077) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019360)

You could probably use a 61 key synthesizer, if you don't have an 88-key one. Or you could use a piano, if you could manage to lift it.

Re:Keyboards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019492)

Hello that is why I got one of these babies: []

Old school mechanical switch goodness for my sleek MacBook Pro seventeen inch 2 gigamajig whatzamahoozit. This keyboard could easily cause a conclusion of the brain plus it sounds like a Sherman tank rolling thru your house when you type on it.

Too bad (for you) they are out of stock til next year.

Use a bit of care... (1)

scd (541350) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019184)

You might not be able to just throw gadgets around with impunity, but be a little careful with them and they'll last for at least a few years.

- Powerbook: 4+ years
- Palm: 3 years, no problems
- Cell phone: 2+ so far
- iPod: almost 4 years. Battery is shot, but that's a physics issue, not a quality issue.

Re:Use a bit of care... (4, Insightful)

oliverthered (187439) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019332)

- iPod: almost 4 years. Battery is shot, but that's a physics issue, not a quality issue.

My mp3 player takes standard rechargable AAA battries, I can even replace the battery in my mobile. I think having the battery build in is a clasic quality issue ment to force people to upgrade their ipods every few years

Re:Use a bit of care... (1)

scd (541350) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019574)

I wouldn't judge that a quality issue, but rather a marketing issue.

If something fails in an unexpected manner, that's a quality issue. For instance, one expects a multi-hundred dollar TV to not die after 2 years. When there is a known, guaranteed bit of obsolescence (sp?), such as a rechargeable battery, the only quality issue is not if it fails at all (since it will), but if it fails before it is expected to.

Re:Use a bit of care... (1)

SillyNickName4me (760022) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019942)

If something fails in an unexpected manner, that's a quality issue.

If you make something of poor quality and expect it to fail in a couple of months, that might be a marketing decision, but it is still a quality issue for as far as the consumer is concerned. Keep in miund that 'the consumer is always right', and that your motivation does not change the technical issue.

Re:Use a bit of care... (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019676)

As opposed to building it with AAAs where you can either buy new ones every few days or use rechargeable ones with lower voltages that claim to be dead every few hours?

I LIKE built in batteries, so long as they're not just AAAs or AAs bundled with a proprietary connector. The lithium battery in an iPod is longer lived and faster to recharge than anything available in a standard size. And replacements are readily available when you need them.

Re:Use a bit of care... (1)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019840)

Only because other companies offer tools/services to compete with apple (likely against the ipod license agreement) due to the company's high costs.

What happens when it costs more to staff a repair group for older Ipods than the repair money brings in? Apple will discontinue support for replacing older batteries, which is pretty far from "readily available"

Re:Use a bit of care... (4, Insightful)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019498)

iPod: almost 4 years. Battery is shot, but that's a physics issue, not a quality issue.

If it used standard sized NiCd or LiIon batteries and the back was easily removable, any putz with a screwdriver would be able to replace them. Sealed devices are silly unless there's a compelling reason to seal them (water pressure resistance or something).


Re:Use a bit of care... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019852)

the point of built-in battery is exactly so that "any putz with a screwdriver " would not open it and mess with the internals.

Re:Use a bit of care... (4, Insightful)

joto (134244) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019570)

I'm not shure what's most scary. The fact that a properly taken care of powerbook will only last 4 years, or the fact that you are happy with this. I have a pair of boots thats lasted me 4 years, used regularly for long hiking trips in rough terrain, wet terrain, rough and wet terrain, and so on... How many times can you jump on your powerbook? (Of course, the (modern) gore-tex liner lasted only a few months...)

My mothers old washing machine lasted 26 years before giving up. When I went and bought a new washing machine for myself 5 years ago, I was expecting it to last for at least 10 years. It lasted 3! And I'm single, have no kids, etc...

I've almost given up on cell-phones. Even if I buy one specifically marketed as sturdy (e.g. Nokia 514), it is almost guaranteed to fail within two years (usually within a year). I would be willing to pay a lot more to get a phone where I don't have to worry about random breakage any time I fall on it.

The thing with gadgets is, I'm not interested in "being careful" with them. I'm interested in getting something that works. If I buy a mobile phone, it's because I want to bring it with me to become mobile, not to keep it inside original packaging with temperatures between 15-25 celcius and low air humidity. If I buy a washing machine, I want it to wash my clothes, not randomly fail. If I buy a car, I want it to keep driving, not require expensive maintenance, and having expensive parts fail all the time. And if I buy a laptop, it should survive a little rain, being dropped on concrete, being dropped in salt water, having someone fall on it, etc, all common things happening to transportable items.

Re:Use a bit of care... (2, Insightful)

scd (541350) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019636)

Bit of clarification. The Powerbook didn't die after 4 years. It's still going strong, and I rather expect it to indefinitely (except for maybe the HD).

And please, don't compare boots to electronics. It doesn't make the slightest bit of sense.

Re:Use a bit of care... (1)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019682)

And if I buy a laptop, it should survive a little rain, being dropped on concrete, being dropped in salt water, having someone fall on it, etc, all common things happening to transportable items.

With you until "being dropped in salt water." WTF???

Re:Use a bit of care... (1)

CrazyTalk (662055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019768)

I would like to add my HP 41cx calculator to that list. I bought it in 1987, and it's still going strong!

I call shenanigans! (1)

mspohr (589790) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019778)

Sure, stuff is made as cheaply as possible but my personal experience is that unless you drive over it with a car, it is extremely reliable and durable.

I have boxes full of perfectly working electronic gadgets that have become obsolete. It is rare that anything electronic ever fails on me.

I would love to throw away a lot of stuff but as long as it keeps working, I think that I may use it some day so I save it.

Some stuff:

- a box of about 15 PDAs (Palm and PPC) dating back to the invention of the PDA - 10 years ago. They all work perfectly.

- a box of about 15 cell phones dating back to the invention of the cell phone. They all work perfectly. (My current cell phone is one that is 4 years old I reclaimed from my daughter who apparently used it as a hockey puck judging from the dents and scratches on the case. It works perfectly.)

- a box of about 10 wireless home telephones dating back about 15 years. They all work perfectly. I'm even still using one that's about 10 years old.

- my office is stuffed with old computers (desktops and laptops) going back 20 years that I can't bear to throw away even though they are all obsolete (I still have an original Compaq luggable). They all work perfectly. I needed to retrieve some data from some old backup tapes and 5" floppys so I fired up an old Windows 95 computer last week and it worked perfectly.

- lots more stuff that never breaks

They want you to buy a new one in 2 years (4, Insightful)

BunnyClaws (753889) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019194)

The company has more incentive to make products that will break after 2 years of use so that you will be forced to purchase a new product from them. Why make a TV that will last 25 years when I can sell you a high end plasma that you will have to replace in 5 years? By making products that break it ensures that customers will continue to buy from the manufacturers.

RAZR is just a modern Startac (2, Insightful)

Senjaz (188917) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019216)

Rubbish. The RAZR is the rebirth of a much older Motorola design, the Startac. This was the point where mobiles stopped being bricks and started being stylish. Even though the startac had to accommodate a credit-card sizes SIM card it was still only the same size as the RAZR. The Startac was a beautiful phone and easy to use. I paid over £300 for mine almost 10 years ago.

Some phones I guess are like clothes, they come in and go out of fashion. RAZR is just a remake of the classic older design. The design of the Startac and the RAZR are timeless.

Re:RAZR is just a modern Startac (1)

Illbay (700081) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019576)

I'm sorry, but "timeless?"

The StarTAC came out in 1995! Isn't it a bit premature to declare as "timeless," something that has existed for only a decade?

Re:RAZR is just a modern Startac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019930)

"Timeless" may be a bit overboard. I do agree with the GP's implication that the design of the StarTac and RAZR are solid and will probably be imitated and re-approached for years to come.

I figure a good counter-argument could be made based on just how long cell phones have actually been around. As far as other tech goes, cell phones have been around for a relatively short period of time. Their evolution continues, but it's hard to beat a solid clamshell design that's actually big enough to comfortably reach your ear and your mouth. The StarTac was also pretty slim/small so you had a chance of slipping it into a regular sized pocket or dashboard caddy.

Another counter-argument could be how many other cell phone designs have been completely timely. As in not existing past the first commercial round. Remember those super-tiny cell phones that were around the size of a person's thumb? The ones with the inhumanely small buttons and underpowered mic? That design didn't last, that's for sure!

If the public keeps buying up certain designs I'll go out on a limb and say they probably chose it for a good reason.

Re:RAZR is just a modern Startac (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019818)

The Startac was considerably larger than the RAZR in at least one dimension: thickness. Kind of the selling point of the RAZR, as nearly every other phone on the market is smaller in length and width.

Re:RAZR is just a modern Startac (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019856)

My parents loved the form factor of the StarTac, but they broke the flimsy power connector on not less than four of them before finally switching to another brand (LG). They haven't had one fail in the two years since.

It's not planned obsolescence, though. It's just a very poorly engineered connector that Motorola has foolishly stuck with to maintain compatibility with existing accessories....

I still have an XT - 3 of them! (4, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019220)

I will testify to their sturdiness! They are being used as blocks, to hold up my 1962 Jaguar XJ12 - itself another of those time-honored robust technologies, in contrast to today's delicate and tempermental flim-flams!

Re:I still have an XT - 3 of them! (2, Interesting)

AntEater (16627) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019524)

I worked as a tech in a shop which leased out XT systems as part of our product support in the early 90's we still had many customers who were using IBM XT's. Nothing killed them. We had hundreds out in use and I don't recall ever seeing one that came back dead. We had a significant number of "clone" systems which often had to be scrapped on return. The original IBM XT was amazingly overbuilt.

Re:I still have an XT - 3 of them! (1)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019654)

>to hold up my 1962 Jaguar XJ12

Speaking of beautiful, but seriously flawed engineering... All 50's and 60's Jags and Triumphs seemed to conform to the motorcycle rule: drive them one hour, work on them two hours. (Don't know about MG's. I never owned one.)

Re:I still have an XT - 3 of them! (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019750)

All 50's and 60's Jags and Triumphs seemed to conform to the motorcycle rule: drive them one hour, work on them two hours.

Motorcycle rule? I guess that "rule" only applied to British bikes as well. My Japanese bikes have held up fine, except for an old Yamaha XS650 that basically *was* a copy of a British bike. BMWs, both old and new, also have a reputation for reliability. (So do British bikes these days, but Triumph isn't the same company that it was 30 years ago.)


Re:I still have an XT - 3 of them! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019958)

Once you rip out the wiring harness and replace the tarpaper coated copper with modern wires, and replace the those tempermental carbs with something robust (Weber), they go great. Last MG I rebuilt was abandoned on side of someones house, got at least 100k more miles before I sold it. I miss having time to work on cars...

Unlike CDROMs... (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019968)

... which cannot support the weight of a car, as seen here [] .

Easy answer (2, Insightful)

TonyXL (33244) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019226)

Because that's what consumers demand. They'd rather have features than durability, probably because by the time the gadget breaks, there's a better, cheaper one available.

Why does Walmart import tons of cheap Chinese goods? Because customers want them.

Re:Easy answer (2, Interesting)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019596)

Why does Walmart import tons of cheap Chinese goods? Because customers want them.
There is nothing intrinsic about something being Chinese that makes me want it.

Walmart imports tons of Chinese goods because that's the country to where our manufacturing base has been transplanted by market forces for cheap labor. Customers do not buy Chinese goods because they are seeking them out. Even though I try to avoid Chinese stuff, most recently purchased stuff in my house was made in China because that's all they will sell you at the store. You almost can't buy anything else anymore.

Here's an eye-opener for you. Go to Google Suggest [] , which uses the popularity of various search terms to offer suggestions, and type "why is everything" into the box.

Oh yeah? (4, Funny)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019236)

I found my Razr after it was missing for three weeks. Somebody had buried it in the backyard.

There was not a scratch on it, and it worked just fine after a recharge.

This guy must be using one of the pink ones- those are sissy phones.

Re:Oh yeah? (1)

otacon (445694) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019482)

I'd hate to ask, but how did you come to realize it was buried in your yard?

Re:Oh yeah? (1)

andphi (899406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019670)

I think it must have been when his St Augustine starting ringing. Either that, or his dog heard it and started barking at it when it wouldn't shut up. To quote Rizzo the Rat, "My mother always told me: never eat singing food."

Re:Oh yeah? (1)

DoorFrame (22108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019704)

He was probably digging a hole so he could bury his ipod.

Huh? (4, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019256)

The writer compares the build quality of a 20 year-old IBM XT to the modern Motorola Razr phone...

And if you compare my new washing machine to a 20 year-old umbrella, you'd reach the opposite conclusion. How about comparing the Razr to a Walkman or a Swatch, not to a cinderblock of a product from a mainframe maker?

Made to Break (1)

Larus (983617) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019270)

Giles Slade's book, Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America is a good read on the designed obsolescence and market force.

Folks want them cheap. (2, Interesting)

NerveGas (168686) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019280)

    When I bought my DVD player, I got a *really* good deal, and spent $400 on it. I don't even know HOW many years it's been (10 or 11 years, if I recall), and it still works just fine.

    These days, people spent $35 on one, and whine when it breaks in a year. C'est la vie.

Re:Folks want them cheap. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019544)

And 11 of those 35 dollar DVD players comes out to $385 dollars.

They're up by 15 bucks, not counting for inflation.

The funny part (4, Funny)

ArchieBunker (132337) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019282)

Is seeing how much older electronics are still around compared to new. I have tube amplifiers that are over 50 years old and still operate because the parts are easily servicable. IMHO most of the electronics that fail early are due to bad solder joints. Your average tv is probably assembled by children in an open air factory somewhere in the pacific. Parts are bought from different suppliers constantly to save a penny here or there. Remember the recent rash of motherboard failures due to leaking capacitors?

Really? (3, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019284)

I've dropped my share of gadgets and I have to say that it is exceedingly rare that they actually break. My cell phone (A Blackberry 7100t) has been through a considerable amount of abuse in the two years I've owned it (partially due to the badly designed belt clip for this phone, if you run or jump with it the phone will fly out). Other than some scratches on the screen, it's as good as the day I bought it.

The only computer motherboards I've ever had die were an actual IBM motherboard (back before they even formed Aptiva), and a Soltek Socket A that fell victim to cap explosions (which were an epidemic at the time). Otherwise, my tech has all been replaced due to gross obsolescence rather than actual breakage (which is a shame when you're waiting for a Matrox G200 to die so you can upgrade your video card, and eventually just have to buy a Geforce 5900 because the new motherboard didn't support high voltage AGP).

There is a caveat here: When I buy stuff I don't buy it if it feels flimsy or is a cheap knockoff made by a no-name company. Perhaps the lesson for the author is: Stop buying cheap crap and maybe it will last longer?

you cant own anything anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019294)

No no you misunderstand .. stuff you buy nowadays .. you dont really own. You're renting it for the warranty period.


If you owned something you would be able to open it up, reverse engineer it, and find out how it works. Why? CAUSE YOU OWN IT.

Remember when you could do that? When TV's came with schematics [] ?

Break By Design (1)

mpapet (761907) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019302)

Modern devices quite intentionally are designed to fail.

1. Design specifications intentionally limit durability
2. Business decision to make the device fail. If I can't sell any more widgets, then how will I stay in business?
3. No consumers want something to last for decades.

Stories like this are an embarrassment of riches.

Re:Break By Design (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019854)

3. No consumers want something to last for decades.

Well, computers should last for at least *a* decade - a 90s computer is perfectly adequate for what most people do on computers today (word processing/web surfing). Cars should last even longer - I drive an 1988 Volvo wagon and it does everything that I need a car to do. It even makes 30 mpg, which is about average for a big non-hybrid gas car today.


Weight? (4, Interesting)

rickkas7 (983760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019306)

An original IBM PC weighed 28 pounds [] with two floppy disk drives. A cell phone (err... mobile [] ?) with a heavy gauge steel case would probably be pretty durable, but I wouldn't want to carry one around.

Not just gadgets... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019324)

Engines are the same. Get a factory rebuild block from ANY auto maker or even a engine rebuilder and you will get an engine that will only make it 100,000 miles.

Proper rebuilding techniques like polishing the crank (Ok stop the snickering) and other things that are SUPPOSED to be done in engines when building them are not being done.

Thus cars dont last very long or handle stress well and break easy.. same for gadgets. they are made as cheap as possible to get the highest profits possible.

Almost nothing is made for quality and longivity.

Re:Not just gadgets... (2, Interesting)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019656)

Engines are the same. Get a factory rebuild block from ANY auto maker or even a engine rebuilder and you will get an engine that will only make it 100,000 miles.

Many engines that supposedly need a rebuild, actually don't, though, and taking the whole motor apart and "rebuilding" it can make things worse if the rebuilders isn't both skilled and obsessive. Case in point: 3 years ago, my Volvo 245 started making a clanking sound and running on 3 out of 4 cylinders. I took it to the mechanic: "probably threw a rod (broke one of the rods connecting a piston to the crankshaft). You'll need a new motor. We can swap you in a used motor for $2000."

I went home and removed the spark plug on the dead cylinder. Stuck a wire down there and cranked it over - the piston was still moving so the rod wasn't broken. Turns out a valve spring had fractured and wasn't letting the exhaust valve on that cylinder return to the closed position. Total cost in parts to fix - $250 including a new head gasket, various other gaskets, timing belt, spring, valve, and a case of beer. Time 8 hr - I did the job myself with a friend, but that would have come to about $560 assuming a rate of $70/hr. The engine is still running fine 30,000 miles later with 215,000 miles on it.


Re:Not just gadgets... (3, Insightful)

Don853 (978535) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019776)

I wasn't around to compare, but every older member of my family tells me that cars last much longer than they used to. Most modern cars last 150K+ miles easily, provided they're driven by someone who isn't constantly pushing the limits of the vehicle. The fact that no one will repair banged up sheet metal or broken plastic parts so hitting a deer runs you $5000 has roots in the same throwaway culture, but isn't caused by lack of initial quality.

So you'll buy the next ones (1)

rumith (983060) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019338)

It's as easy as that. Many but not all people are less than likely to purchase a new gadget if the previous one is still considered cool and is operating properly. And this is a way to make the new purchase more probable.

Been relatively imressed with gadget quality (2, Insightful)

klubar (591384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019348)

Over the last couple of years I've been impressed with quality of "cheap" electronics. It's pretty remarkable that companies can cram the amount of functionality into gadgets at the price.... look at cheap gigabit switches... 8 port gigabit for around $150... or wireless routers.... lots of features, small and should last 3 or more years... Most of my gadgets are replaced because I want more functionality or cooler features, not because they broke.

I still have 4+ year old PCs happily working and other electronics that live a long life....

The quality of most devices is extraordinarily high.

Re:Been relatively imressed with gadget quality (1)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019708)

I still have 4+ year old PCs happily working...
I hate to break the news to you and the rest of the internet generation, but 4 years is NOTHING in terms of a product's lifespan. Bragging about the longevity of a four year old PC is like bragging you can do four push-ups.

Really? (2, Funny)

also-rr (980579) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019388)

I accidentally washed and spin dried my new USB stick and it still works. You go try that with a 5 1/2" floppy and tell me how well that works out for you.

Re:Really? (1)

UltimApe (991552) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019906)

Mine went throug the dryer 3 times... now it randomly writes funny "Y"s to every file.

Well, I've noticed a trend... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019414)


Seems to be stamped on my crappiest gadgets. They have improved quite a bit, though. Still, I actively look for "MADE IN JAPAN", "MADE IN KOREA", "MADE IN USA", or "MADE IN MEXICO" preferentially and in that order. Sometimes the same model will be available from two or more source factories, even if it's a bit pricier. "MADE IN KOREA" used to be bad, but now is as good or almost as good as Japan, so presumably the Chinese stuff will improve as well and we'll have to get our cheap crap somewhere else.

Note that I'm not dissing the Chinese. Rather, in my experience, it is the fault of western, Japanese, and Korean companies who expect to dump their existing manufacturing processes into a new Chinese factory and get a similar result. Different culture, different source vendors, different results.

I'm also not dissing Europe, but very few European-built gadgets are available in the US so I didn't bother mentioning them.

Be Responsible, and It Won't Break (5, Insightful)

ematic (217513) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019422)

Taking good care of your electronics is the key to making them last. Especially if you pay a bit more for a well engineered one. I know of a lot of original Gameboys that still have life in them.

I'm an electrical engineer. While there may be system-level/market-level planned obselescence (based on outdated protocols, DRM, or style -- think iPod G1-4), there certainly is not one at the component-level (chips/ICs). Microprocessors are reliable as ever.

This essay lacks references. And, following argument is groundless: "The electronics industry has clearly spotted this problem, and ... your gadgets will simply break within the year".


Re:Be Responsible, and It Won't Break (1)

shotgunsaint (968677) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019746)

Nintendo has always made durable, high quality products, with the exception of the original NES. Even in that extreme case, it was only the connectors that the cartridge locked into that would go bad, and for a few dollars you can get a new set online. However, I've seen Nintendo systems thrown out of windows, ones with big holes in the top from a chair leg or some other misfortune, etc., and most of them still performed admirably.

People get what they ask for. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019426)

Well, I once had a senile landlord who was convinced that consumer products where "designed to break" nowadays. The problem in his case was that he always choose the cheapest crap he could possibly find, thereby, in a sense, "proving" himself right.

If people stopped fooling themself buying stuff that breaks, we would push the inferiour products off the market.

But, alas, a fool and his money are soon parted...

Johannes Schöön

p.s. The design lifetime of a Swatch is 20 years. (No, it is not designed to break down then. It is supposed to survive that long, at least.)

people don't wan't to hold on to a phone 5+ years (1)

munzli (1032462) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019434)

who today wants to keep their cell phone for more than 1 or 2 years... in 1 or 2 years there's better cameras, more storage, nicer/smaller designs, etc... products don't need to last long anymore, because the industry is changing too fast!

Re:people don't wan't to hold on to a phone 5+ yea (2, Insightful)

dami99 (1014687) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019622)

Actually, some people just want a phone that works as a phone.

Re:people don't wan't to hold on to a phone 5+ yea (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019928)

in 1 or 2 years there's better cameras, more storage, nicer/smaller designs, etc

If I can talk on it and send text messages, that's enough for me. I don't think you can get much smaller than today's phones without them becoming really uncomfortable to use.


One one hand, he has a point... (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019446)

...on the other hand, he's full of shit.

Yes, the original IBM PC (from which the XT differs only at the motherboard and power supply level - the case is identical) was a tank. I had one. It had a ~60W power supply (same size as the 600W and 800W supplies today) and a couple of internal 5.25" floppies. The case was probably three times as heavy as the aluminum case that my last PC was in.

This is precisely my point - consumers don't want big heavy tanks. At the same time, almost none of my electronics die before they are simply obsolete. Hell, I have a panasonic laserdisc player that's old enough to have cost $1100 new (though I got it at the flea market) that's still working almost as well as it ever has - sometimes the front door doesn't shut itself, which I could probably fix with some grease. It works well enough though, so instead I leave it the hell alone and just use the damned thing.

I actually have a Motorola RAZR and it's an incredibly well-designed little lump of electronics. Yes, it is fragile. This is because it is small. I could have stuck with my V555, which was significantly more sturdy, but I wanted a smaller phone. I was willing to make that tradeoff. You can still buy non-flip phones, which are sturdier. That wasn't what I wanted either. And actually, it's not really ALL that fragile, you just can't use it to prop up one table leg like you could with something with the heft of an IBM PC. Sure, we used to have cellphones you could bludgeon people to death with... but that's not a feature. Having it fit nicely in my pocket is a feature.

You CAN buy quality hardware. Most of us don't. We want small and cheap. We get it. I agree that the e-waste problem is serious but it can be solved through manufacturing. Materials science is currently the limiting factor in electronics durability, because consumers want small and light devices.

Isnt it obvious? (1)

ThePepe (775625) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019448)

more complicated = more parts = more likely to break

Oh noooooesss it's a conspiracy! (2, Insightful)

Cheile (724052) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019474)

As much as I love a good conspiracy products like the RAZR are flimsy because that's what the market demands. People want something that looks cool and is light and... uhm... looks cool. Surprise! You don't get heavy-duty parts with that.

On the other hand the original IBM PS2 tower (which the article doesn't mention by name, but was of that same era) was marked "Two person lift" complete with nifty stickers of people injuring their backs on it. It wasn't supposed to be light and pretty, it was meant to win a fight with a Mack truck.

Two person lift towers are out, Mac minis are in. The market wants pretty...

in addition (and this goes for products as a whole, not just consumer electronics) the market wants the cheapest thing out there. Cheaper! Cheaper! Cheaper! Why buy a $2000 computer when you can have one for $500? Guess what... this means cheaper, flimsy parts.

Offer the author a 5lb $800 cellphone that can be dropped from the top of the Empire State Building and he'll pass, just like the rest of the market.

To Serve Man (2, Interesting)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019494)

They're flimsy because the mass production scales cut costs by automating out repairs by humans in favor of manufacture and replacement by machines.

Replacement for wearing out offers the chance to get a new one with some incremental features, and the newer styles that have so much social value.

The hidden cost remaining in these gadgets is discarding them. Either labor-intensive recycling, or environmental pollution plus increased scarcity of materials. The original seller doesn't pay most of that cost, so it doesn't show up in the sale price. But it costs the consumers in increased aftermarket costs and labor.

We should take the flimsiness that economics encourages to the next step: biodegradeablility. Make them flimsy not just to human mechanical use, but to our ecosystem, including bacteria. Or even feedable to our pets. That will cut the costs of discard way down. Which will leave us more money to buy new ones.

Until we can get those little buggers to reproduce themselves. Eventually, they'll be recycling us.

HP calculators (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019516)

I still use (hell, cherish) my HP calculator I got in 7th grade. It was built like a tank sometime around 1980.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

Summary (1)

Se7enLC (714730) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019534)

Article Summary:

My name is Chris Stevens and I like to whine because I dropped my Motorola RAZR and it broke.

Get over it. If you wanted durable, you wouldn't have picked the RAZR. It's pretty obvious to everyone else that it wasn't meant to be durable. Why don't you get a cell phone the size and weight of your precious IBM XT and tell me what you think.

Flimsiness? It's more about cost pressure. (4, Interesting)

TheAwfulTruth (325623) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019564)

yes, yes, planned obsolescense etc...

The #1 reason that modern gadgets break is because market pricing pressure makes then that way. They are cheap cheap cheap. While a /few/ people would pay the $120 it would take to create and sell a heavy duty all metal, robust keyboard, it would not be enough to compete with the millions that won't pay over $12.95.

I work in the hardware industry and pricing pressure causes manufacturers to do crazy/dangerous things to reduce the cost of every single component in a 1000 component product. Farm out calls for 1000 parts to the lowest bidder and you can pretty much guess what the total end result will be on the quality.

ISO 9000 has pretty much gone out the window in the last few years as being just too expensive to implement and manitain by the entire supply chain. Thus we are now constantly (Yes, still even today) dealing with capaciters that explode after 100 hours use, switches that break after 100 presses and an almost infinate variety of unplanned but inevitable hardware failures.

And in the end, if that means that someone has to buy a new phone and a new keyboard every year well, the companies that make them could have worse things happen than selling another product to the same customer. Even if the customer gets mad an never buys from that company again, it doesn't matter, pissed off customers of the competitor will come running back to THEM. As long as their quality is not significantly worse than their competitiors anyway.

But in the end, the age of the flimsy is mostly the end result of the age of extreme consumerism where everyone must have everything and it must all cost 12.95 or less.

PROTIP: Want a durable phone? (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019572)

Then buy a phone which has durability as a feature. Nextel has a bunch of motorola phones that will survive all kinds of abuse. I've had an i90 for going on 4 years now. I've gone through 3 faceplates, 2 batteries and 2 keypads.

Its not about flimsiness... (1)

Codename46 (889058) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019586)

If people stop using their optical drives as cup holders, rashly flipping open their cell phones like the way they do in movies, and stop downloading files like "pr0n-nude-naked-porn-boobs-sex-dogpron-fuk-angeli najolie.jpg.exe", yes we would see less broken electronics.

Finite Element Analysis (1)

isaac (2852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019600)

Improvements in the tools (CAD/CAM) and the methods (finite element analysis) are to "blame" for this "problem."

I love overbuilt gear, too, but a RAZR built with 14 gauge galvanized steel would weigh a pound and cost as much as your old XT did when new. I for one welcome our cheap-gadget-engineering overlords.


This is what you asked for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019628)

Sure, there are other reasons behind it, but ultimately the reason mass-market goods are as poorly made as they are is that the market - that's you, your friends, neighbors, everyone who posts on slashdot, and all the rest - has consistently chosen to buy the shoddier (hence, usually, cheaper, of course) goods rather than the better made ones. The thing is, in a field where there's such a rapid rate of obsolescence for other reasons, buying cheap stuff that's just good enough may make a lot of economic sense, so the crappy state of typical PC hardware may be inevitable; ditto the limited market share for Apple's [once?] arguably better built hardware.

Unfortunately, much the same appears to apply to the market for politicians these days, though the emphasis there is on sleaziness rather than shodiness...

Now we know step 2! (1)

gt_mattex (1016103) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019632)

Collect underpants.

Break underpants.


TRS80 PC1 (1)

Chysn (898420) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019644)

I've still got a Tandy PC-1 pocket computer from the early 1980s. It was built by Sharp and re-badged for Radio Shack. It's got an extremely slow processor and less than 1.5 kilobytes of RAM for BASIC programs.

It was made in Japan and you can tell that it was built to last for decades. The chassis is sturdy metal with almost no flex to it and the keys are of very high quality. By today's technological standards the thing's a joke. But I bet it outlives my HP Pocket PC.

I'd reply with a comment... (1)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019668)

I'd reply with a comment but my keyboard's broken.

Three words... (0, Redundant)

Xochil (542406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019680)

"Made in China"

'nuff said.

weight equals cost (1)

Jeff1946 (944062) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019740)

About 20 years ago at work we estimated the build cost of a piece of complicated equipment using a program called PRICE (I believed developed by RCA). Two of the key determining factors of cost were size and weight. We thought no way are weight and size that important. Over the years I have decided this not to be true. For similar items as weight goes down so does cost. Yes making stuff light weight means it is less rugged but cheaper. Think of hard drives. My first one was a 10 meg that weighed 5-10 lbs and took up the space that two 5-1/4" CD drives do today. These disks failed quite often and cost several hundred $ in the 1980s. Just bought a 120G byte drive on special for $49. Maybe it weighs 1/10 of the old drive.

Re:weight equals cost (1)

GigsVT (208848) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019816)

Try several thousand. Hard disks weren't sub-$1000 until the late 80s.

Over Engineering (2, Insightful)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019754)

Nowadays engineers can find the exact minimum amount of materials and the like to use to acheive their goal. Back int he day they'd find an approximate and double it too make sure. That'd be my guess.

Diamond Rio Durability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019788)

The Diamond Rio MP3 player talked about durability when it first came out. I think they named it after the Diamond Rio trucks which were supposedly really durable. I have my original Rio 600 from 1998 and it still works fine.

Way over-thinking! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019792)

This is simple. These items have now been commoditized. When the original PC came out, it was like $7K. Now you can buy a Dell for $300. Maybe less if you have a coupon. (IBM didn't have any coupons.)

Consumers (except for Apple customers :)) are telling manufacturers with their credit cards that they desire cheaper products, not better products.

When I got my first job out of college, the development cycle was 18 months. By the time I left there 6 years later, it was down to 6 months. They also changed to a "we're going to have regularly-scheduled releases" mentality, rather than "we'll ship the product when it's ready". The focus is now on getting a [semi-functional] product out the door.

And, of course, Microsoft has taught the world that it's perfectly acceptable to ship things that aren't ready. Most Windows admins won't touch a new MS product until SP1 comes out because they expect the initial release to have huge bugs.

Get a clue (1)

Spackler (223562) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019824)


If your XT works, than start writing your column on that. Otherwise, pour yourself a nice warm cup of "shut the hell up" because you are part of the problem. You wanted the small sleek phone, and now your stuck with it. If you pull out the suitcase phone that Danny Glover used in Lethal Weapon and start using it, that would be practicing what you preach. Damn, your sites homepage is pushing a column called "Mobile Phones to Upgrade Your Life". Howz that workin out for you? Fscking Hypocrite.

I was just thinking about it, and services too (1)

dindi (78034) | more than 7 years ago | (#17019838)

I was looking around this thrashpile house of mine, while trying to figure out why my wireless Logitech Trackman trackball does not work 15cm from my receiver, and saw my digital camera, with a dead pixel (sony dsc-whatever) after a2 months of use, next to it my nikon, 1 bad pixel after 6 years .... next to it, JVC miniDV, just returned from the states after a CCD change, came with a dirty head, so bad it could not record ... hey my free service did not include a head cleaning or checking if the crap was working ...

on the left, my Sony Vaio in pieces, plugged in, went black, no one figured what has happened ... on top of my toshiba laptop (that has 10 minutes tops battery time) my brand new HP laptop, 2 dead pixels.....

next to these MY UWATEC dive computer .. uhm, its empty socket .. since the unit died during an infrared transfer and despite the "you get a new one in a week", for 4 weeks - no news ... my Swatch dive watch, that starts timing dives on the surface, and the AOC widescreen display that is not the nicest quality, but hey, the second exchange does not have dead pixels at least ..... over me, hanging an epson projector - its went is soooo loud i hd to mount it on the roof so I can watch a movie, it's projected black is at best mild grey, but hey I should not complain ... Ohh, behind the desk the ipod's headphone that broke after 1 week of gym use, and next to it the great ITRIP from griffin, that sucks batteries like nothing else ... oh they sound like shit too .... my ipaq's broken external battery, ductaped on, the second exchange of wifi adapter rottening in it unused for months, even when it was brand new, battery died way too fast for even a short wardriving .. next to it my dead t68i showing it's dead face through the transparent drawer .....

Let me not continue, but I think I STOP buying junk. I really have to think if I need all the problems associated with these devices, and maybe just look into an other source of entertainment and forget about electronics, keep it for the workspace .... stay with mechanics, or sports ..... but wait

I am waiting for my car at home, this is the 2nd day they spend installing an alarm, but since BMWs are sooo complicated, they cannot make the central lock work...
In fact I had to pick it up yesterday, to notice that some service lights are on (airbag light).... remote starter, window rollup, central lock did not work, and they did not connect the brand new pioneer radio to the antenna - > they did not have the right connector (WTF ???)

OK, if BMWs ar really complicated (hey it is a 95 model), then let's see my VW (gol, simplest after polo). 2 days in the shop and they could not start it, 3 mechanics ($600 in parts), and the belts still make a sound.....

so here is my advice: stay with stuff / only buy stuff

1.that was made in the last century,
2. whereever you live it is a local product
3 has as little electronics as possible (get a car with a Carb, injection is waaay too complicated)
for fun:
play in the sandbox, go for a bike ride, walk your dogs .....

OK but more seriously : lately I am so annoyed about the quality of products (ANYTHING) that I am really considering changing profession and dumping my current hobbies, and start something completely away from gadgets and computers .....

One more thing I figured : no matter how much you make, and what price range of products you buy, you will have the same problems with you $50 memory stick, your $200 mp3 player, your $1500 projector or $4000 plasma TV, and even your $10k, $20k, $60k car .... because today's manufacturers do not give a shit, they have better lawyesr, and for most of the people problems like a dead pixel, short battery life, or a squeeeking sound or slightly burnt smell DOES NOT MAKE A DIFFERENCE ....

What's wrong with the RAZR? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17019880)

I've dropped mine several times. It still works like a champ.

Same for the previous Nokia candybar phones I've had...

Comparing the XT to the RAZR is apples and oranges. How about the old skool 80s brick phone vs. the RAZR?
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?