By Isaac Butler
Sorry to break my long blog silence with something a bit grouchy-- especially since, well, it's my birthday-- but this morning I was listening to NPR's Weekend Edition, and they were talking about the recent news that Apple is declaring the original iPhone obsolete. It has been on the market for just six years. They will no longer provide customer support nor manufacture parts for it.
Scott Simon then said in passing, "in just six years the iPhone has gone from cutting edge to antique. That's just the pace of progress these days," before moving on to talk about whether such fast-paced obsolecense discourages us from taking "the long view."
That's an interesting question, I suppose, but before we can even examine it, we should look at the assumptions in the above quote. That's just the pace of progress these days makes it seem like Apple and its consumers are simply the victims of The Way The World Works. Progress here is simply a force, like gravity.
In reality, Apple is a pioneer in forced obsolecense, in creating a world in which "progress" means new big products announced annually, many of which are actually just old the old products with just enough tweaks to require new kinds of cables or other accessories. Creating this new, hyperspeed definition of progress has helped Apple become the most profitable company in the United States.
Apple's definition of progress has, additionally, had enormous human and environmental costs. It has also had some benefits, but since those are more widely discussed, I don't feel the need to go into them right now.
All of this was a deliberate strategy, a series of choices made by a group of people as a way of maximizing revenue. And it worked. It's worked for long enough, and worked well enough, that it's easy to assume that that's just the way progress is these days, but that's an assumption. An assumption that ends up shaping the story (in this case by deciding it isn't one) right out of the gate.