Obsolescence programmed: “The new iPhone shows that Apple persists”

Despite Halte’s complaint about the planned obsolescence (Hop) against the American company in December 2017, Apple seems to pursue a short-lived strategy of its phones, says the president of the association, Samuel Sauvage. Yet the demand for sustainable products is growing among consumers, pushing governments and businesses to evolve.

In December 2017, a small French association, still unknown to the majority of consumers, launched a pavement in the market of French smartphone business, announcing that it filed a complaint against Apple. Stopping the obsolescence programmed (Hop) accused the American company of clamping its old models of iPhone via an update of the operating system, and this, at the very moment of the release of the iPhone 8, in order to push customers to buy the new model. A few months earlier, the association had already sued Epson, accused of deliberately shortening the life of printers and cartridges.

Almost a year later, while at the ninth annual keynote Apple has just unveiled its latest news, what about the issue of planned obsolescence? Samuel Sauvage, president of Hop, returns to the complaint and explores the question for La Tribune.

Not yet. Admittedly, in January, after the announcement of our legal action, while its share price fell, Apple issued arguments that could have hoped for a change of approach. But the new iPhone that the company has just launched show that it persists in a short life strategy of its phones, declined both technically and on the marketing strategy. According to the iFixit site, the repairability of new models is even lower than previous ones! And the goal is still to make the consumer captive … The guarantee has not been extended to five years as we requested. Only positive point: we evoke a new version of iOS that would be compatible with more models.

But we are still waiting for the judge’s decision on our complaint against Apple. And we believe that in case of conviction, the symbolic and dissuasive effect of our action can be particularly strong. The complaints brought by Hop in France against Epson and Apple are indeed in terms of planned obsolescence the only example of criminal actions, involving not compensation, but prison sentences for leaders. So far, the legal actions in the United States have all been civil “class actions”, intended to obtain “only” damages.

Is the French legislative apparatus today at the height of the stakes?

In France, the law of energy transition created in 2015 a real crime of obsolescence programmed, that the decisions on our actions will apply precisely for the first time. France is therefore in the forefront on the subject, even if we are not yet able to evaluate the effectiveness of this law.

But in general, French law is probably still well below the stakes, given the urgency of reducing our consumption of resources and waste. It would be necessary to go much further than a recognition of programmed “technical” obsolescence, concerning deliberately fragile or non-repairable objects.

Our association advocates a broader vision, including all strategies to limit the life of products: that of for example to impose software that obsolete obsolete devices that still work, but also psychological obsolescence and aesthetics. More generally, we expect the state to promote the sustainable industry at the expense of disposable, through regulatory or tax measures. By contributing to the preservation of the environment, such an approach would be in line not only with the political demand of the citizens, but also with the general interest of the State.

The government has just promised the establishment of a “reparability index” from 2020. What do you think?

This is one of the proposals that we have put forward in the context of the circular economy roadmap because it gives citizens the power to choose a durable good. We are therefore delighted that it has been resumed – even if we speak more generally of a “sustainability index”. We regret, however, that our other requests have not been retained: the extension of the product warranty; the adoption of a reduced VAT for repair services in order to lower costs; the obligation to ensure the availability of spare parts for several years …
As we know, the economic interests that oppose greater sustainability of products are important. Hence the need for civil society to engage, by informing itself, by choosing sustainable products, by repairing, and where also the birth of our association, which has contributed to informing on a still unknown phenomenon there is five years old. This will undoubtedly have an effect on business choices: when they realize that the criterion of sustainability becomes important for consumers, or that competitors begin to integrate it, they end up moving. By announcing the availability of its spare parts for 10 years, Seb has for example jostled the market.

But we can not limit ourselves to criticizing: we must also adopt a constructive logic to help companies that wish to change. Our association can act as a trusted third party between companies and citizens. We facilitate the exchange of good practices between a dozen companies engaged in the production of durable goods.

Each release of a new iPhone is also a boon for the refurbished phone market. In this context, is reconditioning really a bulwark against planned obsolescence and waste production?

We promote repackaging so that abandoned phones are reused. But we first advocate to keep each object as long as possible, and invest in devices such as the Fairphone, whose environmental footprint is limited and are more easily repairable.

If there are still some dysfunctions or even paradoxes in these new modes of consumption, it is nevertheless important to support them, showing that they form different pieces of the puzzle solutions.

Can new technologies help in the fight against planned obsolescence?

Without a doubt! In particular, there is a huge amount of work to be done on product referencing, to trace the origins and effects of the product, along the lines of what Yuka does on foods. I-buycott, via its BuyOrNot app, does it partially. In this logic, in November, Hop will also launch a new version of the durableproducts.fr website, aimed at strengthening consumer information on durable goods and concrete solutions to extend the life of products.

Scheduled obsolescence puts the consumer society model in the background. Sustainability and growth, are they compatible?

When it comes to imposing constraints on companies, governments are actually worried about hurting growth, as if rising GDP should be considered as a supreme goal. Beyond our disagreement on the place that this indicator must take in public policy, we believe that the demand for greater sustainability of products would not only preserve resources, but also recreate industrial jobs in France.

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