Why Are Consumer Electronics Constructed So Cheaply?
Many devices I purchased in the late 1990s and early 2000s (and still own, believe it or not) still work like new, including video cameras, CD players, VCRs, stereos, tube televisions and answering machines -- even an old Dell laptop. But it seems like everything I bought within the last four years has a lifespan of one to three years.
Here are a few examples of recent product failures among some of the most highly regarded brands:
- My one-year-old BlackBerry's backplate cracked and had to be replaced. Shortly after that replacement, the circuitry fried and the entire phone had to be replaced.
- My two-year-old Mac's keyboard circuitry fried, and that had to be replaced. Shortly after that, the camera failed and had to be replaced.
- My wife's droid vibrated and then fell off her bedside table, resulting in a cracked screen (just like all the cracked iPhone screens you've seen).
- My son dropped his grandfather's iPhone on a carpeted floor and cracked the screen.
- Last weekend my 18-month-old Samsung plasma television developed a short and stopped working -- and I'm still waiting for the prognosis.
- Two of our four Panasonic wireless home phones -- each under three years old -- have significantly deteriorated in call quality.
- My lightly used, four-year-old iPod's hard drive now freezes intermittently, while my wife's has died completely .
This trend is a problem. I expect devices to work for many years, especially if I invest hundreds or many thousands of dollars in them. On an aggregate basis, dollars add up quickly and become significant. Second, the shortening lifespan of all these devices translates into excessive environmental waste. As far as I can tell, there is very little, if any, effort to minimize the environmental impact of this trend.
That's why I'm making an open request for all consumer electronics manufacturers to increase the ruggedness of their products. In addition to building reasonably rugged products, they should back up their products with reasonable guarantees of performance and lifespan. That means standard warranties of three to five years, minimum -- and 10 would be even better. (I've been using American Express's extended warranty guarantee too often lately.)
To encourage quality and alleviate environmental impact, I propose legislation and taxes for manufacturers of products that break quickly or fill our landfills sooner versus later.
A friend recently suggested I should simply boycott cheaply manufactured electronics. The problem with that logic is that there are few ways to differentiate the cheap from the quality. Again, it seems like most devices are guilty, even the most esteemed brands.
That's why I would like to see product reviewers focus just as much on lifespan and ruggedness as they do on bells and whistles of the latest gizmos. It should be easier to pick out the gems from the junk. I also would like to see more modular designs, so we can replace components versus entire products.
What else can we do to reverse the onslaught of cheaply-manufactured consumer electronics devices?
It's a growing problem that nobody talks about. But enough is enough.