Don't expect the end of electronics obsolescence anytime soon

Software updates can't rejuvenate old hardware.

This post originally appeared in Mike Loukides’ Google+ feed.

Solid State by skippyjon, on FlickrA cheery post-CES Mashable article talks about “the end of obsolescence.” Unfortunately, that’s precisely not what the sort of vendors distributing at CES have in mind.

The general idea behind the end of obsolescence is that consumer electronics — things like Internet-enabled TVs — are software upgradeable. The vendor only needs to ship a software update, and your TV is as good as the new ones in the store.

Except it isn’t. It’s important to think about what drives people to buy new gear. It used to be that you bought a TV or a radio and used it for 10 or 20 years, until it broke. (Alas, repairability is no longer in our culture.) Yes, the old one didn’t have all the features of the new one, but who really cared? It worked. I’ve got a couple of flat screen monitors in my office; they’re sorta old, they’re not the best, and sure, I’d like brand new ones, but they work just fine and will probably outlive the computers they’re connected to.

The point of field upgrades is that your old TV will have all the “new” features — just like my office computers that get regular updates from Apple and Microsoft. But your old TV will also have its 10-year-old CPU, 10-year-old RAM, and its 10-year-old SD card slot that doesn’t know what to do with terabyte SD cards. And the software upgrades will make you painfully aware of that. Instead of a TV that works just fine, you’ll have a TV that works worse and worse as time goes by. If you’re in the computing business, and you’ve used a five-year-old machine, you know how painful that can be.

End of obsolescence? No, it’s rubbing obsolescence in your face. Good for vendors, maybe, but not for consumers.

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Photo: Solid State by skippyjon, on Flickr

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