Tag Archives: smartphone

Planned Obsolescence in Technology: 1930s to Today

Planned Obsolescence in Technology: 1930s to Today

There is a light bulb hanging in a fire station in Livermore, CA that was installed in 1901 and has been glowing almost nonstop since. It has a carbon filament, unlike incandescent bulbs of today, which use tungsten. It was originally a 60 watt bulb but now gives off the glow of a night light, but the fact remains it has been going for over 115 years. Incandescent bulbs of today have a rating of 1,000 hours and LED bulbs have a life expectancy of 50,000 hours. How did we get from a 115 year bulb to a 1,000 hour bulb to a 50,000 hour bulb? Is the life expectancy planned or completely arbitrary? How does this apply to other technologies?

Lightbulb Cartel

In the 1920s, light bulb manufacturers banded together to create the 1,000 hour limit. Sales of bulbs were flattening since no one had to replace them so, to stimulate sales, alternative materials were introduced to reduce the life expectancy. This created a new avenue for manufacturers, the replacement market.

The term “planned obsolescence” can be traced back to a 1932 business pamphlet. Bernard London proposed to end the depression by taxing people who used goods beyond their life expectancy. This included clothing, automobiles, tires, etc. In his treatise, he explained:

“I propose that when a person continues to possess and use old clothing, automobiles and buildings, after they have passed their obsolescence date, as determined at the time they were created, he should be taxed for such continued use of what is legally ‘dead.’”

Fortunately, this idea was never legislated but the concept seems to have caught on in modern consumer culture.

Old Before Its Time

There are many examples of goods that are discarded because of functional, natural, or style obsolescence. General Motors introduced the “model year” in the 1920s to entice people to purchase a new car to keep up with frequent style changes. In reality, the greatest functional automotive innovation came from the electric starter, which replaced the crank. Clothing styles change frequently as well in order to entice people to purchase the latest fashion.

The stage was set years ago for our current technology obsolescence cycle. Some would argue that our consumerism fuels a growing GDP or spurs innovation and new technological breakthroughs. Others would argue that it fuels mountains of electronic waste and discarded toxic chemicals and minerals.

Operating system upgrades create obsolete products by overloading hardware and firmware. This renders the product, whether it be a smartphone or a smart TV, obsolete and useless. Obsolescence also occurs when someone replaces one piece of technology, such as a computer or operating system, but not the associated printer. This creates a situation where drivers are no longer compatible and components either don’t work at all or work in a diminished functionality. Either scenario is frustrating.

Answers

Unfortunately I do not have the answers to the need for constant technology refresh but I am hoping to start a dialogue here so that together we can come up with a solution. I am the person still running Windows XP on one of my home computers. I understand the security and supportability implications in my decision, but it serves my needs just fine and I don’t think I am keeping any state secrets on my system.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about sustainable production and highlighted projects such as Google’s Ara which is a modular smartphone with replaceable components. I am heartened that there are people and companies that are tackling this issue but I think we all need to understand the potential outcome of our purchase decisions.

Thoughts

Let me know if you have ever been frustrated by a sudden lack of operability because of an upgrade or planned obsolescence. What is your answer? When you purchase a new product do you think about its total lifecycle? How does that affect your choice? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Pokemon Go and the Future of Augmented Reality

Photograph of a smart phone screen with an active Pokemon Go game.Augmented reality took a big leap forward this month with the release of Pokemon Go from Niantic Labs and partner Nintendo. This game has become very popular and has drawn praise and criticism from different groups. Many are excited about getting players young and old out of the house, but some are concerned about the potential security problems when the lines are blurred between the virtual and real worlds. Personally, I am fascinated by the social implications of this technology and its potential benefits in gaming and extended professional scenarios.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go requires players to chase Pokemon cartoon characters in the real world using a smart phone. It uses the smartphone camera and clock to overlay one of 151 characters in real places such as the city, the beach, the forest or in buildings. The player must collect these characters wherever they may be. Water characters can only be collected near waterways and night fairies can only be collected at night. The game has become so popular that Darwin police in Northern Australia have alerted players that they do not need to come into the police station to catch a particular character:

For those budding Pokemon Trainers out there using Pokemon Go — whilst the Darwin Police Station may feature as a Pokestop, please be advised that you don’t actually have to step inside in order to gain the pokeballs. It’s also a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch ’em all!

This is not the first augmented reality game, but so far it’s the most popular. Niantic released a similar game called Ingress in 2015. Pokemon Go uses the same database of features and is basically Ingress using Nintendo characters.

Recent History

Niantic Labs was a Google creation but spun off last fall during the Alphabet restructuring. The original intent by Google was to build things on top of the incredible mapping technology that they already have. Think about Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Street View. They have a comprehensive database of geo coordinates, so it makes sense to augment (no pun intended) that work with a game. This is a great example of an innovation extension.

My Interest

I have seen similar application research recently in the field of education. The premise is that if young people could be enticed to go to a park or a museum or into the forest, they could learn about the features of that location and earn tokens at the same time. Basically, this is the gamification of nature or history. I have written about this topic before, but I am all in favor of enticing people to go outdoors, whether to search for cartoon characters or for solitude away from the stress and distractions of everyday life.

Thoughts

Games like Pokemon Go could be the first of many popular augmented reality games. While there are still some bugs to be worked out, the technology is promising. Have you played Pokemon Go? Do you think this is a passing fad or the beginning of a new reality? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Reducing E-Waste: Where We Stand Today

Photo of trash can full of e-waste.I have seen the future and I am not sure I like it. Recently I wrote about modular electronics and was hopeful we could reduce electronic waste, or e-waste, by retaining smartphones, tablets, and laptops longer and replacing only small broken or outdated components, such as memory or a screen. Although I am still hopeful for the future, I think that we have a long way to go to clean up the waste we have already generated. I was out and about yesterday and came upon a shop propping its door open with a Sony VAIO laptop. If laptops can be used as doorstops, then perhaps we have too many of them on this planet.

 Current State

According to Earthfix, 1.4 billion new phones are produced each year. Unless they are for new consumers, that means 1.4 billion are also discarded. In a recent article on PBS NewsHour, Jim Puckett, activist and head of the Seattle based Basel Action Network, led an investigation into the electronic recycling industry. Partnering with MIT’s Senseable City Lab, his organization planted tracking devices in 200 pieces of non-functioning electronic waste. They deposited the devices at recognized recycling centers and then followed the trackers to see where they ended up. To their surprise, more than a third of the devices ended up in Asia, most in Hong Kong. Instead of being dismantled and recycled in America, they are being shipped whole to Asia where there are far fewer safety and health regulations. They can be dismantled more cheaply because the methods are crude and dangerous.

While we can pride ourselves on the fact that our electronic waste did not end up in our landfills, we are transferring at least some of the recycling problem to less developed countries. Part of the reason for this is falling steel, gold, plastic, and copper prices. It is more difficult to recoup operating costs for a recycler so they sometimes shift the burden and sell the waste to others who can do it cheaper. What if we didn’t generate all of this electronic waste in the first place?

Future State

I am excited about the possibility of modular electronics and hope they lead to a smaller amount of electronic waste. Europe leads the world in regulations requiring manufacturers to take back and recycle their old products. Despite that diligence, a Newsweek article last year claimed that only one-third of Europe’s e-waste goes where it should and a lot of it ends up in Africa. The United States ships our problem to Asia and Europe ships theirs to Africa. We are both shifting the burden to those less equipped to deal with the problem.

In the U.S., several states have passed laws similar to those in Europe that require manufacturers to create or support outlets that take back end-of-life electronics. While this is a good first step, I think we need to go further. We need to try and find assembly methods that make products easy to disassemble and recycle at the end of the product’s life. While working for Hewlett-Packard a number of years ago, I came up with the idea to manufacture printer shells out of macaroni so that when the printer reaches its end of life, you just pop off the shell, throw it into a pot of water and you have dinner. My idea was not embraced but I still think it is a good one.

Thoughts

Electronic waste and our current recycling methods are a big problem and they are only getting bigger. I would love to hear your thoughts on ways to tackle this. Perhaps together we can come up with a solution.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

E-Waste and the Future of Modular Electronics

Modular cell phone In a recent article from National Public Radio, the authors pose the question “If I told you there was a way to keep using your phone forever, would you want to?” Interestingly, the response was split: some would gladly keep their phone and others really do want to upgrade every year or two. The authors of the article focus on electronic modularity or in this case, cell phone modularity. This is the idea that a phone or other electronic device can be upgraded not by discarding the entire phone, but only the portion that is lacking. The upgrade may mean more memory, a better or additional battery, a higher resolution camera, or a new screen. Technically it is possible to build a modular smartphone now, but of course that would mean that the device manufacturer would have to accept a lower revenue stream. I think that the good folks at Samsung and Apple would be hard pressed to buy into that idea. Let’s explore current efforts with modularization and pose the same question: “If you could keep your phone forever, would you do it?”

Phonebloks

Dave Haakens has started a web site called Phonebloks to promote the concept of modular phones. He is not building the actual phone itself but is hoping to inspire someone else to pick up the torch and run with it. He believes, and rightly so, that we are filling our landfills with e-waste such as discarded electronic devices that have become obsolete. Technically and physically they are still sound, but were tossed aside because someone wanted the newest model or an operating system upgrade left the old phone underpowered. A modular phone would eliminate both of these examples of e-waste. The only thing discarded, or hopefully recycled, would be the small module being replaced.

LG G5

LG has created a new phone with replaceable modules called LG Friends. Current modules include an enhanced camera and replacement batteries. LG promises to release more friends in the future. While this design does not provide for every module to be replaced, it is definitely a step in the right direction.

Puzzlephone, Fairphone, and Project ARA

A recent Tech Times article highlighted the difference between some of the platforms that are available or will hopefully be available soon. The Puzzlephone will be available in September and is split into three components, the display, the processor, and the battery, along with other electronics. You can replace only one of these components when they die or are underpowered. The Fairphone is available now and every component can be swapped out including the processor, the camera, the speaker, and the display. Project ARA from Google is currently only a concept but they hope to work with developers to create replaceable modules other than the traditional brains and the heart. Google has promised to release a prototype later this year.

The Plumbing Store

I look forward to the day when I can walk into the phone store and pick up a module, regardless of the phone provider, and it will work seamlessly with my phone. When I have a plumbing leak, I don’t replace all of the plumbing in my house but simply go to the hardware store and buy a replacement pipe the length, diameter, and material that I need. It doesn’t need to match the brand of plumbing that is in my home because the plumbing industry long ago agreed on standards. I look forward to that same ubiquity and modularity in the electronics industry.

Thoughts

What do you think of modular phones? Would you keep your current phone forever if you could replace just the individual components as they failed or became obsolete? Would the green factor of not having to replace your phone be a deciding factor? Personally, I like the capabilities and form factor of my current phone and I would hang on to it. Let me know your vote. In a future blog post I will focus on modular laptops and tablets.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

The Consumerization of IT

Photo of businesspeople using devices.It used to be that information technology was the domain of specialists. In the last 10 years, the adoption of new technology has shifted to the consumer and not the enterprise. As a result, employees who were accustomed to using technology at home pushed for adoption in the workplace. This left IT groups scrambling to adapt their policies and applications to work with consumer devices and software, not always willingly.

This consumerization of technology inspired the popularity of bring your own device (BYOD) to work. The two main concerns over this trend are first and foremost security and second, compatibility with corporate applications. While it is desirable to access data and applications anytime, anywhere, and on any device, it is not always easy or safe. In this blog post I will look at the history and future trends of the IT consumerization. Will we continue as we have, or will the enterprise once again take the lead in new technology adoption?

History

Computers were originally used in government and businesses for things such as bomb trajectory calculations in World War II, tabulating voters’ ballots for presidential elections, and organizing corporate accounting activities. Operators and programmers were in charge of running the computers and any task or requests had to be fed through them. The query results came as printouts, not displayed on a desktop screen. Even as late as the mid-1980s I remember working in a large computer room where we printed stacks of paper that were set outside the computer room to be retrieved. Only computer operators and technicians were allowed inside the room. Access to the computers was through dumb terminals as input and the generated paper results as output.

Personal Computers

Apple and other companies sold computers to hobbyists in the late 1970s. While this was technically a consumer product, it was considered a niche market. When IBM introduced the personal computer in 1981, it was targeting the corporate employee, not individual consumers. When user-friendly word processing and spreadsheet software became available, consumers began buying computers for home use.

Networking

Without connecting the home computer to the outside world, people were still left with the same problem of input and output. Input came through the keyboard or from a disk, and the output came to a printer or screen or to another disk. The disks had limited capacity so to share a program or data, one had to have multiple disks that were hopefully labeled correctly. With early dial-up modems, people could finally share information (not graphics, that would take forever) with each other. As consumer networks improved, so did our desire to connect and share things with each other and the lines between work and home began to blur.

The Tipping Point

The tipping point for the consumerization of IT came with smartphones and tablets. Laptops were certainly more mobile and could go back and forth from home to work, but the smartphone and tablet made it even easier to live in both worlds. IT departments initially rejected tablets as not being robust and secure enough for the enterprise. The smartphone was even worse because it was so portable. Blackberry was one of the pioneers in bridging the gap between corporate e-mail and information systems and consumer devices. Salespeople and executives could receive information while they were with a client instead of waiting for a computer operator to process a request. It was a whole new world that continues to evolve.

Today

In my Information Systems class we talk about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the tools that we need to deploy, such as Mobile Device Management (MDM), in order to integrate consumer devices into the workplace. The key for technology departments is adaptability. The lines are blurred and the genie is not going back in the bottle so we need to make sure our data and enterprise are secure while working with these devices.

In a possible reversal of trends, Deloitte predicts what they call the re-enterprization of IT in the next few years. They point to current technologies such as wearables, 3D printing, and drones being embraced by the enterprise as evidence of that reversal. I am skeptical that the consumer trend is changing just yet but I will keep my eyes open.

Thoughts

Has the consumerization of IT helped you in your work or has it caused you pain as you deal with the consequences? I don’t miss the days of wearing a separate pager and I love being able to access data from any device at any time. I also realize the work that goes into the back end to make this access seamless and I appreciate the efforts of technologists who build bridges between consumer devices and the enterprise. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

All Things Health

Male hand holding stethoscope emerges from a laptop screen.I have blogged in the past on the Internet of Things (IoT) and also on health and technology. Today’s post is about the intersection of those two areas. It is about how the Internet of Things can keep us potentially safe and healthy.

Tracking Your Health

With the introduction of the Apple Watch yesterday, Apple also introduced ResearchKit, a follow on to HealthKit that was introduced last year. This allows you to participate in research studies through your iPhone. Hardware on the iPhone such as voice recorders or motion sensors can help you track steps taken or voice patterns that may detect the onset of Parkinson’s disease. This data can then be shared, with your permission, with researchers so they get a much larger global sampling for their studies. Of course, the data is also available to you as well so that you can monitor and be an advocate for your own health. Perhaps, you are not getting as much exercise as you need or perhaps there are early warning signs of a chronic disease that you need to pay attention to. It would be great to have a device that would detect the early signs of a stroke and alert you and others to the possibility—early detection and intervention is critical in this case.

Smart Health

In a recent article by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, she highlights some devices in the intersection of Internet of Things and health monitoring. Among the devices she mentions are these:

  • Scales that monitor not only your weight but also your body composition. This is a great way to closely track your health day to day and over a long period.
  • Beds that monitor your heart rate, respiration rate, motion, and “bed presence” or how long you have been in bed can help you track your health through nonintrusive means. These measures can give you early warning signs of health issues.
  • Toilets that can monitor your weight, BMI, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. This is important to help you understand when you are becoming pre-diabetic and need to change your diet or exercise routine.
  • Motion monitors such as FitBit or the new Apple Watch which remind us through a chime or haptic feedback when we have been sitting too long or have not completed our 10,000 steps for the day yet.
  • Smart lamps designed to change light intensity depending on the time of day and also monitor your sleep (or lack thereof) and remind you when it is time to retire by a friendly blink. These are connected to your home network and can be controlled through your smartphone.

Thoughts

Where some see opportunity and peace of mind, others see intrusiveness and privacy issues. We can now monitor very detailed health information and share that with our doctor or in the case of ResearchKit, researchers trying to develop a breakthrough to eradicate, or at least control common health issues. A blessing for some, a potential health information breach for others. I think that, by combining health monitoring and the Internet of Things, we can enjoy unobtrusive devices that let us be in charge of our own wellness and health. Let me know what you think. Do you use health monitoring devices? Do they work for you? I look forward to hearing about your experiences.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Form Follows Function: Why Do We Need Wearables?

shutterstock_134823296I recently read an article titled: “Smartwatches: Wear Did It All Go Wrong” which laments the fact that these devices have not been adopted into the mainstream and offers some explanation as to why. The article boils it down to the fact that while the technology is available, the social or personal need for it does not exist yet. In other words, there is still a very thin market for them. In architecture, there is an adage that “form follows function” meaning the shape of an object or a building should follow its intended function. In the case of smart watches, it appears that we developed the form and the technology before fully understanding the need or the function. In other words, the “what” was developed before the “why.

Transplanting New Technology Into Old Forms

As humans, we have a habit of trying to superimpose new ideas and new technologies onto old forms. I think that if the form is familiar and widely accepted, then it’s easier to sell the old form with new functions. Think of the evolution, or lack thereof, of the computer keyboard. The keyboard we use today on our smartphone stems from the 1873 manual typewriter. There has been no significant change in style in 141 years! In the case of a smart watch, it is a combination of a smart phone and a wristwatch. The smart phone has its origins in the 1876 telephone invented by Alexander Graham Bell. A person talks in one end and listens from the other. It became mobile and then other functions were added to simulate a personal digital assistant and then finally a full computer.

The wristwatch comes from the spring driven pocket watch of the sixteenth century; in the twentieth century, it became electronic with the advent of quartz crystals. Along the way, there were more functions added, such as timers and alarms and even an attempt to add a calculator, which had mixed results. The wristwatch also was made to simulate a personal digital assistant and now is attempting to become an extension or a replacement of the smartphone.

The Future

I believe that the smartwatch is the wrong answer to the right question. The question is: what will make our life better? It is time to stop extending the old forms to fit our modern lifestyle and needs. It is time to reinvent the form to fit our way of doing things. The technology is available now. It is time to think differently.

Thoughts

This blog post is a challenge to all to think of different ways to reinvent our outdated forms. We can do better than a nineteenth century keyboard. We can stop using sixteenth century metaphors such as wristwatches. Dick Tracy got his two-way wrist radio almost seventy years ago. Surely we can do better in 2014. Do you have an idea for a better form? Share it with me and together we can make the world a more elegant place.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at nigh.