Phone Makers Attacked for Frequent Releases

John Lister's picture

Using the average phone a year longer would have the same environmental impact as taking 636,000 cars off the road each year according to campaigners. It's a claim that's sparked calls to end the habit of manufacturers to produce a new model every year.

The calls come in the run-up to a major climate change conference, but remains unclear what incentive gadget-makers have to respond.

The 636,000 cars figure comes from the Public Interest Research Group, whose campaigns include giving consumers a right to repair devices. It told The Register that an average of 416,000 US cellphones are ditched every day, which is plausible if high-sounding: it's roughly equivalent to the average adult getting rid of a phone every two years. (Source:

Climate Talks Agenda

That's led the BCS (British Computer Society) to call for product release cycles to be a major talking point at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also called COP26.

The BCS contrasted phones and other gadgets with cars, where it's usual to replace almost all components when they fail, with scrapping the entire vehicle a last resort.

However, the BCS also noted that even when devices continue to work, manufacturers still have a culture of releasing new models as often as possible, trying to persuade users to upgrade to the latest version.

Apple Under Fire

Apple has even been accused of deliberately slowing down performance on older iPhones. It settled a consumer fraud lawsuit but denied any wrongdoing. It argued the slowdown was necessary to preserve battery life on the older handsets and prevent a problem that meant the latest version of iOS was causing unwanted shutdowns. (Source:

It's difficult to see how officials and lawmakers can make much difference from this angle however. It's certainly true that many jurisdictions have experimented with laws that stop manufacturers making it harder to repair devices, for example by restricting component availability or unfairly voiding warranties.

However, it's highly unlikely most countries with a market economy could or would stop businesses launching new products. Instead that's something more likely to be addressed by changing consumer demand or by a manufacturer finding it made more money selling fewer, longer-lasting devices.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you worry about the environmental impact of the devices you buy and use? Do you always get the latest upgrade or use devices as long as you can? Is it realistic to ask or expect manufacturers to wait longer between new models?

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Gurugabe's picture

That is absolutely ridiculous! Phone manufacturers are not the only ones that release a new model every year or even multiple times a year, you have cars, TVs, laundry detergent, and many other things in the hopes that you trade up to the next best thing or even switch from their competitor but yet where are the complaints against them? It is completely up to the consumer as to when they upgrade and not the manufacturer as to when you upgrade despite how hard they try.

JeffRL's picture

There have been complaints about this for many years. Just because you weren't paying attention doesn't mean they didn't happen. There was a time when every model of car was changed substantially every year, but now it's just minor difference year to year until they introduce a "new generation", something that can take as long as ten years.

If you believe "new and improved" on a box of Tide, you're a fool. All they're doing is trying to lure people away from other brands. Often, the only thing that's new is the word itself on the box. People falling for it don't dump the rest of the box they already have when they buy a new one, but that's what's happening with phones.

And it's not "completely up to the consumer as to when they upgrade" because as the article clearly states, they degrade older phones with "upgrades". Peer pressure stoked by advertising also adds to the desire/need to buy a new phone.

The phonemakers know that many (most) customers will buy the latest model no matter what and they're exploiting it to the hilt. THAT is what's "absolutely ridiculous", not the suggestion that phonemakers slow their new product cycle, which is reasonable, sensible, and responsible.

Which phonemaker or retailer do you work for, by the way?

russoule's picture

no, absurd is when Microsoft "updates" a perfectly good opsystem twice a year, in order to replace apps that were removed by the users as irrelevant. or Microsoft and IOS making the latest and greatest opsys incompatible with older equipment just so new equipment can be sold. or Android updating its software on a daily basis as well as the various app providers just so the advertising can be re-added.

the problem with the cell-phones is the same as the Android tablets - the latest apps will not work on older models. its absurd that the consumer is required to replace his/her/its equipment annually just to be able to use the newest software.

let's face it, do we REALLY NEED to have a phone that can take 6000 pixels pictures? (sacr)
most of the so-called "upgrades" have little advantage for the majority of the users. slow the upgrades down to once every two years.

Unrecognised's picture

yep. obsurd. a big thumbs-up to obsurd

buzzallnight's picture

go is,
right to repair and
security updates for older phones.
Then people can keep using their old phones if they want to.

Also our government needs to stop allowing changes to the RF spectrum,
this obsoleted every TV ever made a few years ago
and is also a problem for phones.

Now they are going to phase out 3G which still works just fine!
Can you hear the sound of thousands of old cell phones hitting the trash?

davolente_10330's picture

Built-in obsolescence has, unfortunately, been around ever since people learnt how to manufacture consumer items in bulk and probably won't be disappearing any time soon. Certain folk that are easily led and fooled by deceptive advertising will always crave the very latest of everything with "new" bells and whistles and 'tis they that fuel the daft frequent releases of items that don't really offer anything out of the ordinary, or fresh, compared to previous models. I like my techie toys (that also includes home cinema, hi-fi and photography gear - "proper" cameras!) but I don't get paranoid about not having the latest and greatest every year, or more frequently. I quite agree that issuing "new" models at the drop of a hat should be curbed.

Unrecognised's picture

...commie lefty pinko woke blah (or do I), but


And, by extension, us.

Actually, good fиcking riddance. Us, that is. Eat that, JB Peterdouche.

PayPaul's picture

Read this very prescient book by Brian Herbert published in 1985 to understand this issue. A quote from that book is the blueprint for the devious plan of phone manufacturers to obligate us to constantly buy new phones and other gadgets: "It's unfair to repair"
Disgusting and criminal!

dan400man's picture

First of all, can I just call out this bullsh1t:
"Using the average phone a year longer would have the same environmental impact as taking 636,000 cars off the road each year according to campaigners."

Way to pull an extravagantly ridiculous number out of your ass while trying to make your point.

Here is what I do know. Every smartphone I have ever owned still "works". In the "good old days", I could use a phone indefinitely as long as I could replace the battery. Easy peasy. Pop the cover, pop out the battery, pop in the new one, pop the cover back on, power up, done. That kept me from buying a new phone every two years. So, right-to-repair is important, but just giving us the ability to swap out a battery without having to buy a kit and watch a twenty minute youtube video (if you can find one for your phone) would go a long way in helping people hang on to their phones much longer. I don't need my phone to be waterproof. I've managed to keep all of my phones out of the water for 15 years, so this is a "feature" often bandied about for sealed batteries that I (and, I suspect, most others) can live without.