What is unjustifiable consumerism? It is a form of conspicuous consumption that defies logic and common sense. It goes beyond filling a need or desire and exists purely as evidence of the power of advertising to convince us to buy almost anything.
What brings this to mind is the introduction of the Apple iPhone 7. One of its highly touted ‘features’ is the elimination of a headphone jack. Taking advantage of this ‘feature’ requires the purchase of optional wireless earbuds (AirPods) that retail for an additional $159.00. Plus, the AirPods need their batteries charged independently of your smartphone on a dedicated charger (each charge lasts a maximum of five hours).
Consider this scenario: You walk into a public restroom with your light-as-a-feather wireless AirPods sitting in each earlobe. Suddenly, while at a urinal, one of the wireless earbuds comes loose and falls into the mini-waterfall just before you. Or, maybe it just falls on the damp restroom floor instead. Do you pick it up, dry it off and pop it right back into your ear?
My guess is that you will be back at the Apple store getting a brand new pair or at the very least, a new single Airpod replacement. This is planned obsolescence 2.0. The rapid obsolescence of this product is engineered by the likelihood that it will eventually be damaged, dropped or lost, requiring you to purchase a new pair. Kaching, Apple, kaching…
There is no enhancement of the earbud design to make them more secure in the ear. Because this Apple wireless earbud model does not come with slip-on pads to customize the fit to your ear, they are more prone than most to being dislodged. It is not a matter of if they will fall out, but when.
The Verge did a poll of nearly 16,000 Apple Earbud users (the older wired, headphone jack equipped earbud), asking them, “Do Your Apple Earbuds Fall Out of Your Ears?” Of the respondents, 35% answered “all the time,” and 17% answered “some of the time.” The new AirPods have the same in-the-ear dimensions as the older EarPods.
There is no rational reason to buy wireless earbuds that are likely to fall out when you walk, jog, or chew gum. Plus, think of how easy it will be to misplace those chiclet-sized tech toys (at $69 per ear). The old-fashioned headphone-jack wired earphones are much cheaper, more stable, and compatible with a much wider range of consumer tech products.
How does Apple benefit from marketing a product that is, by design, more likely to be dropped or lost? “Assuming you lose two over the effective lifespan it still (just) remains cheaper to buy two replacements rather than a new kit. But when you multiply the losses over the millions of users that Apple expects to buy a set of AirPods, then the increased gross revenue from solo AirPods and replacement cases over new units are going to add up… Well played, Apple, that’s a nice little earner.” – Apple’s Penalty Charge for a Lost Airpod –Forbes magazine.
Is the development of wireless AirPods a technological advancement? Absolutely! But who really benefits from it? The manufacturer or the consumer?
This is, in truth disposable technology. The more you use them, the greater the likelihood that they will be dropped or lost, and need replacement. That weakness is cleverly obscured by marketing that focuses on the style and ‘hipness’ of the product. Will Apple customers become comfortable with the prospect of spending $140.00 more for a product that is disposable by design (traditional wired Apple Earpods with similar sound quality can be purchased for under $20.00 per pair)? Apple certainly hopes so.
Nevertheless, it is likely that wireless earbuds will become the standard in the near future as more smartphone manufacturers adopt it. It will be the hot new thing. They will become cheaper and more discardable. We will probably notice more of them left abandoned on the street like old cigarette butts. After all who will want to put one back in his ear after it has fallen in the mud or rain?