In the ongoing battle to milk every cent out of an obsolescing platform before it’s time comes to an end, today, as per ars technica, Nintendo lowers its 2DS price to 99.99 USD.
Why is this significant? It emphasizes a harsh reality of Sourcing in just about any technology or non-raw material category. Whatever you’re sourcing today, you won’t be sourcing tomorrow, and if you are, chances are the organization won’t be around much longer as sales will dry up, the balance sheet will dip into the red, and bankruptcy will be inevitable.
But should it be this way? In the age of the PC, even though, as Weird Al clearly pointed out in the now classic It’s All About the Pentiums, it was obsolete before you opened the box, it didn’t mean that you had to throw the whole thing out and get a new one to take advantage of advancements. Motherboards had removable processors extra slots and you could throw in or replace cards with math co-processors, better video cards, parallel and serial device interfaces to printers, scanners, and analog signal converters, etc. Now, you knew that eventually you would have to upgrade when a better bus came along or the register size doubled, but even then the new mother boards came with interface slots to the previous generation cards so you could keep using them until you were ready to replace them. You could keep the same case for the better part of decade with smart upgrades.
Now we have slim case laptops where everything is built in and nothing is upgradeable. You have to buy a whole new unit every two years. Not only does this mean Sourcing needs to source a whole new product design at least every six months, but it also has to focus on reclamation. Many modern electronics, especially those that run on cellular or wireless networks, require a significant amount of rare earth minerals and expensive metals that need to be reclaimed due to the limited supply. Plus, in many locales, it’s illegal for a consumer to throw it out, and not only do they need to take the product to a recycling location, but some locales, such as the EU, require the producer to take the product back and appropriately recycle it.
But you know all this, as SI has been ranting about this and the need to design for recycling since the beginning, but, at this point, that’s not enough.
At this point, SI really thinks that all products need to be designed for perpetual upgrade. It should be possible to replace all components of a device as needed as they wear out or need to be upgraded. And it needs to be easier than it was with old desktop computers where you had to open the case, remove a bunch of wires to get to the card/drive/processor, do a precise sequence of presses, twists, and pops to safely get the component out, do the reverse to get it back in, reattach the wires, put the case back on, and then power up and test you don’t cross any wires (while wearing rubber gloves, just in case).
Each component should be a self contained “box” with a standard interface connector, using an upgradeable design that can support the fastest speed the configuration of connected components can effectively support. For example, a copper-based multi-pin connector (which, as demonstrated by Thunderbolt and USB 3.1, can support data transfer rates in excess of 10 Gbit/s) for low-end consumer devices and optimal connections (which, as multiplexing technology, will allow faster and faster transfers in the future) for high-end consumer devices and business devices. Boxes should have multiple smart connectors that can register the type of device they are connected to, and the devices they are connected to (as the components will communicate over an internal high-speed network), allowing the device to be upgraded with new components, and capabilities, not imagined when the initial set of components were first built.
For portability, durability, and weather-proofing, custom enclosure boxes could be built that would hold a standard set of components that would represent a power-house desktop computer or a portable tablet/laptop (where the screen slid out of a sheath and plugged in to the top of the main box and the keyboard folded down).
We may never see this, but imagine how much easier it would be for everyone if the same components could be used for years, investments lasted longer, and Sourcing strategies could be more consistent and predictable.
Just a revelation encased in a rant triggered by a reaction to another price reduction required by planned obsolescence.