Seems every year about this time, either to catch the wave of back-to-schoolers or to whet the appetites of pre-holiday shoppers, Apple and other techno-giants unveil new products, upgrades, and/or plans for such. Rather than go in full blog mode on a subject near and dear—the seemingly nonstop churn of technology product life cycles—I thought I’d reach back into the monkey vault and revisit my posting on the topic from this past January. Enjoy! (Paul)  

Product Life Cycle Management: Are We Reaching the Saturation Point?
(Originally published January 10, 2012)

I’ve had my iPad2 for less than a year and already I’m hearing talk the iPad3 is likely to make its debut this spring. Heck, I’ve barely explored all my iPad2 features  . . . and now this, on the heels of a similarly timed transition for the iPhone 4 and its iPhone 4s successor.  Was such a quick transition necessary, prudent, profitable? We hardly get used to one device before the next generation is on its way, bigger, better, and more robust.

Technology is moving so quickly that companies are rushing products to market to the point of saturation. Do we really need a new tablet or smartphone model every year? At what point do consumers shy away from buying the “latest” model knowing that the next, bigger and better version, is just around the corner?

Whatever happened to responsible product life cycle management?

Let’s look at the US film industry. These days, movies are released to theatres and then within 4- to 6-months to DVD/Blue Ray (or On-demand). Faced with the expense of going to a new release (I just paid more than $40 for my ticket, parking, drink, and popcorn) is it any wonder that more and more people are staying home, willing to wait six months for the DVD/Blue Ray to come out—especially when many have high definition TVs and surround sounds in their own homes? For many, the theatre experience is just not worth the cost, which is probably the main reason the US box office experienced one of its worst years ever in 2011.

Again, whatever happened to responsible product life cycle management?

Let’s look at high definition televisions. How long was the shelf-life for that 720p flat screen you shelled out more than $1500 for a few years back? Within a year, economical 1080p sets were available, leaving 720p owners feeling stuck with “last year’s model” (which they were!). Since then, we’ve seen the introduction of lower-priced LED sets, higher and higher refresh rates, bigger and better screens. Soon we’ll see “Ultra” HD, which is 2 to 4-times better resolution than 1080p, become more affordable and flood the consumer market. Seems like that new home theatre system you just shelled out a bunch of bananas for, with the 50-inch 1080p screen as its focal point, may be old news when the next holiday cycle rolls around.

It seems to me that irresponsible product life cycle management is killing far too many products before their time. Consumers are being asked (in many cases) to pay big bucks to get the latest, greatest thing only to discover it’s outmoded or out-of-fashion within the year.

As strategic marketers, our job is to plan the growth of a product from infancy to retirement, but today’s product life cycles are so short, we hardly get the products out of diapers before we start measuring them for pine boxes! Consumers are growing weary of the constant churn, the constant need to stay caught up with the latest gadget, the constant marketing drumbeat telling us we must have the latest thing. Methinks wizened consumers (if they aren’t doing this already — can you say Windows Vista?) will start skipping generations of new products (“I don’t need the iPhone 4s. I’ll get by with my iPhone 4 until the iPhone 5 comes out”) and/or just stay home from the movies knowing they can watch releases on BlueRay in the comfort of their own homes in six months’ time (or less).

I mean, really, couldn’t Apple have let me and millions of others enjoy my iPhone 4 at least one more year before the 4s came on the scene and I felt the pressure to trade up? Granted, new product releases are necessary to remain competitive and to allow companies to constantly upsell their customers, but might companies attract an even greater number of customers by giving products longer life cycles so that unit costs come down?

We tell our kids not to rush to grow up, to enjoy being children while they can because they will be adults soon enough. The same thinking should apply to products. Let me enjoy my new tablet, TV, or smart phone for a bit, get comfortable with it, and grow with it, knowing something new will come along eventually, but at a pace that makes sense to me technologically and economically. Similarly, let me enjoy the new sci-fi/action movie playing at the local cinema, confident that the cost is worth it because I know it won’t be out on DVD/Blue Ray for quite some time. Otherwise, I may just decide to sit out this next round/generation of updates, upgrades, and must-have gadgets.

What about you?