Sunday, June 20, 2021

Things get wrecked

Anyone who’s ever had a furbaby knows that things will get damaged or destroyed. Sometimes it’s on purpose, like Leo’s most recent toy rampage, and other times it’s accidental. I now have an example of the latter, something that also points to a larger problem.

Friday night, Leo was playing with his toy ball next to my chair. I didn’t think anything of it, since he’s done it before, until I looked down: I could see the charging cable I use for my iPad (sometimes my phone) was broken (photo up top). Because Leo’s hasn’t chewed on any cables since he was a puppy, my best guess is that Leo accidentally broke it while he was playing, either by forcefully pawing at the ball (he does that all the time), or maybe trying to pick up the ball in his mouth and getting the cable caught. At the very least, I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble with such cables, no furbabies required.

I got out the cable I used for a couple years or so, but the end that plugs into my device is breaking where it bends at the connection, so I taped it up tor reinforce it until I can replace it:

These cables are notorious for their relatively short lives: The end points of the cables, especially where it plugs into a device, have always been weak points that tend to break—and it’s been that way as long as Apple has made mobile devices. You’d think that Apple would’ve come up with something better by now, but, no. To add further insult, Apple charges rather a lot for replacement cables. Fortunately, other companies make the cables and sell them for lower prices (so far, I’ve only bought one cable that turned out to not be compatible with Apple products).

In August last year, the cable I was using (and am again…) started looking as if it was going to break soon, so that’s when I decided to replace it. I ordered one from an Australian seller (because the genuine Apple ones I found in NZ were twice the price). The cable, the seller said, was made in the same factory as Apple’s own cables, and it was certified compatible. It worked flawlessly, and seemed to be similar quality to Apple cables—which means that it was just as likely to break.

These cables can’t be repaired: The ends are moulded onto the wires, and those wires are extremely fine gauge. Throwaway society, in other words.

I knew that there were cables that were reinforced in various ways, and that’s what I decided to replace my cable with. Here are two different approaches (brand names removed because the point isn’t the specific cables):

The cable on the left has aluminium mesh protecting the cable (I don’t think Leo could bite through it…), and the ends are somewhat more robustly designed than Apple’s (or similar), but it’s still a potential weak spot. The cable on the right is nylon mesh (like rope), but has stronger moulded connections, a bit like a cord used by something that might be plugged-in and unplugged many times, like a table lamp, might have. Since my main problem has been with the end where it connects to my device, I’m going to try the one on the right (it’s also available locally, and on special at the moment). However, I could get a three pack of the other one for roughly the same price from that Australian seller, so I may end up getting those, too, so I have better replacements than a cable I taped up.

None of this would be necessary if Apple (and probably other manufacturers) provided better-designed cables. There’s not enough metal in any one dead cable to justify the cost of getting it out, so most of these cables must end up in the rubbish. It’s so unnecessary.

This particular tale is just a snapshot of modern life: A dog playing with a toy, as has happened since forever, accidentally broke a cable that is far, far too easy to break and to wear out. This obviously isn’t a particularly big challenge for me to overcome, but it’s one example among dozens—probably hundreds—of small but incredibly annoying challenges that companies foist upon us because it’s cheaper to make poorly-designed products that we have to replace far too soon, giving them no incentive to produce well-designed products that last.

Things need to change. Things get wrecked all the time, and plenty of times that’s unavoidable. But bad design and companies’ complete lack of concern about promoting a throwaway culture wrecks things, too.


Roger Owen Green said...

planned obsolescence!

Andy said...

They do this deliberately, Arthur.

Arthur Schenck said...

In this case—speaking only of such cables—I think the problem is that the companies don't improve them in order to keep them cheap, and because they're cheap, no one complains very loudly or long about having to replace them—consumers seem to accept that as just how things are. On the other hand, there are plenty of problems with the way bigger and more expensive products are made, and Apple is both far from being an exception to that (they pretty much all do that), and they're also a long way from being a responsible, customer-focused manufacturer. But that's a matter for another day.