AskDefine | Define obsolescent

Dictionary Definition

obsolescent adj : becoming obsolete

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. In the process of becoming obsolete, but not obsolete yet.


in the process of becoming obsolete, but not obsolete yet

See also

Extensive Definition

Obsolescence is the state of being which occurs when a person, object, or service is no longer wanted even though it may still be in good working order. Obsolescence frequently happens because a superior replacement has become available e.g. smaller, faster, lighter or less expensive.

Types of obsolescence

Technical or functional obsolescence

Technical or functional obsolescence may occur:
  • When a new, more functional product or technology supersedes the old (example: telegraph to telephone, 5 1/4 inch floppy disk to 3 1/2 inch floppy disk, Fixed Gear Bicycle to a Freewheeled Bicycle).
  • When the product becomes useless due to changes in other products. For example, buggy whips became obsolete when people started to travel in cars rather than in horse-drawn buggies.
  • When spare parts become so expensive that it becomes more attractive to purchase a new item.
  • When poor quality materials shorten the product's lifetime.
  • When component parts are no longer available to enable the manufacture of an item. Management of this type of obsolescence is required if long-term product availability is important.

Differences between technical and functional obsolescence

Technical obsolescence is when a product is no longer technically superior to other, similar products. For example, a consumer may buy the latest iPod, which has the most storage and largest screen of any iPod available. A week later, Apple may introduce a new iPod model that has twice the storage, a larger screen, and more functionality. The new iPod is technically superior to the model the consumer purchased, which means the iPod purchased a week earlier is "technically obsolete." That does not mean the older iPod is functionally obsolete; it can still play music and can download new songs from iTunes.
Functional obsolescence, on the other hand, occurs when a product no longer functions the way it did when it was first purchased. To use the iPod example again, if Apple released a new version of iTunes that worked with only the new iPod, the original iPod would be limited in its capability to download and play new music. This would make the first iPod "functionally obsolete." Since companies prefer to maintain their consumer base, they have a strong incentive to support products for several years after their release.

Planned obsolescence

Sometimes marketers deliberately introduce obsolescence into their product strategy, with the objective of generating long-term sales volume by reducing the time between repeat purchases. One example might be producing an inexpensive washing machine which is deliberately designed to wear out within five years of its purchase, pushing consumers to buy another washing machine within five years. In a highly competitive industry, this strategy can be risky because consumers may buy from competing producers. The practice of planned obsolescence is also considered by most consumers to be a sign of unethical behavior; although it generates a massive financial profit.

Style obsolescence

When a product is no longer desirable because it has gone out of the popular fashion, its style is obsolete. One example is "acid-wash" jeans; although this article of clothing may still be perfectly functional, it is no longer desirable because style trends have moved away from the acid-wash look.
Because of the "fashion cycle", stylistically obsolete products may eventually regain popularity and cease to be obsolete. A current example is flared-leg jeans, which were popular in the 1970s, became stylistically obsolete in the 1980s and early 1990s, and returned to popularity in the early 21st century.
Sometimes, style obsolescence can connote that some styles have substandard characteristics of marketing.

Postponement obsolescence

Postponement obsolescence refers to a situation where technological improvements are not introduced to a product, even though they could be. One possible example is when an auto manufacturer develops a new feature for its line of cars, but chooses not to implement that feature in the production of the least expensive car in its product line.

Obsolescence management

Obsolescence management refers to the activities that are undertaken to mitigate the effects of obsolescence. Activities can include last-time buys, life-time buys and obsolescence monitoring.


External links

  •, a historical web site by Brad Kellett listing out-of-date techniques and technological know-how
obsolescent in German: Obsoleszenz
obsolescent in Esperanto: Obsoleto
obsolescent in French: Obsolescence
obsolescent in Portuguese: Obsolescência
obsolescent in Swedish: Obsolet
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