I think there are things that are being made much better, and others that are being made worse I won't list the many item I own that fit in these 2 categories, but one thing I will cover is cars which by and large are much more reliable in the first 5-10 years if properly serviced, than they used to be BUT while an old car could be kept going for 40 to 60 years I think the new ones probably have 10% of their parts not replaceable after 15. There are even some Korean models where parts aren't available after 3 years. The biggest problem with the items that have become less reliable is due to their design in China etc. I have no doubt that the Chinese etc. will get to where the Japanese are now, but for the moment the only quality products they make are those outsourced by larger and more reputable companies such as Apple, because they tightly control the manufacturing and design process.
Reliability and repairability. This can be downright spooky when vital systems are concerned. The LORAN navigation system is a good examole. It was developed during and used in WWII and was antiquated before GPS was available. This equipment was designed to be reliable and to be serviced.
The problem was that during the 1980's there was only one man to maintain the LORAN system for the Gulf of Mexico. Vital spare parts had been unavailable for years but the cannibal warehouse was open.
Equipment price and overall quality were not issues. The technical side of maintenance was not an issue. The equipment was designed to be serviced. Parts availability, under-staffing and a make-do attitude were problms that were only resolved through the development of an entirely new technology.
Now, anyone with the proper charts and a relatively cheap, highly reliable GPS unit can navigate in the Gulf of Mexico and almost anywhere else in the world.
I am very grateful that "they don't build 'em like they used to". I don't want one of "them" at all.
I think we might also consider that electronic devices are much more widespread and integrated into our lives than they were even 10 years ago. We can complain about microwaves that break down now, when 20 years ago, very few people had one to break down.
There's much to be said for the bean counter proposition as the cause as well, because of the prevalence of pirated components that have not been properly vetted (http://www.element14.com/community/docs/DOC-37352).
When it comes to vehicles, as opposed to general home consumer electronics, I do agree. I like the LOOKS of some of the older cars better, and that's aesthetics and nostalgia. The performance and maintenance and so on of modern vehicles is superior. But some of that is mechanics as well as electronics.
You took the words right out of my mouth. Indeed, new cars need far less constant tinkering, they remain in tune a whole lot longer, and they handle a run infinitely better to boot. When was the last time anyone had to know the special trick to get his particular car started in the morning? Used to be things like, in my car, I have to pump the gas peddle three times, quickly, before starting. Less than that, it won't start. More than that, you flood the carburator. That sort of silliness.
And with knock sensors and electronic ignition, there's no issue with the points block wearing out, screwing with the spark advance, and gradually making the car less and less efficient, until you tweak the dwell again.
Ironically, perhaps, one of the first pollution devices also helped out in reducing maintenance. The Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV) system. It sucks crankcase fumes back into the carburetor, or air intake these days, and helps prevent sludge buildup in the oil pan. Allowing oil change intervals to be extended.
There are countless such improvements in modern cars. So sure, the old cars might have been easier to fuss with. But they also required constant fussing.
All of the posts have some truth.
I am sure we have all experienced the good and the bad in consumer product quality. The good is that products don't fail in the manner they used to 30 years ago. But they fail in new ways due to shaving a few cents off of each item to increase profits. The bad is that documentation and tech support are terrible for the most part.
Do the companies consider how much they would save in support costs by building a little bit of quality at the front. Ever hear of Systems Engineering?
Ever heard the term "planned obsolescence"? We can make them last but we don't because of the short term profit mentality.
Products today don't last as long. Is it due to complexity or lower quality parts? I believe it is due to not giving engineers the time to design the products properly.
Ask your mother about the washing machine and stoves that lasted 30 years. We just replaced a top of the line washer that lasted 13 years and the salesman told us we were lucky. The installer told us the new one won't last more than 4 or 5 years.
By the way, the new washing machine sends feedback through the AC power line affecting my multimedia system. Never had this problem with the 13 year old washer! Poor design!
"My older vehicles could be maintained cheaply and easily by a home mechanic."
Very true. But of course it needed all that maintenance because it is so terribly unreliable and breaks so often.
Sure my old car was easy to fix, but my new one doesn't need fixing. My new car has just done 100,000 km without anything going wrong. My last car was easier to fix, but by 100,000km I'd had to pop the hood on multiple occasions and replace all sorts of things.
The same was true of valve (tube) radios. Being able to change vales/tubes was just a normal skill needed as part of owning a radio. Valves blow like light bulbs so they had to be easy to fix.
Now when did you last change a transistor or have an audio IC fail?
Today's management focus on ROI and Time to Market. Outsourcing becomes inevitable. One of the challenges of outsourcing is quality control. I am sure a lot of companies have experienced quality issue at the earlier stage. Frustration will surely come after. Given the requirement of time to market, engineering gets less time in development and QA. Since QA is the final stage, it will typically suffer the most. Here comes a -ve spiral. Quality will never be the same. However, the product life cycle has been reduced dramatically. Nowadays, I have seen people swapping their mobile phone every 2 years if not every year. With this consideration, there is really less incentive for company to build a product that lasts for 8-10 years. I guess it is a supply and demand problem again. If we, as a consumer, demand a high quality long lasting product, I am sure different brand will start building product that lasts.
We have a misunderstanding...
I am not implying that software releases or updates are a sign of poor quality. I used the term "release" to mean "initial release"; I meant to impart that releasing a product too soon lowers quality, and that pertains to the software as well as the hardware.
I have always subscribed to the notion (because I have experiential data :-) that taking the extra week or two up front can save entire spins (or updates) down the road. But there is this allergy to slipping the initial date at all, but somehow it is OK to put out something with known shortcomings... Our industry hails first-pass design success. Sometimes a design needs an extra week to get that...
The internet has the effect of flattening markets so that there is less diversity of price - of course the price has to be low to get sales but with consumers using the web, if the price is a little high it gets very very few sales and becomes non-viable. The difference between viable and non-viable forms a knee in the sale price/sale volume curve, and that knee is getting sharper and sharper. I think there are few companies that can successfully explain how their higher-price goods are justified, they mostly won't get a 2nd chance to explain. Apple never talks about price - they just pretend that no-one else exists in the market and why wouldn't you want the best product anyway? (Yes I have a Mac now, haven't touched my PC for months except for specific engineering tasks). Finally, @silicon_smith I agree about ZAMM, it made the point that many people simply have NO IDEA what an engineer is talking about when he talks about 'Quality'. If people don't have the words to describe something they can't communicate it; so engineers have the DUTY to educate the 'unseeing' about the principles of Quality and what difference it makes. If you can't communicate that, perhaps it doesn't matter, like pastels to a colour-blind person, maybe 'Quality' is simply out-of-band to most people? I fear it is a luxury appreciated by few. However it is possible to test for it, and only hire those who demonstrate the ability to perceive it. It seems a reasonably test to make when hiring.