Product Crippling

In the current consumer culture of high-priced electrical goods the population is always keen to access the latest product. Obviously the fiscal resources available to consumers vary, therefore companies take the approach to offer a lower price product, with less features making the product available to more consumers while also offering a higher priced product with more features to the top end consumers (Timmer, 2012).

Companies increasingly found the most effective way to produce a range of similar products with different functionality was simply to cripple the top-end product in a variety of ways to make low-end products.

Several notable examples of this:

IMB Laser Printer

In 1990 IMB launched their LaserPrinter E, an economy version of their popular LaserPrinter. (Deneckere and McAfee, 1996, p.153) These two products were found to be virtually identical, except the economy version was programmed to print slower:

“The controllers in our evaluation unit differed only by virtue of four socketed firmware chips and one surface mounted chip. PC Labs’ testing of numerous evaluation units indicated that the Laserprinter E firmware in effect inserts wait states to slow print speed. . . . IBM has gone to some expense to slow the Laserprinter in firmware so that it can market it at a lower price” (Jones, 1990).

This was not received well by the public (Timmer, 2012).

Intel 486SX and 486DX processor

The 486SX processor was intended to be a low-end version of the 486DX processor, to achieve this Intel simply prevented the floating-point unit from functioning (Howe, 2010). This crippling resulted in the 486SX being more expensive to produce than the 486DX processor, but with reduced functionality (Deneckere and McAfee, 1996, p.151).

While these are two historic examples, this product crippling still occurs today.

Canon Powershot

Basic Canon cameras were found to be able to support features of high-end cameras with a simple firmware upgrade (Pash, 2008). A wealth of information is available on upgrading cameras using this technique:

Sennheiser HD 555 and Sennheiser HD 595

More recently, in 2009 Mike Beauchamp discovered the only difference between two ‘high-quality’ headphones with $150 markup was the insertion of a small piece of foam inserted, reducing the sound quality. See the full article here:

From research conducted by the Journal of Consumer Research it seems people are likely to react negatively on discovery of product crippling (Gershoff, 2011).

This product crippling provides a range of products available at ranges appropriate to different groups of consumers, however it is unethical. By offering a product that is simply a broken by the manufacturer prior to distribution this is a dishonest form of marketing. People react more extremely to what is seen as more extreme methods of destruction, for example cutting a cable at the end of a manufacturing process is worse than removing the hardware at the beginning of manufacture (Timmer, 2012).

Go to next section: Improving ethics

Beauchamp, M., 2009. Sennheiser hd 555 to hd 595 mod. [online] Available at: [Acccessed 1st April 2013].

Deneckere, R.J. and McAfee, P.R., 1996. Damaged Goods. Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, Volume 5 (2) Summer, pp. 149-174.

Gershoff, A. D., Kivetz, R. and Keinan, A., 2011. Consumer response to versioning: How brand’s production methods affect perceptions of unfairness. [online] Journal of Consumer Research, 21st December. Available at: [Accessed 10th April 2013].

Howe, D., 2010. Intel 486. [online] FOLDOC. Available at: [Accessed 10th April 2013].

Jones, M., 1990. Low-cost IBM LaserPrinter E beats HP LaserJet HP on performance and features. PC Magazine 8 (10). May 29th. pp. 33 – 36.

Pash, A., 2008. Turn your point-and-shoot into a super-camera. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1st April 2013].

Timmer, J., 2012. Not wasteful, but unethical: why we hate crippled products. [online] Ars Technica. Available at: [Accessed 1st April 2013].


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