When upgrading is unnecessary

Still good after all these years

Apple has launched a new iPhone. Google is expected to announce Pixel 4 on October 15. With every introduction of a new product, the message is crystal clear — buy, buy, buy! The question is — is it really necessary to get the latest toy? Is your current device good enough?

If vendors were to have their way, we would be upgrading every year or two.

It’s the computer industry, and later the smartphone makers, that seems to be driving the need to upgrade regularly — even if your PC/notebook/smartphone is working perfectly fine.

This is so different from the days of old when a television, electric fan or refrigerator can last for a decade or more. If it breaks down, you get it fixed. Buying a new one is only necessary when it can no longer be repaired.

These days, computer and smartphone are constantly bombarding consumers that the latest is the greatest (if it’s not, something must be very wrong, right?) and you need to upgrade. Even consumer electronic product makers are trying to get into the act.

Putting aside fancy new features and the feel great of owning a new device factors, the most important question to ask is “Do I need to upgrade?”

What difference will the newest chip’s speed bump make? How will the fingerprint sensor make my phone more secured? How much storage do I really need?

I have owned a MacBook Air since 2011 and a third generation iPad since 2012 (see photo above) and am proud to declare that I am still using them.

Here are the reasons why I did not upgrade:

  1. They are still working perfectly. Operating system updates have slowed them down a little but nothing’s changed otherwise.
  2. They do what I need them for. I use my MacBook Air for work and my iPad when giving talks. Both still function as required. They may not be as fast as the latest iterations but they’re good enough.
  3. I save money by not upgrading. There’s no need to spend on newer devices since these are still fine. Money saved can be used for other things in life — like getting other gadgets that I do not already own or travelling.

The point is that if I want to upgrade, the vendors must give me something that I could not do before but need to have. A faster chip, brighter/sharper screen or more connectivity options just doesn’t cut it.

In recent times, the only device that I’ve upgraded constantly was the digital camera. My first was a Sony Mavica given to me in 1999. It introduced me to the world of digital photography, Nokia phones notwithstanding. I was a proud owner bringing a box of 3.5-inch floppy disk drives with me wherever I went. For each 1.44MB drive, I can take about 20 photos. So a box gives me sufficient space for about 200 low quality images.

As digital cameras evolved, so did my expectations. I wanted higher quality images and upgraded whenever I could afford a better camera.

But, my latest digital SLR camera has been untouched for a few years. Why? Because the smartphone has made it redundant. My Google Pixel 3 can take excellent images at high resolutions. In fact, each image size is bigger than a 3.5-inch floppy disk.

Upgrading my digital camera was necessary because the image quality made a difference. But, there are many other products where newer versions do not provide enough justification for parting with the cash.

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