As I write this many, many, many Apple devotees will be glued to their laptop screens, sorry, MacBook screens or iPads relishing the latest “one more thing” revealed by Tim Cook*. I’ve not gone out of my way to have a look at the new iPhone(s) or whatever, I’m neither an Apple fan or an Apple hater though I’m not a fan of some of their actions surrounding patents though that’s something for another time.
What I’m thinking about is the trend of getting a new gadget every year.
Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit tends to double every two years or so, this is usually misquoted as computing power doubles every eighteen-months. There was a period recently when phone manufacturers seemed to be releasing new phones every month, though in truth they often catered for different markets and budgets, now though every major phone or tablet is refreshed every year, it’s like Christmas – literally, for the manufacturers, in June, August, September.
Computers are less obvious because there is still a steady stream of new models with slightly different cases, tweaked internals, new chipsets. The common factor is that often the jump in actual power between last year and this isn’t that great, and usually the main difference in phones has been screen size and resolution.
Still though some people feel the need to buy again and often the reason they give is that the new one is so much faster than the old one. Sometimes I’m sure this is true – as new software and features make an old phone, tablet or pc seem slow, if you’re trying to watch an HD video on an older phone for example but sometimes it can simply be that over time the device starts to feel slow. When you first got it it was blindingly fast, menus appeared instantaneously and web pages were super-quick to load. Now though you’re waiting forever. What’s changed?
Ok, sometimes new software has features that cause an old laptop to chug, some websites (Flickr is a personal annoyance) have redesigned in such a way that you need quite nifty hardware to get a smooth experience, and of course you might only be able to watch a video in SD. Much of the time though nothing has changed except your perception, you get used to the menu appearing, your memory of the previous computer fades into the mists of time and you don’t have anything to compare your current computer to but…
…the shiny new one at work, or in PC World. The difference is miniscule, the slow website might still be slow on your new PC but confirmation bias will tell you it’s still faster.
My laptop is from 2008 and with the exception of a couple of websites (do I need to mention Flickr again) it’s still fast enough for everything I do, even my new copy of Photoshop Elements. My Nexus 7 is less than a year old and has been superseded by a new N7 with an even higher resolution screen – I won’t be “upgrading” because I don’t really need to watch films in even more sparkly high-res on a small screen than before. My phone is similarly a year old and still feels nippy and crisp, it still does everything I need it to do and I don’t feel the shame of having “last year’s phone” that drives many people to upgrade. I know that one day my laptop will either completely die or the web will get too much for it to cope with, then I’ll upgrade, Sometimes it seems that the only upgrade people need is to their need to define themselves by their possessions or their patience, though it does seem that that’s something lacking everywhere these days.
Perhaps I’m in the minority, there will no doubt be lengthy queues outside Apple stores soon.
* – yes, I know “One More Thing” was Steve’s thing, not Tim’s.