Bill Bennett

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How long should you keep a phone?

New phone models arrive all the time. The main phone product lines each get an annual refresh.

Apple holds its annual iPhone launches all at once. In recent years this has always happened three or four months before Christmas.

Android phone makers like Samsung, Xiaomi and Nokia have more than one product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger launches throughout the year.

Add in the smaller brands and we see a dozen notable smartphone launches each year.

Goodbye two year phone refresh cycle

Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.

Carriers agree. Their phone plans are two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts. While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than five years ago.

New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years. Depreciation rates are similar in other countries.

We’re holding on to phones for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for considerably longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable. People think nothing of keeping PCs and other devices for much longer.

There’s a noticeable difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for a shorter time than iPhone users.

Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked in 2015. Apple now focuses more on selling services to its customers to make up the revenue shortfall.

Android phones last less than iPhones

In 2016 Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. In many cases closer to three years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people now hold on to all brands of smartphones for longer is that hardware and feature upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now phone makers emphasise cameras and cosmetic changes.

It’s no accident that phone makers hold launch events that look like fashion shows. They want to create the impression that you need this year’s design.

You almost never do.

Android support cut-off

Android phone makers are still more aggressive about moving customers onto new models. In early 2022, Google announced it will stop support for the Pixel 3 phone.

As the media reported, this meant there would be no more operating system or security updates for what would otherwise be a perfectly usable phone.

This sounds awful yet it is an improvement on what used to happen with Android phones. Until the last three or four years many Android users would get the operating system that was available when the phone launched and never see an official update. There were workarounds, but it could be hard for non technical people.

Compare this with Apple. The iPhone 6s was released more than six years ago. Late in 2021, Apple updated its phone operating system to iOS 15. That includes support for the iPhone 6s.

It’s worth noting that phones will work after they are no longer supported. They may not be as secure and there may be things you’d like to do, but can’t.  If you take care, you can continue to use an old phone without upgrading.

The latest version of iOS will not work with an Apple iPhone 5 or older. Yet there may be security updates for older Apple models.

How long should a phone last?

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, there are few moving parts to seize up. (Avoid any phone that does include moving parts such as a pop-up camera.)

If you look after your phone and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.

You can replace phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may look expensive, paying someone NZ$100 to replace a battery is cheaper than a new phone.

Officially Apple has given iPhone owners the right to repair their phones. Later this year it will sell spare parts and the tools needed to make repairs. It’s not for the fainthearted.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.

Sometimes moving from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more. Five years is no longer exceptional.

There are users who give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

How long should you hold on to a phone?

There’s no simple answer to ‘how long should you hang on to a phone’. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. You should hold on for at least two years. Yet that’s unambitious.

For some people the best time to replace is when the battery life is not enough to get you through the working day. For others it’s when the operating system is no longer supported and there is a security risk. That’s six years for Apple iPhone users.

If you think that is bad, spare a thought for Android users. Six years is more than double the official supported life of Android versions.

If you love Android and worry about phone longevity, chose a Nokia phone. The company has a policy of keeping phone software up to date.

It guarantees two years of updates but to date has extended support beyond that time. It may be far less than Apple, but that’s better than rival Android brands.

This post was updated on January 29, 2022 to reflect recent changes including Google cutting off Android support after three years and Apple giving customers the tools and parts needed to repair old phones. 

Photo by David Mellis. Creative Commons. 

Standard mobile handsets at evolutionary dead end

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE 5G press release leads with the phone’s case design.

That’s right. Samsung’s public relations professionals think the single standout fact that will get journalists and others writing about the new phone is the case.

This tells you everything about the state of the phone market in 2021: it’s no longer exciting. We appear to have reached an evolutionary dead end.

Galaxy S21 FE 5G looks like a fine phone

There is nothing to suggest the Galaxy S21 FE 5G is anything but a fine phone. On paper it appears to tick all the important boxes.

Yet, we have come to the stage 1950s US motor manufacturers reached when they put giant tail fins on cars. They made non-essential design changes purely to signal to consumers “This is a new product”.

The days when you could whip a recently purchased phone out of your pocket and have people admiringly ask: “is that the X phone?” are long in the past.

Few people care about new phones any more.

A replacement market

These days you buy a new phone when the old one wears out or has been dropped one time too many. With one major exception people are not rushing to grab new phone features.

While cameras get better with each product cycle, the upgrade is meaningless. Fewer and fewer users push their phone cameras to the limit.

The majority of users don’t get much beyond point and click auto-settings1.

5G support

There is one feature upgrade in the Galaxy S21 FE 5G that we need to talk about. As the name suggests, it supports 5G mobile networks.

That may sound important. For a handful of users it may even be important. Yet for the vast majority, it will barely register.

Having 5G support doesn’t add anything significant to your mobile phone experience.

On the other hand, it is a box every new phone needs to tick. Soon it will be hard to sell phones that don’t support 5G.

Nice, but nothing special

There’s nothing a 5G phone can do that a decent 4G phone doesn’t handle. It’s not as if we can’t sit on a bus watching high resolution streaming video on 4G.2

Virtual reality might change that one day. But not yet.

You may hear salespeople tell you that including 5G support will future proof your phone purchase.

This doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The 4G phone networks will be around for longer than the likely life expectancy of a phone purchased in early 2022.

Years to go

Phone companies start thinking about shutting down previous generation networks about ten years after the new one arrives. All the three mobile operators in New Zealand have either upgraded the bulk of their 4G towers or are in the process of upgrading.

Chances are, the mobile towers you use often are 4.5G or 4.9G or somewhere between the two.

5G mobile is important. But everyday mobile phone users won’t notice the difference.

If anything, Samsung’s press release is further evidence that everyday mobile handsets have reached an evolutionary dead end. There’s scope for innovation. Samsung’s folding screen phones show that. Yet for now, there’s not a lot of excitement in new phone launches.


  1. You might. But we’re not talking about you here. This is about the broader market, not individuals. ↩︎
  2. Lower latency could change the mobile game experience. If you’re a keen mobile gamer you may want to keep an eye on developments there. ↩︎

Vodafone Wi-Fi Calling hits early milestone

It took less than three months for Vodafone Wi-Fi calling to hit 10,000 users. 

Vodafone Wi-Fi Calling hits early milestone

Vodafone says it has 10,000 customers using its Wi-Fi Calling service. It took less than three months to reach that milestone; the service began operating in September.

Wi-Fi Calling lets Vodafone customers make voice calls and send text messages in places where there is no mobile signal but there is Wi-Fi coverage.

This makes it popular in rural areas and also inside buildings where the mobile coverage is weak.

It replaces the older Vodafone Sure Signal service which is due to shut on December 10. Sure Signal is now ten years old. It is based on 3G mobile technology.

This has upset customers in rural areas. A report in the Whanganui Midweek newspaper says Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is disappointed to hear that Vodafone is closing Sure Signal service. They say it will leave many rural customers without a mobile network.

Sure Signal expanded Vodafone’s network reach into rural New Zealand for a decade. The company says it is less important now thanks to the Rural Connectivity Group towers being installed. These now reach many areas that were previously without mobile coverage.

To use Vodafone Wi-Fi calling customers need a Vodafone mobile account and a compatible phone. There are 46 phones that can handle Wi-Fi Calling. Most are newer models, but the technology can be used on an older iPhone 6S that has the latest iOS 15 installed.

N4L survey finds schools confident protecting students online

Nine out of ten New Zealand schools say they are confident in their ability to protect students online. Despite this, schools face many challenges including access and internet reliability problems.

These are among the findings of a survey of 550 schools commissioned by Network for Learning.

N4L CEO Larrie Moore says the results show schools and kura need support with online safety, remote learning and managing technology. He says that leaves them “free to teach and ākonga are free to learn.”

Close to nine out of ten schools (86 percent) ask students to sign internet use agreements (86%). Almost as many (84 percent) use web filtering. They also bring in guest speakers, host training workshops, and provide other professional development opportunities for teachers to boost their school’s online safety efforts.

Schools say they know students can find ways around filtering technology and that popular websites such as YouTube can display age-inappropriate images and videos. They worry about cyber bullying issues outside of school that can lead to issues in the classroom.

Meanwhile teachers report that it is hard to oversee classroom device use with students able to quickly flick between open tabs when the teacher approaches.

Pandemic school closures highlighted the importance of the internet for learning and the challenges facing schools.

Three quarters said there were problems with access to devices (77 percent). A similar number (73 percent) said students had trouble accessing the internet at home. Almost one in seven (69 percent) reported students saying their home internet connection was unreliable.

Broadband Compare names awards finalists

Winners of the NZ Compare Awards will be announced on February 16. The finalists for the best wireless service provider category are Farmside, Gravity Internet and Wireless Nation. The shortlist in the value broadband category are 2degrees, Contact Energy, Now Broadband, Flip and Sky Broadband.

Farmside, Gravity Internet, Lightwire and Woi Satellite Internet make up the finalist for the best rural service provider award.

Now Broadband, Orcon and Sky Broadband are the shortlist for the best fibre service provider category.

Kacific introduces mobile backhaul for Pacific

Kacific has introduced a satellite backhaul product for mobile operators, ISPs and telcos in South-East Asia and the Pacific. The service covers 25 countries including New Zealand and Pacific island nations. Speeds are up to 200Mbps.

Opposition launches tech policy process

Hours before former opposition leader Judith Collins was removed from her job, she launched a tech policy paper which may yet be lost in the party turmoil.

Collins’ original aim was to hold a tech summit early in the New Year.

One idea in the paper is to extend the reach of the UFB network to 90 percent of the population and to make sure every New Zealander can get broadband speeds of at least 100Mbps.

Australia’s Treasury moves on Consumer Data Right

As expected, Australia’s Treasury has proposed extending the country’s Consumer Data Right to cover the telecommunications sector.

The move means retail telcos will have to hand over key information to customers allowing them to make better choices about the products and services they buy.

It would also allow customers to ask retailers to give the data to rival retailers. That way, they could make improved offers to those customers.

These moves echo ideas outlined for New Zealand by Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson.

Kate McKenzie to chair NBN Co

Former Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie will take over the chair at Australia’s NBN Co in January. She will replace Ziggy Switkowski who is stepping down after eight years in the role. McKenzie was a Telstra executive before joining Chorus.

Warren Williams joins REANNZ board

Dr Warren Williams, CEO of the 20/20 Trust has joined the REANNZ board. REANNZ Chair Janine Smith says he has contributed to the sector through his involvement in Vision Mātauranga and Te Mana Raraunga – Māori Data Sovereignty Network.

In other news…

CommsDay reports the US National Science Foundation is looking at building a submarine cable connecting New Zealand’s South Island to McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

Spark Sport has picked up the rights for FIBA (International Basketball Federation) competitions through to 2025.

Gartner says worldwide phone sales dropped 6.8 percent in the third quarter of 2021. The research company puts that down to component shortages and lack of availability, not falling demand.

New Zealand organisations are spending more on software. A report from IDC says spending on software is up 20 percent year-on-year. The biggest gainer is conferencing and team collaboration software.


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NY Times says smartphones may be too good 

 

“Smartphones have been so successful that it’s possible new technology won’t be able to displace them”.

The New York Times’ Shira Ovide has a point when she writes: What if smartphones are so successful and useful that they are holding back innovation?

She starts by pointing out the risk making this kind of statement:

“I may wind up looking like a 19th-century futurist who couldn’t imagine that horses would be replaced by cars.”

That’s fair enough. There could always be something waiting around the corner that isn’t obvious yet.

“But let me make the case that the phenomenon of the smartphone may never be replicated.”

Yes, it definitely looks like its was a one-off revolution. The nearest equivalent might be the way the television eventually reached into every home and every corner of the world. It took the TV decades to reach that level of penetration, phones got there in ten years.

“The challenge for any new technology is that smartphones succeeded to the point where it’s hard to imagine alternatives. In a sales boom that lasted about a decade, the devices transformed from a novelty for rich nerds to the only computer that billions of people around the world have ever owned.

Smartphones have succeeded to the point where we don’t need to pay them much notice….The allure of these devices in our lives and in technologists’ imaginations is so powerful that any new technology now has to exist almost in opposition to the smartphone.”

The next big thing

That’s right. Take the smart watch. As things stand today it looks like the most plausible contender for the next big thing.

And yet it isn’t.

Apple launched its Watch seven years ago. It wasn’t the first smart watch and it is not the only one. It is the most popular by a long way.

One estimate says around 100 million people have an Apple Watch in 2021. A bullish estimate might put the total of all watches in use at twice that. On those numbers, smart watches will never catch up with smartphones. They are unlikely to hit one-tenth the sales.

What’s more, smart watches rarely exist in isolation from phones. They are, in effect, an extension of the phone.

VR, Glass

Virtual reality headsets and products like Google Glass are much further behind. And anyway, they offer considerably less functionality than a modern phone.

Where I take issue with Ovide is the idea that phones are holding back innovation. If anything is holding back innovation it is the tight grip a small handful of companies has on the crowning heights of the technology sector.

While there are examples of the big tech giants stifling potential competition, there are other reasons for a slow down when. it comes to hardware innovation.

Where next?

We’ve reached a point where there are few new places for device makers to go. Chip makers are bumping up against quantum limits which mean transistors can’t get much smaller. Batteries are improving, but progress is glacial.

A forward thinker might have dreamed up the essence of a personal computer, smartphone or smart watch any time in the last 60 years. That Dick Tracy wristwatch screen featured in cartoons decades before the technology was possible.

Now the best people can do is dream up ways for computers and devices to move even further into the background.

 

 

 

 

Nokia G20 review: Big battery, low-price Android

The Nokia G20 won’t win any high performance prizes. Yet at $279, the mid-range Android phone from HMD Global represents solid value.

Since HMD Global revived the Nokia brand, the company has push a straightforward pitch. It makes less expensive phones with the essential features but few trimmings.

The real value lies in a commitment to provide regular operating system updates and security patches on a scale that other Android phone makers either can’t or won’t match. It is an Android One phone like earlier Nokia models.

The Nokia G20 follows this template. It has a 6.5-inch 720p LCD display that’s on a par with phones costing more than twice as much. The main camera has 48 megapixels. There’s a 5 megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 2 megapixel macro camera and a 2 megapixel depth sensor. On the front there is an 8 megapixel camera.

You’ll get decent pictures. It does an OK job with low-light conditions. That’s rare for a phone in this price range.

If photography is important to you, it may pay to spend more on an advanced phone, although this will not embarrass you.

Value, not flashy

At this price you can’t expect the latest features like wireless charging. It doesn’t have the most powerful processor and it doesn’t work with 5G networks. All those things are available further up the Nokia range.

Another price compromise is the plastic case. It’s not as pretty as more expensive phones, but it is sturdy enough to take workplace knocks and blows and carry on working. The plastic is not slippery. You can grip it to stop it slipping from your hands.

Also, you get a long battery life. Android phones rarely run for more than a day of frequent use. HMD says Nokia G20 users should be able to go three days before needing a recharge.

There are three years of monthly security and operating system updates. HMD Global gives New Zealand customers an extended three year warranty. Which means you can spread that $279 price over three years.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 – luxury foldable phone

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 is good enough to be the breakthrough taking folding phones in the mainstream.

Or at least it would be if not for the NZ$3500 asking price.

Few people reading this can afford to pay that much for a phone. And few of those who can pay need the phone.

For almost everyone, it is a Ferrari option. That is: the Galaxy Z Fold2 is nice to look at, fun to own, hideously expensive and more about showing off than doing anything practical.

Even Samsung admits the Flip2 is a luxury item. At last week’s product demonstration a company executive used the giveaway term: “status symbol”.

That tells you everything you need to know.

Useful

Despite the earlier comment, there is a practical argument for buying the Fold2.

When unfolded, its bigger screen means you can read more and do more work than on an everyday phone. In use it is like an iPad mini that you can stick in your pocket. You can’t argue that this isn’t useful.

Whether it is NZ$3500 of useful is another question entirely.

At a pinch you can use the Fold2 as a laptop replacement. It works with Samsung’s DeX set-up.

Samsung stumbled with its first folding phone. The original Galaxy Fold showed what was possible. Then the stylish Galaxy Z Flip built on that.

We have seen three, more if you count the missteps, iterations of Samsung folding phones. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is the most impressive to date.

Galaxy Z Fold2 updates earlier Fold

The Fold2 brings three obvious advances over original Fold.

First, it feels far more robust in your hands. In particular, the screen can take more punishment. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is not a phone to take on a building site or anywhere the going gets tough, but it will take a lot more rough handling than the earlier Fold.

There is no longer a feeling that you are one small user error away from throwing $3,500 of non-functioning phone in the landfill.

The second advance is related. The hinge design is much improved. There’s a solid, positive feel when you open the phone. More snap when you close it. The original Fold could be open or shut, but positions somewhere between the two were not practical. You can keep the Fold2 part open, if that’s useful.

Advance number three is the much bigger front screen. You can now do many everyday phone things without unfolding the phone.

Bookish

In practice this front screen is like the cover of a small book. It has a 6.2-inch display with 2260 by 816 pixels in a long, thin 25:9 ratio. A thickish bezel runs down the left hand side, it’s part of the hinge. Otherwise the front screen runs edge to edge.

While a closed Fold2 is a lot like an everyday phone, it isn’t exactly like one. It is hard to type on the keyboard because the display is too narrow. I found myself giving up and opening the device if I needed to type more than a handful of characters.

This revealed one of the neatest aspects of the Fold2’s software. It depends on the specific application, not all do this, but often software on the inner screen can take you to the exact point you were on the outer screen before opening the case.

Inside the case is a 7.6-inch screen with 2208 by 1768 pixels. It is much squarer, in a 22.5:18 ratio. There are thin bezels around the edge. In the case of the review model, the edge is a metallic copper colour. Samsung calls this ’mystic bronze’.

When you fold out the phone, the screen can lay flat. You can see the fold, but it doesn’t get in the way at all. At first this looks like a big deal, but soon, you’ll find your brain ignores it.

It’s possible, with the right software to fold the phone to use it like a tiny clamshell laptop.

You need big pockets

Apart from the prestige and status, the big selling point of the Fold2 is that it can fold up and fit in a pocket. You need large pockets in both senses of that term. This fold and carry idea may not even work at all with the pockets on women’s clothing, although jackets should cope.

When folded it is a lot bigger than any other phone. And at 282g it is heavy by phone standards. It is not a comfortable to live with as a standard phone. Let’s put that another way: you’ll never carry one of these and forget that it is there.

Samsung packs five cameras in the Fold2. On the outside is a 10 megapixel ‘selfie’ camera. There’s a similar camera on the inside screen. The back has three 12 megapixel cameras. There’s an ultra-wide angle camera, a wide angle and a telephoto.

You wouldn’t buy a Fold2 for the cameras. They are not as good as the options on other high-end Samsung phones. In practice I found them harder to use, thanks to the physical form of the folding device.

Is it worth it?

You can buy a lot of technology elsewhere for $3500. That is enough for a great phone and a great laptop. There are people who like the idea of owning a head-turning phone. It would be, in effect, like buying jewellery.

When opened, a tablet-format Fold2 is roughly the size of an iPad mini. It’s a useful product to compare. The iPad mini has a large 7.9-inch display and at 2048 by 1536, about 20 percent fewer pixels. It is a touch harder to carry, few pockets can take an iPad Mini. And yet, you can buy five iPad Minis for the cost of a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2.

There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy Z Fold2. It’s impressive and has that living in the future feel that you no longer get from other phone models. From a strictly impractical personal point of view I love this device, but I can’t justify buying one. Nor can I recommend it to you, but you should try to get a closer look at one.