It raised smiles 14 years ago when I carried a 1996 Apple Newton MessagePad 130 into the IDC Auckland office.
IDC is the publisher of titles like Reseller News, ComputerWorld and PC World. It was one of the few workplaces where the Newton was instantly recognisable.
The Newton looked odd among the 2006 Motorola flip phones, Blackberrys and Palm Pilots1.
Old dogs, old tricks
Odd, but not too ancient to use. My Newton still worked fine. I could still scrawl notes on the screen with a stylus2. It could still track my diary dates and manage my contacts.
Of course, the Newton couldn’t hook up to much else. The Newton MessagePad predated Wi-fi and Bluetooth. However there was a proprietary cable that would send a trickle of data to and from a PC or Mac.
The Newton needed AA batteries. I had a rechargeable pack that was an afterthought, but my MessagePad didn’t have internal rechargeable power like many modern devices in the 2005.
My motivation for digging the Newton out from the back of the cupboard and giving it another go was twofold.
First, I wanted to see if the technology was as far ahead of its time as it seemed in 1993 when I had my first Newton. In some ways it was.
The second reason was because, at the time, there were rumours Apple was working on something that would replace the Newton. According to the reports that something was also a phone.
The rest is history.
Hardware that goes on and on
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Newton MessagePad 130 was that it was still working after a decade. When the Newton line was first launched there was talk of the devices being short-lived. A year later I sold my working Newton on TradeMe.
So long as it isn’t dropped or hammered by hard use, a digital device can live a long time. It will always be able to do whatever it was purchased for in the first place3.
But keeping devices for years is not fashionable. In some circles it is almost viewed as subversive.
Technology companies carpet bomb journalists like me who covering the sector with new products. There is a constant stream of product launches. New this, improved that, enhanced4 something else and so on.
It can get tiring.
New, improved a bit
Often the new thing is better than the old thing. It is rare that it is so much better that we should bin the old stuff and buy the new. And yet that is what people do. Often far too soon.
The hardware you buy can, and should, last for years. There is more to not jumping to the latest model than being frugal. Electronic hardware is hard on the planet, an ecological time bomb. In the case of some materials it can also be the cause of much misery.
Upgrading less often makes the world a better place.
Wise technology buyers choose hardware with a long life. Even if you don’t intend to hang on to something for ages, you’ll get a better price if you sell your device on when you upgrade.
Hardware that lasts
There are two parts to finding products that last a long time. Some hardware brands take a pride in making things that last. Others design their gear so that it can be upgraded.
According to Asymco, the average life of an Apple device in 2018 was four years and three months. That number has increased since then. I’ve seen estimates that iPhones now last almost five years.
Statista estimates the life of an average phone, iPhone and Android, in the US is around 2.88 years.
The sources and methodologies for the two sets of statistics are different, so we can’t read too much into the numbers. Even so, it appears Android phones are active for much less that iPhones.
Supporting evidence for this comes from Trademe. Second hand iPhones retain value far more than second hand Android phones.
Another thing to consider is that Apple has historically provided software updates for longer than Android phone makers.
The point here is not to say one is better than the other. I’ll leave that to you. What’s important is if a phone’s lifespan is important to you, choose an iPhone.
You can do similar research with tablets and various types of computers. Apple hardware tends towards lasting longer than average.
Meanwhile some brands are easier to upgrade. You can’t do much to keep a MacBook Air up to date. It’s a piece of cake to put more memory, more storage or a faster drive in a Windows desktop computer.
There is something else to consider about device long life. If you choose a popular brand, that would be Apple or Samsung for phones, Apple, HP and Dell for laptops and so on, there’s a bigger community of people to support that product over the long haul.
You won’t have trouble finding someone to fix a broken Apple or Samsung phone, you might struggle if you pick a less popular brand like, say, Oppo.
Likewise there is a ready market in components like replacement batteries or screens for popular products. Finding parts for obscure hardware is tough.
You may have other tips for getting more out of your spending on hardware. Feel free to share in the comments below. There is a prize for the best tip.
- I had one of each of these too ↩︎
- Apple had fixed the early teething troubles with handwriting recognition, late model Newtons like the 130 were remarkably good at the job. ↩︎
- So long as there are no idiotic software updates that render the thing useless. ↩︎
- Was there ever such a weaselly marketing word as enhanced? It implies something is better when often it means is some problems are now fixed. ↩︎