How Often Do We Upgrade Our E-Devices?

How often do you get the itch to acquire a new e-device? Is it when the new iPhone comes out? When you’ve had your device for two years and you no longer feel hip? Is it when your device just starts lagging, or are you the type of person who needs to completely break a phone before you even think about buying a new one? 

Modern e-devices aren’t being made to stick around for too long. A report from Recon Analytics said Americans replaced cell phones, on average, about every two years in 2010 (every 21.7 months). The good news is that’s down from 18.7 months in 2007. Even better, the replacement cycle was at 22.4 months in 2014 and is expected to climb to around 30 months by 2016. But that’ll still be every two and a half years that we’ll start itching for a new cell phone. 

Tablet computers sit somewhere between smart phones and laptops. Gizmodo ran an editorial that contended people usually want to replace laptops every three years, but that may be too long for a tablet computer, since they run on libraries of ever-changing apps. Although, a study last year said iPads can get replaced like a Mac (two to four years) or sometimes even a TV (five to 10 years). 

And while PCs have a longer shelf life, they are still subject to disposability. The State of Texas stated that it costs 59 percent more to support an older, outdated PC. The common number at which replacing your desktop computer becomes a consideration, if not an actuality, is usually three to four years, five on the conservative end

Then there are the popular opinion and popular advice we all live by. PC Magazine recommended replacing a smartphone no more than every two years (so still sticking us in around the every-two-year rut). It says no sooner than two years and whenever you want after five years for laptops. But desktops still carry the most versatility time-wise. Desktops can run well past five years, if you have a good machine with expansion capabilities. 

But there’s still the ever-present conundrum. We want to reduce e-waste, and one of the best ways to do that is to keep our devices longer, but we’re stuck in this cycle of needing to upgrade because our devices become obsolete. Almost as if it’s planned.

Is planned obsolescence so bad?

The Economist defined planned obsolescence as, “A business strategy in which the obsolescence (the process of becoming obsolete – that is, unfashionable or no longer usable) of a product is planned and built into it from its conception. This is done so that in future the consumer feels a need to purchase new products and services that the manufacturer brings out as replacements for the old ones.” 

Some people argue planned obsolescence is not even necessarily a bad thing. It’s merely the product of a free market in a capitalist society, which is doing its best to get the newest fun toy out to the consumer. If we never wanted to upgrade our devices and get the newest toy, we’d still be watching black and white analog TV while we chilled our drinks in underground root cellars and thought hula-hoops were as fun as fun could get. 

On the other hand, have we gone too far with our need to have a new gadget in our hands every two years? After all, e-waste keeps mounting. We made 41.8M metric tons of it in 2014, according to a report by the UN, and it happens to be the fastest growing waste stream in the world. 

Not all of us think we’re all winners in an economy that can’t stop making things just for the sake of it. The Guardian ran an editorial last spring that said “we’re all losers” in a system with planned obsolescence. The editorial stated our current model doesn’t promote companies to provide us with better products. Instead, we end up with devices that we can’t take in for basic repairs anywhere or even get the screws off of to change the batteries. If we have trouble with a device, we just have to get rid of it, in most cases. 

So are we all slaves to a system that refuses to let us hold our own purchasing destiny? Not always.

How to keep a device longer

There are several ways we can make our devices last a bit longer and educate others to care for their own devices. Consumer Reports offered some good advice

The first point is that our products are not necessarily breaking faster. While our older gadgets tend to not be too friendly towards new updates or general trends, there is still not a little self-destruct sequence built into your laptop. In January 2014, Consumer Reports stated, “Laptops had a repair rate of 24 percent, down from 36 percent in 2010; the LCD TV repair rate is 7 percent, down from 15 percent. So why does it seem like things don’t last as long as they used to? Because when products do break, it’s memorable. They stop working altogether (53 percent) or work poorly (32 percent).” 

The key is to start thinking long-term right at the shopping process. Avoid those cheap products that aren’t made with longevity and quality production in mind. Check out Consumer Reports assessments before shopping. And stick to brands that are known for longevity in general. 

The Simple Dollar also gave some great tips for not falling into the zombie-consumer trap. The best tactic is to resist buying something because it’s new and shiny. Instead, buy something that is “task-focused.” Decide what you need a device to do, and shop according to those criteria. Deciding you might want a device to do something one day down the road is how we all end up in line for something we don’t need while our current device still works. A good rule of thumb is that if a device is working for you, keep it. 

And, of course, when a device is rendered obsolete and needs to be replaced, remember to get the word out about recycling that e-device.