Trusty iPhone 4

Tech obsolescence in 2014

Trusty iPhone 4
Trusty iPhone 4

I’m a big gadget lover but I need to balance my love of tech with my environmental conscience. I’ve got a massive issue with replacing items which are still perfectly usable items. It seems so wasteful to replace a phone or a tablet simply because a newer version has been released. The new models may have a slightly better spec but often they carry a huge price tag. To me, the gain is minimal but the outlay is maximum.

This standpoint is reflected in my current lineup of tech. My one & only phone is an iPhone 4. Not a 4S, a humble 4. It’s jailbroken & locked down to ios 7 as apple no longer allow it to be upgraded. With the jailbreak tweaks its perfectly fine speed wise, I actually prefer the smaller form factor and the battery life hasn’t really degraded from the day I bought it.

The same goes for my iPad which is a 64GB iPad 2 with GSM. This cost the best part of £700 on release (when i bought it from the apple store in Exeter) and has seen daily use ever since. I depend a lot on my ios devices. I run an online business & manage a few social media accounts, both personal and business and I do this perfectly well with my current lineup.

This isn’t the end of our legacy hardware setup though. My wife has a 32GB iPhone 3GS which again is jailbroken and tweaked to hell. She only takes this on the odd day out or meeting, the rest of the time she simply uses her iPad mini (which is the newest device we have) and finds a wifi hotspot. People are shocked when they find out she only carries an old iPhone a few days a year but our setup works perfectly well.

Early 2009 24 inch imac
Early 2009 24 inch imac

My main computer is an early 2009 24 inch imac. I got a pretty good spec at the time with the uprated pci-e nvidia GT 120 and to be honest, with 8GB of ram this machine kicks the arse out of most other macs I’ve come across, including my brother in laws 2012 iMac. This is largely down to the fact that I care for my hardware & software and have everything setup & tweaked perfectly. I’ve not even been tempted to upgrade to a newer imac, with the exception of airplay & hardware decoding/encoding of video this thing does the lot.

I have a real problem with this forced obsolescence of hardware. I know that companies like apple need to keep the market moving forward, they are in the business of selling hardware and software, but it just seems so wasteful. I’ve had these devices so long & the only time I wavered was when I bought a Google LG Nexus 5 on release date. I only kept it for 3 weeks and returned it to google. It was shocking. So many issues, fragile build quality, terrible audio, pretty poor ecosystem, jittery sound recording on videos due to faulty noise cancelling mics. It was a bad experience.

I do quite fancy a fairphone, but again I have the problem of upgrading an item which is perfectly fine & does everything I need. I know that marketing teams are very good at making older devices feel inferior, but for a smartphone I really don’t see the point of having all of that power in your pocket. After all most of us only email, lookup random things on the web and use a handful of apps, all of which work perfectly fine on older handsets.

By keeping my iPhone for so long I really feel like I’ve got my moneys worth. I’ve had this handset since mid 2010 (over 4 years) of daily hard use and it’s still fine. It’s not on a contract so with giffgaff for £12 a month I get all the minutes and texts I need and unlimited 3G data. To upgrade to an iPhone 6 for cash is a small fortune, the contracts have eye watering monthly costs.

The financial costs aside, there are huge environmental costs to all of this. Many precious metals and other materials go into making these devices. The sad truth is so many of these handsets sit in drawers for years after they are taken out of use (most people have a drawer full of old handsets & chargers) and are eventually disposed of when they have no perceived value. This is sad & wasteful.

The problem as I see it are two fold. People have the new handsets marketed at them with subtle differences. Enough to differentiate between the new and the old model and enough to make the old models look inferior. This is a good motivator for people to upgrade. Then comes the contract trap. Apple and other vendors know the prices are high and most people will opt for a monthly contract to obtain the new handsets. So people sign for a 24 month contract at £42 per month and over the two years their phone is superseded by two or three new models. During the course of the contract this shiny new phone becomes the old phone that users can’t wait to get rid of when their contract is up, so the cycle starts again & the marketing teams have a very simple job of selling the new hardware to you.

Lets take the £42 a month contract I found as an example. With a small payment upfront of around £60 you pay £1068 over the 2 years minimum. That is without any extra costs such as outside of tariff calls/texts/data or roaming charges. If the carriers advertised that costs I doubt most people would upgrade. Compare that to my £12 a month over 4 years which is £576 and not a penny more. Add to that the price of the handset which was £499 and i’ve paid the same over 4 years as most people will pay in two. So for each month I get out of this handset I make a killer saving, I’m not tied into any contract and I’m free to put any sim I like into the phone when I go abroad.

Maybe this is an old fashioned way to look at the world, but I don’t like items such as phones and cars and other consumer products to be paid for monthly. I’ve always owned my cars outright. The same with my tech. Difference being, they don’t change the way roads work or make fuel different each year so I can continue to use my car as long as it is useful. Not so with tech.

I’m not ignorant to the fact that new operating systems are too demanding for older hardware, but support for hardware shouldn’t cease after 4 years. I’m now being told I can’t upgrade apps on the phone as they are iOS only. Eventually this will force my hand but I aim to get another 6-12 months out of this phone. I will keep the iMac for years to come and our other devices will be in use as long as possible. At the end of their life they will be repurposed. The iPhone will make a great mp3 & internet audio player in a dock or in the car. I still have my 4th Generation iPod classic (the U2 limited edition i bought at the Apples tore in SF) and it still sees a lot of use.

Comment back if you have similar views on this. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I can’t be on my own with this view. Tech should be used until it no longer functions, not because a manufacturer decided it’s time to spend more cash.

John Large

My name is John Large. I am a Web Developer, E-commerce site owner & all round geek. My areas of interest include hardware hacking, digital privacy & security, social media & computer hardware. I’m also a minimalist in the making, interested in the Tiny House movement & the experience economy along with a strong interest in sustainability & renewable energy. When I’m not tapping on a keyboard or swiping a smart phone I can be found sampling great coffee, travelling the world with my wife Vicki (who writes over at Let’s Talk Beauty) & generally trying to live my life as unconventionally as possible.

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