Planned Obsolescence (an essay in progress)
# The Question
I'm not going to explain what I can link to... So please refer to this Wikipedia article if you are unfamiliar with Planned Obsolescence.
A lot of people ask me when they should replace their devices.
That's a good thing to be thinking about because there are legitimate (and illegitimate) reasons to plan for it.
The bottom line is that these products are made by companies whose sole purpose is to make money. So it is in their best interest to make sure your device is useless in a short amount of time.
There are a few ways businesses can accomplish the goal. In a perfect world, it is achieved by constantly pushing forward technology. In a more pragmatic world, it is by pushing forward available technology in a way that guarantees a regular stream of improvements that inspires consumerism. In a conspiratorial world, the business stops supporting old devices.
# Setting Expectations
I feel like the best way to set the proper expectations on the longevity of technology is to use the old 1 human year to 7 dog years ratio as a base. People understand (or at least accept) that ratio. So it's not that much of a leap.
Human Years : Dog Years
1 : 7
Human Years : Mac Years
1 : 15
Human Years : iOS Years (iPhone, iPad)
1 : 25
# The Mac
So you're wondering how I got to these numbers. Let's start with the Mac because it's easier.
I'm basing this number after a long conversation with some of my colleagues and this article http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1752. So let's talk about Apple and what it will service as a metaphor for a person in the workforce.
Apple will service cover non-accidental repairs up to 1 year from the date purchase. If you buy AppleCare, that warrantied coverage is extended to 3 years from the date of purchase. You can obtain out-of-warranty service up to about 5 years. At that point, Apple considers your product Vintage and will not service it. You might get some informal, non-hardware support at an Apple Store, but that's it. (You can also get support from non-Apple business entities, but that's beside the point.)
Even if Apple didn't have this policy, One has to look at how quickly software is evolving these days (how these changes are driven is another topic). I've found that up to about 3 years, you're pretty much in the free and clear as long as you didn't skimp on all the options. At 4, your device will be showing its age. At 5, it definitely will.
So let's apply that to how people usually use their time in life and the workforce.
You're pretty much working your way in the world until you start hitting 40-45. It seems to me that is when time starts to weigh on you, but you can still be hip. At 60, it's like kids are a different species, it's really hard to be cool. At 75, well... you get my drift. I'd say at 45, you really should have some good retirement plans in the works. At 60, you should be really thinking about retiring while you can still enjoy life. At 75, you ought to have somewhere nice and comfortable to be.
Of course, there are exceptions. You could be an exceptionally healthy 75 year old. You could have completely maxed out a Mac Pro and kept upgrading as much as possible. For the purposes of this post, I'm talking about generalizations.
As long as your usage remains the same, at 3 years of ownership, you should be thinking about replacing your Mac. At 4 years you should have a plan. At 5, you should upgrade any minute now...
This is where it gets straight up ugly.
This number is driven, ultimately, by mobile phone culture. Smart phone manufacturers didn't start this trend. Cell phone companies did with contracts and subsidies and the low entry price and a high monthly.
If you are on a contract, you got your phone cheap. You did not pay the full amount for your phone. You got that bargain because you bought a hobbled phone that can only work with your cartel's--I mean carrier's--signal. The way they make their money back is by over-charging you for your service every month. You want to know how much their services actually cost? Get one of their employees to tell you what they pay and know that their companies are still making money off of them.
Thus, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, everyone has to develop and build phones that will adhere to the carrier's price points. They have to make their phones be Vintage at 2 years and Obsolete by 3.
I know you can still get your iPhone serviced past 2 years, but did you try using an iPhone 4 on iOS 7? It is a pretty sub-standard experience.
Sadly, iPads and iPod Touches have a similar lifespan. My iPad 3 is really showing its age as I create visual art and music on it. When it comes to making videos, I skip it entirely and use my iPhone 5s to do all the editing.
# Windows and Android Devices
Human Years : Windows Years : Android Years
1 : 15 - 100
Both Windows hardware and Android hardware suffer the same problem. With so many manufactures with so many configurations, how can you even begin to compare them?
Today's high-end Android phone or customized Windows gaming rig is in a different class than a budget device. There's no easy metric for how long any device will last. It's a case by case basis.
# And What of Linux?
Human Years : Linux Years
1 : ∞ (potentially)
I'm not going to go into depth with this ratio. What it comes down to is that, depending on your use, you'll get as many years out of a Linux box as effort and time you're willing to put into it.