I’ve never understood what motivates people to show up before dawn at a shopping mall
I’ve never understood what motivates people to show up before dawn at a shopping mall, simultaneously wild-eyed and sleepy as they await “Black Friday” store openings. Likewise, the impulse that drives some folks to wait in line for the release of the latest iWhatever will always be sideways to my world view.
I have a different philosophy, especially about technology products. Here it is: calm down.
Who absolutely, positively has to have the very newest gadget? No one, unless he (it’s typically a he) has a specific need for some feature that simply doesn’t exist in any other product – or, more likely, he need to be first so he can brag to friends who are equally incapable of self-control.
One of the perpetual realities of the gadget world stems from Moore’s Law and its corollaries – the idea that hardware improves at a relentless rate, doubling in power (or storage or whatever) on a steady basis at no increase in cost. The flip side of that: a device with today’s capabilities will be vastly cheaper a year from now.
Consider this photo. It’s a “micro-SD” memory card that holds 64 gigabytes – more than 65,000 megabytes – and offers relatively high-speed input and output. It cost less than $50. I bought it for my Galaxy Note 3 “phablet“, a $700 device that is far, far more powerful than the desktop computer I was running not many years ago.
I can remember my first “high capacity” hard drive, the first storage I owned exceeding the capacity of a floppy disk. It was a 10-megabyte disk that by today’s standards was unbearably slow and made clunk-clunk noises in an IBM PC-XT. That computer cost about $3,000 new in the mid-1980s. Back then, data consisted mostly of text and numbers, and I doubted at the time that I could ever fill up the hard drive.
Now I’m not suggesting you wait a decade or three to buy a device. I am suggesting a strategy that takes constant improvements into account.
Here’s how I buy my laptops, for example. My provider of choice is Lenovo, which bought IBM’s laptop and PC business a few years ago, because the quality is good and the support excellent. But I don’t buy the absolute latest model. I tend to buy the one that was state of the art last year, or at least a few months ago, for several reasons. First, the capabilities will be more than good enough for what I do. Second, Lenovo will have tweaked and improved the devices, and fixed the bugs and flaws that afflict all new system types. Third, I run the GNU/Linux operating system, and there’s always a bit of a lag in its support for the latest hardware. Finally, it’s bound to be cheaper than when it was new. So I’m getting a computer that’s more powerful and stable, and less expensive, than the one I’d get if I was one of the early adopters.
Whatever personal computer you like, realize that anything you buy a year from now (even if it’s “a year old”) will run any software you can throw at it (even the latest and greatest), as long as the software was written for that platform. It may not have the latest central processor – sometimes this is a big deal, as this year when Intel’s power-efficient chips started going into newer PCs – but it’ll work fine.
Peripheral hardware follows this rule in a big way. There are ups and downs along the way, the storage lesson is the same in just about everything. For reasons good and bad, however, computer and device makers have been making it harder if not impossible to add memory and internal storage after purchase. If you buy one of Apple’s newest laptops, for example, you’d better decide ahead of time how much RAM memory and disk capacity you need; the more you need, the more you’ll pay prices for the extra memory and storage that would be much less if you could add them yourself. (Lenovo is moving this way with some models that I plan to avoid; it’s a semi-obnoxious industry trend.)
I’m closer to an early adopter on mobile devices, I admit. So when I bought the Note 3, I knew perfectly well that in only a few months the new market leader will be a device with even more power, and the Note 3 itself will be less expensive. In this case I decided that the features were sufficiently better than what I’d been using to justify an early purchase.
I have one major caveat about mobile devices when it comes to waiting. As I’ve noted in this space before, the manufacturers of Android OS devices and carriers have been unconscionable in their failure to update the operating system – risking their customers’ safety as major security holes go unfilled in some cases – due to their wish to sell you new devices. That’s one reason why I predict Google’s Nexus line of phones and tablets, and its Motorola unit’s Moto G phones are going to keep gaining market share. Only Google seems keen on keeping the OS up to date to the extent possible. This is also an argument for Apple’s mobile devices; Apple, which releases newer, better devices on a roughly annual basis, is much more committed to updating its mobile software than the non-Google Android device makers. Ditto Microsoft, which has learned from the Android follies.
When it comes to televisions, price-induced buyers’ remorse is almost a guarantee. The makers of flat-screen TVs have been cutting prices and boosting quality at an amazing rate for years, and I don’t see much sign that they’re slowing down. We buy TVs so rarely that every time we’re at Costco I’m dazzled by the latest prices of the latest TVs. Prices do tend to drop after Christmas, and they fluctuate to some degree all year long, but you can almost always count on getting something better and cheaper by waiting. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The one gadget arena that’s probably most exciting this season is gaming, in part because the software titles being developed for games are simply incredible – and immensely profitable for the companies that create the best-sellers. Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have all launched new devices in recent months, and Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PS4 are fighting it out for top spot. With an array of new capabilities, these consoles are embedding into people’s lives well beyond just games. They have to, because the iPad and Android devices, as well as traditional PCs, are excellent game platforms themselves. You don’t need dedicated console for Minecraft.
I won’t even attempt to suggest to hard-core gamers, or the parent of a game fanatic, that it’s best to wait. But even though I have my eye on the new Xbox, I’ll definitely hold off for a while. I want it. I don’t need it. So if and when I eventually get it, I’ll have saved time – not waiting in a line at some mobbed store – and money. Sounds like a better deal all around.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/34356dd5/sc/5/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ccommentisfree0C20A130Cnov0C280Cblack0Efriday0Etechnology0Enot0Edeal/story01.htm