My Turn

Stop the Upgrade Insanity

Chris Edwards - 2001.09.05

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

I have a friend who lives across the street. Let's call him Steven. Steven has his own business which has grown to include three stores. He is married and has a daughter who is 13 and a son who is 10. He is what I would call an average upper-middle class guy.

He is also in the market for a new computer and frequently asks me what he should buy, when he should buy it, how much RAM, what size hard drive, etc. I have, at the least, convinced him to buy a Macintosh.

I guess he looks at me as some sort of expert. Either that or a real geek. I have a 333 MHz iMac, a Titanium PowerBook G4/500, and a Power Computing 604e/225 MHz Power Tower Pro. All this is networked together with AirPort, a cable modem, and a Linksys hub.

Geez, maybe I am a geek.

Anyway, Steven wants a new iMac or iBook, but he is paralyzed by "upgrade fear." He is always telling me, "I just know as soon as I buy this, it will be outdated," and "I always time these things really bad."

That brings me to this revelation: I believe that in a lot of ways the computer industry has brought about this slump themselves. Computer sales have plummeted in the past year or so, and one major contributing factor is that people are fed up with the constant feeling they just got taken. The churn rate for "new and improved" in the computer industry seems to be 6-8 months.

What's up with that? A computer is the single most expensive appliance that is purchased in a household. They cost more than refrigerators. More than stoves. More than dishwashers. More than a washer & dryer set - but they are obsolete in eight months. At least we are made to feel like they are.

Can you imagine if your refrigerator had to be replaced every eight months? Very few families can afford to "keep up with the computer industry," and I believe that most have decided they are not going try anymore.

Advertising has convinced us that speed is all. You must have the fastest: 600 MHz, 800 MHz, 1.5 , and now 2 GHz. As it is, most families don't use 40% of the processor power from three years ago. I am not talking about professional movie editors, designers, or early adopters. I am talking about normal, everyday users.

Buyers are tired of always being behind. I believe it is time to come to some sort of consensus about upgrading.

Here is what I propose: Release new models, processors, etc. every 12-18 months. That way, if I decide to wait to upgrade through one cycle, I have gotten two or three good years out of the current system. That's not bad. I have an old make that was in production for three years before it was discontinued. Three years.

Also, by adopting the 1-1/2 year cycle, I don't feel like I've just been ripped off by buying last months model. This also gives the manufacturers time to make really significant improvements to the hardware - not just changing a color or adding a FireWire port, but something that really makes a difference.

Yea, I have heard from people that I have mentioned this to that "that's just this industry, get used to it." I say that's bull. We have been brainwashed into believing this eight month cycle is normal. It can be changed, and I think manufacturers will have happier customers and a less volatile market.

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