When is technology outdated?

I saw an article today on TUAW discussing a person who is still using their Apple Newton (last made in 1998) on a daily basis.  The original blog of the Newton owner is here.  The original Apple Newton sold for $700, and the final Apple Newton sold for $1000.

My reaction is split–I completely understand wanting to continue to use an “outdated” device as a hobby.  Certainly, hobbyists do so in many different fields, including motorcycles and cars.  But most Model T owners wouldn’t make their Model T their primary car.  So in the case of this Newton owner…wouldn’t an iPhone or iPad make a much better device to bring along with you on a day-to-day basis?1  Apparently not.  In this post, Gavin McKenzie (another Newton owner) says:

“I just powered up one of my Apple MP2100 and nearly wept with just how good it is. Doesn’t make sense. 2011 should be better than 1997.”

Am I a skeptic of that comment?  Absolutely.  As much as I like my iPhone and iPad, I’ve never “nearly wept” over it.

In general, Apple’s pretty good about letting us know when something is outdated by creating upgrade requirements.  Any Mac that doesn’t have a Core Duo processor isn’t able to update to OS X Lion.  iPhones (original) and iPhone 3s can no longer update to the latest iOS (4.x or 5).  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many, many older Apple devices still being used.  They just can’t run the latest and greatest software.  But let’s be honest…some software packages are “good enough” that they could be used for a long, long time.  And I even saw a post today about writing in TXT files (instead of word processors) because TXT files will always be readable.  TXT editors are the most basic of programs, and haven’t changed much over the years.

I couldn’t use a Newton as a primary device knowing that the iPhone or iPad exist.  But I certainly won’t keep someone else from doing so.  This whole situation leads to a question…”When should I update my device?”

My general rule of thumb is that I update hardware for one of two reasons:

1) A software program that I use on a regular basis (e.g. Finale) will no longer run on the OS of the computer I own, and I am no longer able to update the OS.  Take note–this can take years.  Most PCs can still run Finale 2011, and Macs on OS X 10.5 can still run Finale.

2) A device has features that my current device does not have–and those devices will impact how I use that device.  Some examples: the iPhone 4 had a much improved camera (and FaceTime) as well as great speed gains over the 3GS; or the iPad 2 had mirroring capability (soon to be wireless) and a graphics processor.  Rumors are that the iPhone 5 will have a 4 inch touchscreen instead of the current iPhone (1-4) 3.5 inch screen.  That much additional real estate might be worth updating for.  We’ll have to see when the next iPhone is revealed in September.

1 I do realize that the Newton had handwriting recognition, something iOS still doesn’t do very well.  There are a few apps, such as WritePad, which offer handwriting recognition, but reviews are mixed.  Steve Jobs clearly didn’t want people to have to use a stylus to be able to use the iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.


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