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Phones That We Kept For Years

A Motorola MicroTAC like this was my phone for more than three years in the 90s.
I really can't remember a great deal about the time before the arrival of smartphones, but what I do remember is a total lack of urgency to constantly upgrade from one release to the next.

In the twelve years between getting my first cell phone in 1993 and getting my first true smartphone in 2005 I had fewer phones than I've had in the last eighteen months.

That list stretches just eight phones long. Five regular cell phones and three proto-smartphones  (Nokia Communicator, Sony-Ericsson R380 and P800).

To count my last eight smartphone purchases I need only travel back to June of last year.

It isn't just me (although I admit I'm probably an extreme case). Apple, retailers and networks all now have schemes that allow you to replace your phone every year. It's clearly something that people want to do.

Is it the frenzied pace of development which adds features and reduces the size of our phones that drives us?

Between the Sony Xperia Z1 that I bought in January 2014 and the Z5 that would replace it this coming January there have been three and a half revisions of the phone, Adding a brighter screen, slightly upgraded camera and fingerprint sensor. Nothing critical there.

What has changed is the software. Google has been through two major Android updates. The Z1 hasn't.

On the iOS side of the fence there have been bigger hardware changes, yet the draw to upgrade remains the same even though a two year old iPhone 5S can happily run iOS9.

The truth is that the companies selling these phones have got better at getting us to be conspicuous consumers. Advertising, competition, customer loyalty that borders on sports fan obsession.

Most two-year old smartphones would deliver almost as good a smartphone experience as their current counterparts, yet the draw of the new and shiny has become so great that we constantly chase the latest trinkets.

There's a purpose behind this demand though. We run our lives through our phones. Banking, communication, education, navigation, entertainment, shopping. They are all just part of the smart phone experience. Is it any wonder that we want our most important tool to be the best and most up to date we can get?

Our counterparts from twenty years ago would be appalled but the leisurely replacement cycles of days gone by aren't tenable today. Just as a life that revolved around the small glowing screens would have been inconceivable to them.

The pace of change is both relentless and accelerating.


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