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The accelerating pace of useless technology upgrades

Tech companies want consumers who can be herded forward.  There was the magic of the iPhone 6 and the 6-plus.  By the time those came out, the old iPhones were tired, maybe too slow -- Apple fans were eager, if not desperate for a better device. Then not so long after Samsung introduced its Galaxy S4 in May 2013, it announced the S5 in February 2014. The Samsung Galaxy S6 and the Galaxy Edge (and their updates) showed up this week -- hustled out the door to keep pace with media mega-hype of the Apple Watch. How wonderful and different are the new Samsung gadgets from the S3 and S5?  Wait for it – startup with a finger swipe, a curved edge and again imitating Apple… no removable batteries. Oh, so the new phones have a 12-hour battery life?  Well, you can charge the phone within 15 minutes to get 4 hours of life out of it? Not so good when the day is long.

The next new, new thing.  After Apple Pay problems surfaced following the phone upgrade, there was a bit of complaining. Never mind whether anyone really needs Apple Pay. Identity theft and fraud are rampant and rising, and you still need to carry your license in a wallet-like place. But the Apple Watch has been pre-ordered by 1 million people (who ARE those people?). What’s the use of this thing? To keep you from looking at your phone so you listen to messages on your wrist? Then the new $1299 MacBook emerges – but it has only a unique and single USB-C connector. For connections to older devices and networks, you must buy another adapter. So if your current MacBook works, why would you upgrade -- unless you are in the IT department, work in the Apple ecosystem, want to look cool and/or write over-the-top reviews for the Wall Street Journal?

Tech innovation is relentless – but resistance is not futile. Passing an Apple store today in a big city, it was not crowded with people or lines for the new watch or the MacBook. Passed a Verizon counter in a mall – the rep was snoozing and there were no lines to see the new Galaxy phones. And the new phones don’t fit the old cases either -- of course. But wait, for more than $200, I can upgrade the phone with a new 2-year contract and a $50 mail-in rebate. And of course, also buy a new case. Wow. And built-in wireless charging! What a deal. And for that fabulous price, I can now spend a day or more tuning the settings and re-installing every useful app on my phone. I can then buy a new handbag with larger side pockets to hold the phone.

So let’s see what we didn’t spend.  This is the second, or maybe the third time I have walked away and kept my smaller and slower phone, which is occasionally a bit flaky, but until it breaks, it works. Without buying an iPhone 6 or 6-plus, a new MacBook, a Samsung Galaxy S4, S5, S6 or Edge, I have saved upwards of two thousand dollars, not counting the handbag. That feels pretty good.  And what about those 67 updates that the Google Play Store says are waiting – of apps that I have or viewed once, but don’t use?  Some of those upgrades change those app user interfaces, no doubt, in a noticeable way. In a good way?  Not necessarily.  

For years,tech firms made us upgrade – and now it’s a nightmarish mess. Which apps have security holes you can drive a truck through? Which operating system version upgrade will traumatize youthful iPad users by presenting them with changes they didn’t request and don’t need? Which software versions will Samsung or Google or Apple suddenly discover must be upgraded, now, or the safety of the free world will be threatened? Not too easy to tell that without reading news sites and product forums about the new patches and release notes.Then you must check back for problems encountered by the tech-smart early adopters. There is such a mess of version variants out there, even tech reviewers can decide not to upgrade. And isn't it a good thing most of these companies don’t have phone numbers that consumers can reach?

Please be sure to check out Boomer Health Tech Watch, our parallel site that tracks boomers and Digital Health, wearables, and mHealth!


I'm almost 71, and I think it's time to give up trying to keep up. My friends see me as a tech geek, but I'm starting to believe it's not what I want to be anymore. It takes a lot of time and money, and in the end ...

I am 74 years old,. One month ago I bough my first S5 Smart Phone!
To my humble view the most powerful feature is the : " Whatsup application". This the ultimate connection between the Multigeneration family.and friends! This is what enable you to be connected to life!
Shoshan Shacham

Laurie, I've had the best luck with LG phones since phone #1 way back when. I avoid the hustle around Samsung's kitchen sink approach (throw everything out there) and Apple Hype, and have a solid, reliable phone. I stayed with their Octane feature phone for nearly 4 years since I didn't like any smartphones I saw, until I realized it was at the breaking point, I needed more and got in at the intro price for the G3 last year after doing my homework. It's a terrific phone, big clear high res screen, great camera and does all that I want; I'm not big on apps. Had a lot of fun over the past year waving the phone at friends who had Samsung Notes and complained, and my iPhone loyalist friends. Well, they've caught up now, but I still prefer my G3. Only drawback is that to change out the SD card (I need a much larger one) requires taking off the back as opposed to a side loader. Verizon did an OTA upgrade to Lollipop and so far that's smooth.

And tablets? I do fine with a 7" Ellipsis freebie that Verizon gave me--but hardly use it--and prefer a convertible laptop, when I decide to buy one.

And the much hyped fact that the Applepolloi have pre-ordered 1 million Watches--wait for the returns. To meet analyst expectations, they need to sell 8 to 40 million--just this year! Right now there are only 7 million Android watches sold (including Pebbles), so doubling the market (essentially, creating a market) is one heavy lift.

Like you I see very little need for this watch, or any watch for that matter at this stage. We both go to conferences, and how many Android watches have we seen on the healtherati? I haven't seen many. ResearchKit got a big boost from IBM yesterday, though.

Laurie, try to not be so cynical at the fast, iterative pace of innovation. Major jumps (like the original iPhone) are few and far between but the steady pace of incremental improvements ultimately yields better, more useful products. We 60+ folks may not be able to usefully absorb the stream of new things but I am highly confident that things that help us will emerge.

For over 35 years I worked for a Fortune 100 company (back then before they were bought by a LARGER one) that was never "up to date" on technology. We were not bleeding edge, we were not leading edge, we were usually on the low side of the infamous bell curve. Our technology did the job just fine, thank you. We typically skipped software generations due to all the government compliance and testing issues. My phone was the same way. We used flip phones forever. My wife still uses one. Mine finally died so I got a Samsung Galaxy S4 right before they announced the S5. I turn off all the s/w I don't need and even delete it unless it's hard wired (as some Samsung aps) to the operating system. I notice I use a very small set of applications. I'll continue to use it until it dies or my carrier will no longer support it. I love to watch other people tear their hair out with the new stuff (I have none to tear out!) that doesn't work as advertised. My big complaint about new technology is that they keep upgrading stuff and never warn you what's coming. I lock down as much as I can so I can control when updates hit. I went through too many episodes of updates hitting and breaking my computer, application, etc. Testing is a lost art. That being said, I shall continue to only move to something new when there is a true need for it. Right now I don't see anything coming down the pike that says 'upgrade me.' Let the others have 'fun' as I read my books where I turn the page with my hand and hear the paper rustle from the book and not the fake rustle from the speaker!