I’ve been pondering this for a while. I’ve had four or five different iPads and three or four different iPhones during the short period they have been available, usually quick to jump on the newest model.
And I’ve owned a significant number of laptops, both for business and personal use over the years. Interestingly, I’ve had my current laptop, an HP EliteBook 9470m, for over 18 months. This is a technology eternity for me. So what makes this product different from the others? It is solid, very functional, lightweight, and performs great (screen, keyboard, connectivity, etc.). Sure, there are new features available with newer models (touch screen, foldable 180 degree devices, etc.), but this hardware package is very good. Mostly importantly, it’s good enough to meet my needs.
Why? I believe that the “use cases” for this hardware have stabilized. My uses include creating content, connecting to corporate networks, traveling within the office, to the office, and on the road. Wi-Fi standards, battery life, disk drive technology have all reached a solid level. Video, audio, fingerprint scanning, and peripheral connections have stabilized. There are plenty of vendors trying to provide new reasons to buy new hardware, but I think good is good enough.
Has the marketplace reached the same point with smartphones? For iPhone 4 and 5 owners, many have voted by keeping their current models and have avoided the lure of an upgrade. Their phone is paid for and it’s doing its job. What more could they ask for?
The same goes with the iPad. There are plenty of 2 and 3 generation old devices that are satisfying what the user wants and more.
My conclusion is that the upgrade game is not solely about the hardware anymore—there is only so much one can do with the form factor. It is now about expanding the use cases and/or reducing the costs and expanding the market. That includes global markets outside of the U.S. that seem to have almost unlimited potential. Tech geeks like me will continue to be drawn to the newest shiny objects. But for the masses, they are going to need more compelling reasons to keep trading up.
As an aside—remember the good ol’ days when everyone was excited about mobile phones getting smaller and smaller? When the Motrola MicroTAC was replaced by the Motorola StarTAC (1996), that was considered a big darn deal.