Trade-in trade-offs

Joe Brown, writing for one5c:

But if you think you need to upgrade your mobile device whenever a new one comes out, you’ve bought Apple and Google’s shittiest marketing pitch. You do not need a new phone every year. You don’t even need a new one every other year. Modern mobiles are fast, powerful, and robust—and, like any other new computer, good for several years of service. You should take pride in using your cellphone for as long as possible. In the deck of cheap, easy cards you can play to preserve the planet, using your mobile device until it drops is royalty.

This essay, which is a well-argued, worthwhile read, argues that because it’s feasible thanks to phones being really good these days, abstaining from upgrades for as long as possible is part of our duty to the planet.

If you think about iPhones solely as a luxury this opinion is very agreeable. We shouldn’t be damaging the planet for a shiny new thing when the one we have works just fine. However, with the increasing dependence on our mobile devices for so many of our day-to-day tasks, iPhones are practically - and functionally - far closer to being vital organs than Gucci belts.

Without a modern smartphone, it would’ve taken me a third longer to find somewhere to get a good breakfast and navigate from Urban Kayaks on the Riverwalk to Eggy’s in Streeterville just earlier today. And with the location’s unusual defiance of Chicago’s typically trivial-to-navigate gird system that I love so dearly, without GPS I likely would have given up and chosen a different diner whose address I can reach intuitively.

Walking route from Urban Kayaks to Eggy’s

Surely iPhone from 3, 4, or 5 years ago could’ve gotten me there. Could it, though? From simply point A to point B in ideal conditions- yeah, for sure. What if I told you I had been using GPS navigation for an hour among GPS signal-weakening skyscrapers and took a ton of pictures and videos on the river? As someone who’s used an iPhone 6s as both a daily driver near its prevalence and then as a trap/burner phone for Lollapalooza this summer, almost 6 years after its release, no, I would have needed a portable charger to reach Eggy’s. Even an iPhone 11 or 12 mini may have been a toss-up.

While I feel confident in establishing you’ll find meaningful usability differences across 2-3 iPhone iterations, year-over-year upgrades are harder to argue for. Generational changes seem to be increasingly trivial, giving me a good reason to hold onto my 13 mini another year, on top of the mini being left without a successor. But endurance can be a challenge; with 89% battery health I’m eagerly anticipating battery improvements coming with iOS 16.1 this Monday and might opt for a replacement service soon. All things considered, after the first few weeks of reviews and ads for the new model, I don’t find myself yearning for more.

But knowing myself, I expect this abstinence to waver come next fall, especially with rumors suggesting iPhone 15 will finally include USB-C along with the usual compounding improvements of performance, battery, and cameras. A 2-generation camera difference is noticeable, and you can only take a photo once. iPhoneographers much snobbier than I have been raving and raving about the 15 Pro’s new features, and next year’s expected refinements create enough of the gap that settles my dilemma at a compromise.

Some can manage not to care much about their phone’s capability, but I am not one of those people. I applaud those who can, in the name of protecting the Earth or saving money, live with a phone that’s more frequently sluggish and dead than necessary, but I find my balance in wastefulness and utility at an upgrade about every other iPhone release. I’ll make sure my old devices get handed down, resold, or otherwise recycled.