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The increasingly long lives of old Macs

Dan Moren | Aug. 17, 2015
The other day, my father asked me a question about his laptop. I marveled as he handed it over: a 2008 aluminum MacBook (the bizarre one-off model that lacked a FireWire port). Even after seven years, this hunk of metal and glass was going strong. Sure, I put in a new battery and replaced the hard drive with a solid state model, but the bulk of the machine is unchanged, and it reminded me of something that I don't think Apple gets enough credit for: product longevity.

Personally, though, I take the other perspective: by supporting older devices, Apple's living up to its own self-proclaimed goal of pleasing its customers. Nobody likes to feel that they have to ditch their computer just to upgrade to the latest software.

It also happens to work to Apple's benefit, because establishing less fragmentation of operating systems makes the features the company does roll out more compelling. We think about this more on iOS, which Apple has regularly upgraded, but it's true of OS X too. By enabling more users to adopt the latest operating systems, developers--Apple included--can target their software towards the newer platforms with less fear of leaving older hardware behind. It's also a big chunk of the reason why Apple offers its major software releases for free.

There's also an element of safety: by maintaining current software on older platforms, Apple can also ensure that the latest patches to security vulnerabilities are rolled out to all of the machines that might still be in use. By comparison, look no further than the recent high profile vulnerability that hit Android devices to see the effects of widespread platform fragmentation.

Keeps on giving

This longevity goes hand in hand with the decline in specs that I wrote about last month. We'll continue to use our devices as long as they accomplish what we want them to, not simply when specs suggest we "should" upgrade.

So I think of my dad, working away on his 2008 MacBook. Ultimately, if Apple continues at the pace that it's at today, that computer's useful life could extend to a decade from its purchase, which is a pretty outstanding return on investment. Granted, he mainly uses his machine for web browsing and email reading, tasks that aren't exactly taxing even to a seven-year-old machine.

Meanwhile, those of us who do upgrade to get that new, shiny product--like me, who's gone through seven smartphones in eight years--can still turn around and sell our still-perfectly-functional older devices to a vibrant secondary market, where they'll hopefully continue to work for years to come. And that's good for us, good for the people who buy them, and even good for Apple.


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