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How to Own Apple Products Without Getting Screwed

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Have you ever purchased an awesome new Apple product only to find out almost immediately that there's a newer and better version right around the corner, or worse, already announced? Doesn't it make you want to pull your hair out when you fork over hundreds or even thousands of your hard earned dollars and still quickly find yourself a generation of technology behind? Today, we're going to look at a few simple strategies that you can use to avoid that "screwed over" feeling that seems inherent in owning Apple products.


Keeping Up with Apple

Once upon a time, we Apple nerds had only one (yes, just one) piece of hardware to worry about upgrading every few years, and it sat on our desks. Those days are far behind us though, and we almost all own at least a few different objects with shiny apples on the back.

The rate of technological advancement has given birth to an unbelievably short product life cycle for these devices. On average, you can expect that wonderful new toy that you purchased on release day to be replaced by something newer and better within a year, leaving you feeling either envious, angry or both. Again, you only get a year if you bought the device on day one, which most of us probably don't do often.

On average, you can expect that wonderful new toy that you purchased on release day to be replaced by something newer and better within a year

The Apple elite (some call us fanboys) like myself are so immersed in Apple culture that we know exactly how to space our purchases and upgrades to minimize the pain of purchase regret and maximize the time that we spend with the "newest" version of an item. But what about normal people who don't spend their days on Apple rumor sites? How are mere mortals supposed to keep up with this stuff?

Let's look at a few simple tips that you can follow to stay informed and almost never get caught off guard with a poorly timed purchase.


Watch Product Life Cycles

You may be tempted to say that you don't really care about the life cycle of an iPad or MacBook, but the reality of the matter is that if you care about value, this is something that merits your attention.

With a basic understanding of how Apple structures releases, you'll know when to hold off buying a product for a month to get something that gives you a lot more bang for your buck: better performance, more features, slower obsolescence, often for the same exact price point.

It's difficult to argue with those kinds of results. So how do you find out about these mythical life cycles?

MacRumors Buyer's Guide

I could link you to a bunch of different sources to check daily for keeping up with Apple news, but as far as a way to aid purchase decisions relative to release cycles, there really is only one place that you need to watch: the MacRumors Buyer's Guide.

MacRumors Buyer's Guide
MacRumors Buyer's Guide

This handy list covers all of the major Apple products. They make your decision incredibly easy to make with simple recommendations: Buy Now, Neutral, or Don't Buy. Easy, right?

The best part is that these recommendations are backed up with life cycle information. For instance, at the time of this writing, it has been 405 days since the last update to the Apple Cinema Display.

This may not tell you much at first, but when you see that the last update came 415 days into the product cycle, and that the average update over the last five versions has been about 400 days, then you can see that there's a reasonable expectation that we'll see a significant refresh of the Cinema Displays sometime in the near future.

MacRumors Buyer's Guide
Information About the Apple Cinema Display's Life Cycle

In addition to date-based speculation, MacRumors of course keeps a running list of rumors relating to each product next to its listing. This will help you decide whether the new version is worth the wait or not really something that you care about.

Curveballs Happen

Keep in mind that watching dates and even reading rumors isn't always a foolproof way to never be taken by surprise. Every now and then, Apple genuinely catches a ton of people off guard.

For instance, historically, the iPad was receiving an update once every 350 days or so. Given this information, you would've probably felt comfortable buying one in October of this year, given that we were only a little over 220 days into the life cycle.

However, Apple had a surprise up their sleeve and released a new version of the large iPad next to the new iPad mini. Needless to say, there are plenty of frustrated customers out there with "new" iPads that are suddenly a generation behind.


Watch for Paradigm Shifts

There's one piece of advice that I personally live by that I advise you to consider, even if you couldn't care less if there's a newer version of something, as long as you're happy with the one that you have.

The advice is this: watch for major paradigm shifts and purchase your products after the jump. What do I mean by this? To illustrate, let's consider a few different examples.

The Switch to Intel Chips

Take the Mac as our first instance of a major paradigm shift. For years, Macs have been receiving incremental upgrades. Each year's models are faster and thinner than last year's models, and that's about it. The technology has essentially stayed the same. Whether you bought one in 2008 or 2009 doesn't really make that big of a difference, each would have a similar span of usefulness. Keep that term in mind because it's going to be important to this concept.

Now consider the situation in 2005. At this point we became aware of Apple's intentions to switch to Intel processors. This wasn't an incremental improvement, it was something larger: a paradigm shift. Effectively, this meant that Apple was not only switching to a new technology, they were going to begin phasing out an older technology that would literally stop supporting new software in the next few years.

If you purchased a Mac the day before the announcement, its span of usefulness would be significantly less than if you waited long enough to purchase an Intel Mac instead. The latter might last you five years or more while the former became fairly antiquated in two to three years.

In this situation, the wait for the new version of the product wasn't about bragging rights, it was about significantly extending the value and longevity of your purchase.

Apple Logos
Intel chips, flash storage and retina displays all represent big changes for Mac owners

Retina Displays

Fast forward a few years and we begin to witness another major paradigm shift. The iPhone 4 debuted with a super high resolution (Retina) display. We all knew right away that this was one of those Apple innovations that was going to change everything.

A new generation of screen technology isn't equivalent to a better RAM chip, it represents a significant change in the way software is both designed and experienced. It was a perfectly logical assumption that Apple would roll this technology out over all of its products, and sure enough, we're witnessing that very strategy right now.

Apple Logos
How long before all Apple devices have retina displays?

After getting a look at the iPhone 4, I decided that I wouldn't purchase another Mac until there was one with a Retina display (same went for iPad). I waited patiently, working on a machine far past its prime and eventually purchased the Retina MacBook Pro on the day it was released.

Again, this wasn't so I could show off my fancy new toy, but so that I could be sure that I wasn't making a major, multi-thousand dollar purchase on the wrong side of a significant change in technology.

Tip: Built in flash storage is another major Mac related shift that we're seeing, though it's happening very slowly due to high input costs.

Lightning

My third and final example of purchasing an item on the right side of a major paradigm shift relates to the new Apple Lightning Dock Connector that appears on iOS devices.

I own a first generation iPad and have decided that it's finally time to upgrade to something new. Right when I decided this though, rumors of a new dock connector began pouring in so fast that it seemed that they might actually be true. Sure enough, the iPhone 5 launched with Lightning, making a huge market of third party iPhone device accessories very nearly obsolete.

Lightning
Let's hope you didn't buy an iPhone or iPad weeks before this little beauty came on the scene

There was no way Apple was going to stick to the old dock connector on the iPad, so again I waited, and sure enough, the second iPad refresh in a single year showed up, of course with Lightning built in.

The Moral of the Story

It's important to note that Apple eases these transitions as much as possible. The shift to Intel processors came with Rosetta, an invisible background utility that enabled older applications to work on the new chips. Similarly, there's a converter that enables you to use your Lightning iOS devices with accessories that have the old connector.

That being said, you should still do your best to watch out for possible shifts and plan your purchases accordingly to ensure maximum compatibility and usefulness over a long period of time.

The First Generation Warning

Along with the advice of buying Apple products after paradigm shifts instead of right before them is the warning that first generation technology from any company can be a little wonky. I'm personally an early adopter, but there are lots of people with more patience and wisdom who wait a year to let Apple iron out all of the bugs.

A perfect example of this is the Retina MacBooks. As I mentioned before, I bought one on the day they released and sure enough, there was an issue. Many of the first round Retina MacBooks experienced some ghosting issues with the display, including mine. Fortunately, Apple admitted that there was an issue and replaced the display free of charge, but you might not always get so lucky!

Tip: You might also over pay for first generation technology. Economies of scale make technology cheaper over time.


My Advice: Consider Selling Your iOS Device Every Year

To many, this advice will sound downright nuts. I fully admit, it's not for everyone. If this includes you, feel free to skip this section. For those who are left, there is a strong argument to be made for iOS users to sell their devices every year in order to purchase the upgrades.

Forced Obsolescence in High Gear

Why would you engage in such madness? Is it purely for the sake of vanity and having the newest thing? Yes and no. We all love new toys, but the practical reason has to do with Apple's crazy timeline. Every year, we're going to see the entire line of iOS devices refreshed, and perhaps more importantly, iOS itself will receive a new version.

As we've already seen, things get super complicated for older device owners when a new version of iOS is released. For instance, an iPhone 4 can update to iOS 6, but it will not have Siri, flyover in maps, turn-by-turn GPS, or the panorama camera feature.

iPhone 4
iPhone 4 - iOS 6 compatibility chart

Keep in mind, the iPhone 4 deputed in mid-2010. This device cost owners several hundred dollars and is already beginning to reject Apple's newest software features, some of which the device is likely perfectly capable of handling.

The Lure of Upgrading Regularly

To get a jump on high speed obsolescence, I advise you to consider selling your iOS devices every single year, or at least every two years given that cell phone contracts tend to tie you in for that long.

If you're careful about the timing of when you sell your device, and are sure to keep it in mint condition, you can easily get the vast majority of cash that you need for the upgrade. This can lead to you dropping around $50 or so every year to stay up on the latest technology, which really is a decent alternative to waiting until your old one dies or is worthless, then spending hundreds on a new one all at once. Plus, you never have to worry about those pesky device feature charts.

What's Your Strategy?

Now you officially know how to buy and own Apple products without getting screwed. First, keep an eye on the product life cycles and don't buy anything new when you start getting close to a refresh. Next, watch out for major paradigm shifts that can make seemingly new products reach obsolescence faster due to aging technology. Finally, consider selling your iOS device every year for as much as you can get to help ease the upgrade to the latest model.

Now that you've heard my advice, I'd love to hear yours. How do you go about planning a major Apple purchase? Do you check any resources like the MacRumors Buyer's Guide? Do you care about staying up to date or do you use your devices until they die?

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