Right to Repair

Hey Apple, a Five-Year-Old Computer Isn’t ‘Sad’

“There are over 600 million PCs in use today that are over five years old. This is really sad, it really is.” —Phil Schiller

Hey Phil, it’s me, one of the many in the unwashed masses that is using outdated technology. And guess what, I’m not sad—I’m pissed off.

My first smartphone was an iPhone 4s. I didn’t want to pay for a 5, even though it was out at the time. I didn’t think I’d ever need that speed or fancy display. And I didn’t—I lasted three years on that phone. When the battery started giving out two years in, I replaced the battery on my own, but eventually had to keep the device charging all day at work. Working with an old device isn’t always fun—especially when it’s not even that old (I’ve had haircuts last longer than three years). Earlier this year—steady job secured and credit card debt blissfully at $0—I paid for the convenience of a new phone. One that lasts all day without charging, or randomly freezing, or demanding I update to an OS that might brick my device.

I’m just lucky I could afford it.

Schiller wants to shame, or at least pity, those of us still using “outdated” technology from the way-back times of pre-2011. But you know who’s on a five-year-old PC? My mom. Do you know why? She works two jobs, was recently laid-off from a third, and a dude in a truck totaled her 10-year-old car a few months ago. But wow, what an embarrassment. Schiller thinks she should dump that PC and drop $600 on a new iPad Pro—a faux laptop that doesn’t even come with a stand or real keyboard. Rent be damned! Get with the times, Mom.

You go ahead and laugh, Phil. My mom taught aerobics while 7 months pregnant, worked three jobs, and babysat so that I could go to college and someday afford my very own outdated iPhone. She spends that 600 dollars (plus cost of peripherals, tax, any data plans you might need, etc.) on rent and gas. That’s not sad, that’s pretty heroic.

If you want to talk sad, let’s talk about blatant planned obsolescence. Apple pushes new devices out on an annual, even semiannual, basis now. Everything is shiny and new—and if you want to be the cool kid, you have to have the shiny new toy. That’s a form of planned obsolescence, sure—though it’s more psychological than it is physical. But I’m talking about an actual plan. The “vintage and obsolete” products plan.

Apple products all celebrate their 5th birthday by gaining “obsolete” status (Or “vintage,” in California, where some hardworking lawmakers extended your coverage an extra two years). Of course, laptops aren’t yogurt. They don’t have expiration dates. In five years, your device could still be working fine. And maybe you want it to keep working for as long as possible. But once Apple labels your product obsolete, they drop service and hardware support. Meaning, you’re responsible for your own repairs.

Let’s hope you still have a laptop with upgradable RAM, hard drive, CPU, and the right tools, and the access to replacement parts, and the money, and the time. If you don’t, then you’re pretty much forced to ditch the device. So was it really coincidence that Phil picked on 5-year-old PCs? Or convenience, considering Apple devices have a five-year “best by” date built in?

(Fun fact: the iFixit office runs on 2011 and 2012 MacBook Pros. Isn’t that just really sad? Sad that we can’t buy newer laptops, because they won’t last as long as the ones we have now. We’ve got the option for dual drives, and up to 16 GB of RAM—everything a frequent Photoshopper like me needs. By contrast, replacing the battery in a Retina is a nightmare, and don’t even think about upgrades.)

Old Dell PC
Look at this old PC being all sad. And old. And sad.

Now those five year old PCs? They’re modular, affordable, and chugging along just fine. If you offered my mom an iPad Pro for free, she’d totally dig that. She’d even use it a bit. But she doesn’t need to edit video, or handwrite notes in beautiful calligraphy. She needs email, and she needs Excel, she needs a physical keyboard. She needs to put photos on a flashdrive to take them down to the drug store to print them. She needs to plug into her old printer. She needs $600 for rent. She needs her five-year-old PC. She doesn’t need your shiny gimmicks. And she certainly doesn’t deserve your pity, Phil.

She deserves your respect.