Buying New Tech

If you are the geek in your family then you are likely the person that gets asked two things quite often:

  1. What should I buy?
  2. When should I buy it?

The former is pretty easy now days: I just steer people to the current Apple tech that will best suit their needs. It’s a blanket rule of mine with the caveat: “If you buy a non-Apple product I will not be able to help you fix it.” (In other words I make my family and friends well aware that I have no interest, time, or knowledge in helping to fix their Win/Google products.)

The second question, the “when”, is damned hard to answer. We all know when Apple usually launches a new product (8-12 month cycles), but we never actually know if they will be launching a new update. That makes it incredibly hard to confidentially tell someone in your family when to buy something — especially considering that they are likely not to be the type wanting or needing to buy a new iPad each year, that is reserved for us obsessed geeks.

The Best Time

We all know that the best time to buy any new Apple gear is in the first month following its release. As I said above, Apple is on 12 month cycles for iOS devices and roughly 8 month cycles on Macs. That’s the blanket timing that I use for judging these things.

The easiest products are iPads and iPhones, typically you can tell your family when it is a good time to buy these things is. With Macs though the problem is a bit harder, realistically Apple may refresh the product anywhere from 6-12 months after a “new” version goes on sale.

My Rule

OK enough talking about stuff you guys probably already know, or could suss out on your own. When my family comes asking: When should I buy X (assuming X is an Apple product because if it isn’t you should tell them to burn their money instead). I ask them three questions (if I don’t already know the answers):

  1. What do you want to do with X? (This is not always needed, but if they want to buy a product like a Mac and they would be better suited for an Air, but an Air that is a touch faster — that’s when this question becomes paramount to the decision of “when”.)
  2. When or what do you need it for? (e.g. upcoming trip, school, is this a time sensitive purchase)
  3. When will you be able to buy it? (i.e. Do you have the cash for this purchase now? Or are you asking me when you should buy it starting two months from now? This question serves as a sanity check for me, if the answer isn’t “right now” I tell them to get back to me when they have the money — let’s not waste each others time speculating about something we don’t need to speculate about just yet.)

(Note: As you can likely see by this point I am a bit of an ass in real life too. I have no qualms with saying these things to my family members, but depending on who they are I may tone down the bluntness factor. However, what I won’t do is tell someone what they want to hear, if it isn’t true or accurate.)

Edumacated Guessing

Here comes the hard part: guessing. Unless you work in the top secret divisions of Apple you aren’t likely to know 100% when someone should upgrade or buy in, so you need to do your best guessing work.

Quickly

For anyone that needs product X right now — for whatever reason they can’t wait — tell them just to go buy it right now. This is where you can explain that waiting isn’t a real option and that what is on sale right now is very good and will last.

For iOS devices I generally tell people to expect to get two years worth of use out of the device. (Mainly because new versions of iOS are never very good on 3 year old hardware.) For Macs I tell people that they can expect to get 3-4 years use out of the device with no problem. That’s not to say the hardware won’t die, but that the machine should still be running serviceably fast in 3-4 years time. The less horsepower a person needs out of the machine the longer I extend that time, and vice versa.

Anytime

Now we are on to the ‘anytime’ crowd, the folks that have decided they want a new computer, but have no urgent need for a new computer. My general rule here is to tell people what I know and what others are reporting as rumors. For instance: if a person wants to know when they should buy an iMac (now or later) I would look at the following:

  1. Date the iMac was last updated.
  2. Rumor mill.

I would tell the person that typically Apple updates every 8 months and that the iMac was last updated 3 months ago (this is fictitious data). I would also tell them that I haven’t heard of any rumors of a new model, so now would be a probably be a pretty good time to buy.

Simple, logical and easy. Except when the product is 6.5 months old and there are a ton of rumors circling (and have been for a month), in this case I tell them what I know and leave it up to them. There is risk in advising someone to buy something only for a new model to come out 15 days later (just outside of the return window) since they know where to find you. If the hardware they want to buy is 8+ months old I tell them to wait it out.

Pro Tip: Have the person use their American Express card if they have one. AMEX has some consumer protections built in that can allow you to go get the newer model if it comes out within a set window of time — often longer than the return period. I have also heard that they will often extend the manufacturer warranty by an extra year. Be sure to verify this on your own, as these are things I heard from various different people.

How I Roll

To avoid the eventual emails about how I think when I personally purchase new Apple products, it boils down to a few factors.

iOS Devices

For iOS devices I go into every purchase knowing that I will buy a new device in a year. I buy the cheapest option that I can that still has the storage/options that I will want and need based on my planned activities for the year. (e.g. A lot of traveling means I will want 3G on the iPad and perhaps more storage space for movies.) 1

Macs

For Macs I go into every purchase with an idea of how long (all else being equal [read: my income]) I will need to use the computer before I replace it. The more money I spend on the computer the longer I will demand that it can last.

So for my MacBook Air I planned/plan on keeping it for two years at the very least. For a MacBook Pro I would say three to four years, longer with something like a Mac Pro.

Here’s Hoping

Here’s hoping this helps you when your family comes rolling around with these often annoying questions. I know it has helped me to work this all out before I try to answer these questions when they inevitably catch me off guard.

  1. My wife typically gets my old devices unless there is a compelling new feature that I want her to have, such as FaceTime.
Originally posted for members on: June 21, 2011
Follow along on RSS, App.net, or Twitter.
~I would appreciate it if you considered becoming a member.~