Earlier this year, a friend of mine decided to buy an iPad. I couldn’t fault him for that—after all, we’ve had a lot (mostly good) to say about our iPads here at ProfHacker. What What I did fault him for, however, was the fact that he bought his iPad the evening before Apple released the iPad 2. Within 12 hours, his $500 purchase was out of date.In a sense, this wasn’t really my friend’s fault: Apple is notoriously tight lipped about everything. It’s not like they had sent out a press release that the new iPad would be released the next day. It’s just not how it’s done in Cupertino land. At the same time, Apple had scheduled a big press event for the next day and the rumor mills had been going nuts about the new version of the iPad. If you’d been looking at any tech press in the previous two weeks, you knew a new iPad was on its way.
With the release of Lion yesterday (don’t miss John Siracusa’s epic review at Ars Technica) and several updates in Apple’s MacBook Air and Mac Mini line, one might again ask how we should decide when to pull the trigger on a purchase. As much as as rumors are (who doesn’t want to hear about the Android phone that incorporates the new Megatherium processor?), they are just that…rumors. Fortunately there’s a better way to judge when tech will be refreshed: product cycles.
In the case of Apple, a tremendous resource for making purchase decisions is the Buyer’s Guide at MacRumors. While the site is devoted to rumors on the whole, the Buyer’s Guide records when a particular product was most recently updated. More importantly, it also shows you the history of that particular product, giving you a sense of how frequently it is updated. The MacBook Air tends to get an update every 260 days, for instance. The iMac tends to be updated every 280 days. iPods get updated once every 365 days. MacRumors tracks how close we’re getting to the probably release date of a product and color codes (red, yellow, green) whether or not you should buy. MacBook Airs are currently green (new ones released yesterday); iPods are red (new ones will probably be released in September).
While people especially love tracking Apple and its products, product cycles are a feature of almost every technology company and you can learn about them at different places. For example, I need to purchase a new digital camera. My wife and I prefer Canons, but when researching their current line-up at Digital Photography Review, I noticed that most of the models I was interested in were announced in August 2010. Digging a bit deeper revealed that new models are announced in August and arrive in stores in September. Our current camera is limping along, but we’re waiting the few extra weeks to avoid buyer’s remorse. And I’m not even having to trust rumors.
If you’ve ever purchased anything that runs on batteries, you’ve had to confront the fact that it will eventually be obsolete. This is a fact of life whether you’re an early adopter or at the tail end of things. Still, paying attention to product cycles might help you plan for obsolescence and eliminate the sting of having it catch you faster than you had thought it would. Do you monitor product cycles before making purchases? How do you do this effectively? Let us know in the comments!
This post was inspired by a tweet conversation and suggestion from Ari Friendlander. Thanks!