Hardware Acquisition Strategy

I’ve been think a lot about my hardware purchases this year. I bought a new iPad in February and a new iPhone last month, but there’s plenty of other devices in my life that I’d like to upgrade.

My MacBook Air is in desperate need of a repair or replacement. I’m only able to get about three hours of use from the battery — it’s well over the expected life of 1,000 recharge cycles. And on top of that, the trackpad is almost unusable. Whenever I’m simply mousing around, the trackpad will occasionally and completely randomly click, this causes inadvertent dragging of application windows and accidental clicks on links in webpages. It’s a huge pain.

What I’d like to do is either buy a brand new machine — obviously, whenever Apple releases their next notebook hardware refresh — or repair the problematic parts. But, funds are limited and there’s plenty of other hardware refreshes I’d like to do as well, like upgrade my Mac mini.

The Mac mini sits in our office closet, headless, and acts as our media server. It runs iTunes 24/7, allowing us to stream all of our archived DVDs to any of the Apple TVs or iOS devices in the house. However, the machine’s performance has been lacking as of late. It’s never been fast, but it’s typically been able to get the job done. I think it’s finally time for an upgrade, though.

Just like the MacBook Air, my options are to replace it entirely or upgrade the lackluster components. For this machine, upgrading to an SSD and adding a few extra gigabytes of memory would be ideal. It currently runs on just 2GB of memory and features a slow 5400rpm 500GB hard drive, both of which are making managing the mini downright dreadful.

And then there’s the want for new hardware in my life — namely, the Apple Watch. While it’s certainly not something I need, it is something I most certainly want. I’ve been interested in the device since it launched, but haven’t yet had a great opportunity to purchase one.

What I’ve come up with, though — being the systematic guy that I am — is a hardware acquisition plan. It should easily take me through the next four years and as long as something doesn’t drastically change, I’ll likely be able to repeat the cycle to maintain a steady stream of new hardware for even longer.

The acquisition strategy spans across four years and allows for regular upgrades of my most important gadgets. It also only includes devices that are assumed to be updated regularly by Apple. The years I’m describing, though, are not typical calendar years. Each year, for this methodology, begins on July 1 and ends on June 30. The key reasons for this is the timing of my birthday and the historical timeframes in which Apple releases new hardware.

In the first year of this cycle, I’ll be purchasing a new iPhone and a new Apple Watch. This is the year we’re currently in and ends on June 30, 2016. I’ve already purchased my new iPhone — 64GB iPhone 6s in space gray — and plan on buying an Apple Watch sometime this spring.

The second year in the cycle will be the time for Mac upgrades. What exactly I’ll be upgrading or buying depends on the landscape of Apple’s lineup and the composition of my own hardware and workflows. If I’m doing a lot more of my computing on my iPad then I might not need to get a beefed up notebook and could instead choose to purchase a desktop Mac. In the first iteration of this year (July 2016-June 2017) I currently plan on buying the necessary parts to repair and upgrade the MacBook Air and Mac mini I already own. They’re four years old, but I’m sure I can get a few more good years out of them with some relatively inexpensive upgrades.

The third year in my hardware upgrade cycle is actually identical to the first — iPhone and Apple Watch upgrades. These are the smallest devices Apple makes and I expect they’ll see incredible leaps in performance over a two year span. Certainly plans could change — performance improvements could level off — but purchasing a new iPhone and Apple Watch every two years feels right given Apple’s historically aggressive improvements in handheld devices (iPod and iPhone being the best examples of this).

The final year in the cycle, before it all starts over again, is the year in which I upgrade my iPad. I already lived this iteration last year without even realizing it when I purchased the iPad Air 2. The next iPad-upgrade-year will take place from July 2018 until June 2019. I waited five years to upgrade my original iPad to the iPad Air 2, which felt like an eternity. But looking back four years to the iPad 2, that’s a piece of hardware that some people are still using today and I could certainly see myself holding onto my current iPad for another 3-4 years.

If you’re a bulleted list enthusiast, here’s a condensed version of the hardware acquisition strategy (tl;dr, if you will):

  • Year 1: New iPhone and Apple Watch
  • Year 2: Mac Repair or Upgrade
  • Year 3: New iPhone and Apple Watch
  • Year 4: New iPad

This gives me a new or repaired Mac every four years, a new iPad every four years, and a new iPhone and Apple Watch every two years. This feels like perfectly rational life cycles for each device.

Spreading out my hardware purchases like this will go a long way toward making my wallet very happy. And I didn’t even touch on the other hardware purchases I’m currently looking at — Apple TV, Time Capsule, and Wii U, to name a few. But by limiting myself to a small number (or a single) major hardware upgrade each year, I’ll ensure that my technology expenses remain as predictable as possible and evenly distributed across multiple years. As a bonus, this system will also give myself a more concrete timeframe for my device naming scheme — I’m thinking a new show every two or four years, depending on how many good names are available from the current show.