Do you really need shiny new tech for Christmas? The answer is ‘no’ | Consumer affairs

This Christmas, many Apple enthusiasts will be mulling over whether to shell out almost £800 for a new iPhone 15, while some commuters will be thinking of putting the new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones on their list, although at £450, Santa will need to be feeling generous.

But is it really necessary to keep on updating our phones, laptops, smartwatches and headphones as new models hit the market? The simple answer is no.

The days of the rapid advancements in technology that drove constant improvements in consumer technology are gone. And that means frequent upgrading just no longer pays off.

About a decade ago, each new device marked a huge improvement over what came before – from processing power that made them faster to longer battery life. But for the last few years these updates have become increasingly minor.

What this means is that many devices should now be thought of as appliances similar to fridges, washing machines or TVs – bought for the long haul and used until they need replacing, not discarded regularly for something newer and shinier.


The new iPhone 15 … but is it worth shelling out around £800?
The new iPhone 15 … but is it worth shelling out around £800? Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

The launch of the iPhone in 2007 kickstarted the modern era of touch-screen phones. The rapid advancements in the chips that power them, and the data networks that connected them, made new models must-haves each year for those who could afford them.

But while there are still advancements in the average phone, such as folding screens and units which can be repaired easily by the user, they have plateaued to a state of “good enough”, offering little in the way of significant performance leaps since 2019. This means consumers will often struggle to see how any advances merit a new purchase.

Most phones have at least 128GB of storage – enough for the majority of users – chips that stay fast for longer, and cellular connectivity that has not really moved on.

Cameras are still the hottest battleground between high-end manufacturers. The last big leap was the impressive periscope lens enabling much longer optical zooms introduced on the Huawei P30 Pro in 2019. This has been refined by others, allowing an incredible 10x optical zoom on recent Samsung phones. Now practically any modern phone takes good photos.

That means upgrading to a new one each year just is not worth it, even for the tech-obsessed. The average user keeps a phone for up to four years, but the hardware is typically capable of lasting at least six or longer. Even when the battery wears out, it can typically be replaced.

While you should not use a phone that no longer receives security updates, even here progress is slowly being made, with up to 10 years’ of software support pledged by the best in the business, such as Fairphone.


The newest smartwatches offer little gain over the older version, and updates just offer small additions.
The newest smartwatches offer little gain over the older version, and updates just offer small additions. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

They might be one of the newest categories of gadget, but even they have hit a stage where each new edition offers minimal gains.

The Apple Watch is the classic example. Only recently has the watch been given a chip that speeds it up – for the first time in three years. It’s a similar situation with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Watches and even Garmin’s long line of sports watches.

The last big leap was the addition of the electrocardiogram (ECG) for monitoring heart rhythm, first to the Apple Watch Series 4 in 2018 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 a year later.

Since then, most updates have been refinements, or small additions, with bigger upgrades made through software that is also available to older models.

That makes software support the most important reason for a consumer to upgrade, alongside the battery wearing out, or the screen getting smashed.


Tablet computers have long been an offshoot of the smartphone industry, typically using the same chips and technology, but packaged with larger format screens.

But they hit maturity even faster than phones, mainly because the things that most people do with them – such as watching video or browsing – have become less taxing for modern chips, while streaming has made storage go further.

As a result, a tablet made in 2014 is still perfectly capable of playing Netflix, browsing the Observer, or viewing holiday snaps if the software allows.

But all is not equal in the tablet world, with some manufacturers only providing software support for a paltry two or three years from release, whereas Apple, Samsung and Google provide at least five for modern devices.


Computers have been some of the longest-lasting pieces of technology for the last 15 years, with the rate of progression of PC chips slowing much faster than those for mobiles.

Typical up-to-date laptops and desktop PCs can expect at least 10 years of software support from either Microsoft with Windows or Apple with macOS.

Usually, that means updates that add features and design changes for five to seven years, then only security updates for longer. With modern chips, SSD (solid state) storage and USB-C ports, there is very little to be gained by upgrading.

There have been two recent exceptions. The jump by Microsoft from Windows 10 to 11 in 2021 left some relatively modern PCs out, leaving them stuck on Windows 10. This will reach its end of life in October 2025, when it will no longer receive crucial security updates.

Apple’s switch from Intel to its own-brand chips in 2020 also has the potential to leave Intel Macs behind.


The new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones … but are they that different from the original model?
The new Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones … but are they that different from the original model? Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

While Bluetooth earbuds have rapidly improved over the last five years, many wired headphones have remained largely unchanged for a decade or more.

Progress at the top of the Bluetooth market from Bose, Sony and others started to level out about eight years ago. A set of Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones bought in 2016 offers almost the same level of noise cancellation at its recently released class-leading QuietComfort Ultra model.

And while wired headphones were dealt a blow by the removal of the 3.5mm socket from phones, even that can be overcome with the right adapter.

The latest tech to reach its peak is active noise cancellation. While those from the best in the business certainly block out more extraneous sound, the tech is now cheap and effective enough that almost any noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds can help quieten the outside world.

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