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How long should a $999 iPhone last?

Storyline:Science & Tech

I usually spend about $1,300 on a new computer, and I usually expect it to stay in good shape for about four years — if not more. So if I’m spending over $1,000 on an iPhone, how long should I expect to use it for?

Smartphones have never had the longevity that modern computers have, often staying current for only two or so years. There are a good number of reasons why: For one, smartphones are historically cheaper, so it makes sense that companies would expect them to be replaced a bit sooner. But more importantly, smartphones are evolving at such a rapid pace that there’s frequently a good reason to buy a new phone every couple of years.

Sometimes, this is a good thing: in the last two years, many phones have added second cameras, much better image processing, HDR displays, and the increasingly universal USB-C connection standard — all reasons you might want to buy one. But other times, the continued improvements lead to big issues for people who’d rather not upgrade so often: after a couple of years, apps just tend to get slow. And often, unusably slow.

Like other smartphone features, processors are improving at an incredible pace — sometimes dramatically from year to year. And with developers routinely targeting the latest and great smartphones in order to make their apps capable of doing more than ever, people who don’t keep buying new smartphones may be left with a sluggish experience after only a couple of years.

The situation hasn’t gotten that much better. My iPhone 4S was getting hard to use after just two years. And while my iPhone 5S was still in relatively good shape after two years, its age was starting to show as I loaded up newer versions of iOS. This problem isn’t exclusive to iPhones either — my current phone, a Nexus 5X made by Google and LG, has become painfully slow when taking photos less than two years on. I haven’t owned newer iPhones, but I’m told they still start to see the same battery life and sluggishness issues past the two year mark. That’s not a huge surprise: we put a ton of wear and tear on these things, while technology is racing ahead.

So will the iPhone X buck all of that and last buyers longer into the future? I’m not so sure that it will. The iPhone X uses the same processor that’s inside of the iPhone 8, and there’s no doubt that Apple will release a new phone next year with an even faster processor, and same with the year after that. Even though the iPhone X has more advanced cameras and a future-facing design, the processor is going to age just as fast as every other iPhone.