Using an Old iPhone

“An iPhone 3GS? Seriously?” – so said an incredulous coworker when I pulled out my phone. As a fellow designer, it was unfathomable to him that I would be using such an archaic piece of technology. To be clear, “archaic” in this instance refers to a phone that is four years old.

Four years is forever in technology years, but as photographer Steve Huff recently commented regarding camera technology:

Just because a new camera bettered an older model does not mean the older model is no good. It is still as great as it always was and is still capable of amazing results.

The iPhone 3GS is an amazing device – at least it was when it was new. Yet, conventional wisdom says to upgrade your phone every two years when your contract renews. Conventional wisdom also says to judge other people and ourselves by the things (ie phones) we possess.

The purpose of this article is not to explain why I own an iPhone 3GS – as if the mere fact of a digital designer owning an old iPhone necessitates a defense. Instead, it is to challenge a bit of the aforementioned conventional wisdom. It’s not hard to find reasons to buy the latest iPhone. It is quite rare, however, to come across the advantages of owning an old one. So, in the spirit of challenging assumptions and perceptions, here are seven advantages to owning an old iPhone…

1. A Refined OS

Forget flat vs skeuomorphism for a moment. Think about iteration and refinement. The visual style of iOS 6 is the result of six major releases worth of visual refinement. Love it or hate it, it’s polished. I love the philosophy and direction behind iOS 7, but it’s first incarnation is definitely not without its flaws or critics. It will be improved and refined over time. For now, however, an old iPhone is the best way to enjoy a higher level of OS polish.

2. Low Cost

Buying any new technology is costly. For example, my dad paid $30,000 for his first business computer in the eighties, and it could do very little. The cost of a new iPhone (plus Apple Care) plus the protracted cost of a 2-year contract adds up. Relatively, old iPhones cost very little (mine was free) and can be used with a low-cost, contract-free carrier.

3. Few Updates

Though iOS 7 updates apps in the background, there’s less reason to care about updates at all with an old iPhone (running iOS 6). Most updates are targeted for iOS 7 compatibility and some new apps won’t even run on iOS 6. While this can definitely be a disadvantage, one benefit is the lack of change. An old iPhone gradually eases into a more static system that doesn’t require updates.

4. Maximum Use

Our culture is in the habit of replacing things long before they reach the end of their useful life. It’s easier to buy a new pair of jeans than it is to patch them. Put bluntly, we are wasteful. An iPhone may still be useful, but we’ll toss it or trade it in if there’s a newer one available. Using an old iPhone encourages getting the maximum use and life out of a product, which can even be fun if you like taking things apart.

5. Less Use

This advantage may seem counter-intuitive. Old technology is slower than new technology. In general, this is a negative characteristic, but slowness can be a virtue. For example, I don’t want to spend every waking hour glued to my iPhone. I want to be connected to my family and the world around me. Using an old iPhone helps me achieve this. It’s slowness puts more friction between me and unnecessary interactions, helping prevent overuse.

6. Less Precious

Buying a brand new car causes worry about every potential scratch and dent that might mar its perfect surface. Those same worries are far less prevalent with a used car. The same is also true of an iPhone. An old iPhone carries less risk and worry of loss or damage than a new one.

7. Perspective

Why do I feel slightly hesitant to write this article? Am I afraid of what other designers will think of me if they find out I use such an old phone? Though I wish I could say I didn’t think these things, owning an old phone makes you come to terms with these kind of questions. It’s a good reminder that a new iPhone is just a thing, not an identity – a luxury, not a need.

Do I want a new iPhone? Yes. Do I need a new iPhone? No. There’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about desiring a new piece of technology. But it can become bad if we place too much weight and value on our desires for new possessions. Jesus taught “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Likewise, one’s life does not consist in the phone one possesses. The time will come to buy a new phone, but I’m perfectly okay – and even better off in some ways – until that time comes.