Like most other Americans, you probably own a wide range of tech products, from the smartphone in your pocket to the tablet sitting on the kitchen counter to the television in the living room and beyond. You also probably have some idea of when you last bought a new game console or laptop, and you might be planning when some of your devices need to be replaced. But which tech products last the longest? And which ones are you going to be replacing more often than the rest?
Late last year, the Consumer Electronics Association shared the results of its CE Product Life Cycle, which explored consumer perceptions of how long different tech products last before they need to be replaced. On average, users expect their tech products to last about five years before needing to be replaced, but there are big differences in their expectations for different types of products.
They expect a digital camera to last 6.5 years and a DVD player to last 6 years. They expect a desktop computer to last almost as long as a DVD player, at 5.9 years, and expect a Blu-Ray player to have a slightly shorter life, at 5.8 years. They expect a video game console to last 5.7 years, and think that a laptop or netbook should last 5.5 years. Interestingly, they expect a tablet computer to last 5.1 years. They expect a cell phone that’s not a smartphone to last 4.7 years, and expect even a smartphone to last 4.6 years.
Televisions and cameras both are long-lasting purchases
Televisions are one of the longest-lasting tech products for the average user. Shoppers have traditionally waited every seven to eight years to buy a new television, and according to the CEA, that hasn’t changed much with the advent of newer tech. Users expect a flat-panel television to last an average of 7.4 years, and the NPD Group reported in the summer of 2014 that picture quality is the most important feature for users planning a replacement TV purchase. Sound quality follows picture quality closely. Price and ease of use ranked nearly as high as sound quality among shoppers in mature markets, but in emerging markets, having a good warranty or service plan ranked higher than either of those.
The group explained at the time that “The TV replacement cycle is similar to last year, approximately eight years in mature markets and six years in emerging markets, which can be attributed to two primary factors.” The first factor is that the majority of legacy television sets have already been replaced, and the second is that the “transition to digital broadcast” leaves “few compelling reasons for consumers to replace existing TVs.” Because set-top boxes easily (and cheaply) add new features and access to subscription services like Netflix, you can safely expect your TV to be one of the longest-lasting tech products in your house.
Another tech product that enjoys a long life is the digital camera, which the CEA finds consumers expect to last for 6.5 years. The era of the point-and-shoot digital camera is behind us, as casual photographers opt for convenience of the ever-more-impressive cameras integrated into their smartphones (and the consequent ease with which they can upload their photos to Facebook or Instagram). Many of the remaining shoppers and the camera companies who cater to them are focused on higher-end mirrorless and DSLR cameras with better lenses and bigger sensors — expensive purchases that don’t quickly wear out and aren’t readily rendered obsolete.
DVD and Blu-Ray players and game consoles are fairly long-lived
Also at the high end of the spectrum of long-lasting products are DVD and Blu-Ray players. Shoppers expect a DVD player to last 6 years, though they expect a Blu-Ray player to have a slightly shorter life, at 5.8 years. Their expectations for desktop computers aren’t far behind what they expect of a DVD player, at 5.9 years. Because many users rely on their desktop computers for simple tasks, like web browsing, checking email, and using simple productivity apps, they don’t need the high-powered machine that would be necessary for CPU-intensive tasks.
Consumers also expect a video game console to be fairly long-lived, with CEA reporting that respondents expect consoles to last 5.7 years. Many console owners wait to upgrade their device until a new version is released, so manufacturers’ timelines between releases has a lot to do with how long users keep their consoles around. Before the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, the previous console generation had a life cycle of somewhere between 6 to 8 years. The Wii lasted for six years before being succeeded by the Wii U. The Xbox 360 was around for seven years and the PS3 was around of eight before the Xbox One and the PS4 gave users a reason to upgrade.
Laptops and tablets have slightly shorter lives
Both laptops and tablets have a little less longevity than a desktop or a game console, with CEA reporting that consumers think a laptop or netbook should last 5.5 years and expect a tablet to last 5.1 years. Take Apple’s tablets and laptops as an example. Fortune’s Philip Elmer DeWitt reported in 2014 that Macs stick around for up to four years on average before being replaced, according to research by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP). The CIRP research argued that iPad life cycles more closely resemble the longer life cycles of Macs than the shorter life cycles of iPhones, and in the summer of 2014, Apple chief executive Tim Cook told investors disappointed the company’s iPad sales that the decline was caused by a soft market, according to Computerworld.
Analysts noted at the time that the “refresh cycle” for tablets like the iPad was turning out to be dramatically different from what had been expected. Growth seemed to stall because users hold onto tablets a lot longer than they hold onto their smartphones. Because a tablet like the iPad is often a third device for users who already own a smartphone and a computer, there’s no rush to upgrade the device when a new model comes out, even when if the model the user already owns gets a lot of use.
Smartphones need replacing the most often
Your smartphone is likely to be your least long-lived device, but there’s a lot of conflicting data on how long a smartphone does — and should — last. The CEA reports that consumers expect a cell phone that’s not a smartphone to last 4.7 years, and expect even a smartphone to last 4.6 years. But Roger Entner wrote for Recon Analytics that the average smartphone replacement cycle hit 26.5 months in 2014, an increase of 4.1 months compared to the previous year. “Americans typically upgraded their phone at three points in time,” Entner wrote, “Roughly every year when a new generation device was launched; approximately every two years when the contract expired, causing customers to either change operators or became eligible for subsidized prices; or whenever their phones became obsolescent or stopped working.”
A growing number of users are subscribing to what Entner refers to as “equipment installment plans.” These plans enable users to pay off the purchase of a phone over a period of months, and when the purchase is paid off, the monthly cost of the contract drops. These plans simultaneously incentivize yearly upgrades and delayed upgrades, and both groups of users are moving away from the traditional two-year upgrade cycle. Nearly half of consumers upgrade every year, but more than a third keep their devices until they become obsolete.
Benedict Evans wrote in the summer of 2014 that data on monthly active users and Android phone activations indicated that “Android phones remain in use for well below the 24m average for the market, and during the peak growth period the replacement rate was closer to one year.” Meanwhile, though there was no comparable data for Apple’s iPhone, the fact that about a third of iOS’s active user base at the time was on the iPhone 4 or iPhone 4s indicated that the iPhone’s replacement cycle is longer than 24 months.