Investing in expensive new gear can be a tricky proposition; buy at the wrong time, and you could miss out on innovative features, better performance, price drops, and more. But don’t worry! With a slate of Apple announcements coming next week, we’re here talk you through the best time to upgrade your iPhone, MacBook, iMac, and more.
On Monday, in addition to detailing its much-anticipated watch, Apple could introduce another brand new product: a totally redesigned, 12-inch, Retina display MacBook Air. Apple enthusiasts have been anxiously—and rightly—expecting a Retina MBA ever since the company introduced the MacBook Pro with Retina display three years ago. It looks like you’ll be rewarded for holding off, though; even if the Retina MacBook Air doesn’t make an appearance on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports that it will start shipping sometime in the next few months.
The Retina MacBook Air saga is a reminder that strategic upgrade timing pays off. With that in mind, we’ve prepared solid guidelines on when it’s definitely time to pony up for a new Apple gadget, and when you can squeeze out a few more months, or years, out of the device.
For years, new iPhones reliably arrived in the summer, on the heels of Apple’s annual developer conference. These days, though, Apple drops its new handsets in fall, usually late September or early October. The benefit of this timing is two-fold: It gives third-party developers a few months to make sure their apps take advantage of the latest iOS features, and it ensures that the bright and shiny newness aligns neatly with the spendy holiday shopping season. So if you’re eligible for an upgrade in June or July, just hold out a few more months until the year’s latest handsets drop.
With that in mind, we suggest updating your iPhone every two years. Your hardware can easily hold up that long, and the latest version of iOS should still run smoothly. Wait much longer, and wear and tear start taking their toll on both. Battery life starts to go downhill. The software experience degrades; things slow down, and you’re more likely to suffer crashes and hangups.
If you can swing it, you should also try to align your upgrades with Apple’s “tick-tock” iPhone release cycle. Traditionally, every two years the company announces a major iPhone overhaul, while the intervening years are largely iterative. Think iPhone 5 (tick) to iPhone 5S (tock). You’ll end up with a lot less feature-lust if you stick with the ticks.
If you do decide to hold onto your iPhone for more than two years, you should at the very least wait a few weeks to a month before downloading major iOS updates as they come. Older devices tend to experience more compatibility issues and bugs, which usually get smoothed out over time. That doesn’t mean you should just stay on iOS 8 forever, though; keeping your iOS version as up-to-date as possible will at the very least keep your security patches up to date.
The iPad is a curious beast. While it still sells better than any other tablet, demand has lately slowed. That’s partly because of increased competition from Amazon and others, but you don’t need to buy a new tablet as frequently as you do a new smartphone.
If you currently have an iPad with a non-Retina display—that’s the first or second generation—you should go ahead and upgrade. Apple typically refreshes the line in late fall, so you’re in little danger of timing remorse if you buy today, and the experience is fundamentally, unquestionably better.
Otherwise, we think people should be able to hold onto their iPads for around four years before upgrading to a new one. The main benefits of newer iPads are faster processing and graphics performance, a higher resolution Retina display, and a lighter weight, all of which are welcome but not strictly necessary or even particularly noticeable in day to day use. As long as your iPad chugs along at a speed you’re comfortable with and doesn’t suffer from any egregious battery drain issues, there’s no real reason to upgrade.
There is one iPad upgrade wild card to consider. A larger 12.9-inch “iPad Pro” could arrive this fall, so you might want to hold off until then if you like your tablets super-sized.