The True Cost Of A Cutting-Edge Gadget

I read a great article on the Freakonomics Blog today regarding the opportunity costs associated with financially free software updates: - How Much Does a Free iPhone Update Cost?

In it, the author basically points out that his financially free iPhone update cost him one hour of his life when the update broke his phone. A lot of the commentors on the blog stated that exchanging an unexpected hour of your time for an up-to-date iPhone is totally worth it, but most of those people are, in my opinion, probably either lonely and sad or too young to properly value their time. I have more than a few electronic devices in my home that require periodic updates, so I'm very familiar with this type of story. I've gotten to the point where I just automatically budget time for any type of update that I do. This time budgeting is important because it allows me to truly contemplate how much each little update will "cost" both myself and my family. What I've found to be even more important when it comes to valuing my time, however, is budgeting for updates and other administrative overhead before I acquire a new gadget or piece of software. And since the amount of time performing ongoing maintenance can quickly dwarf the amount of time required to set up a new gadget, you need to account for them both along with financial costs when you consider acquiring new hardware or software. Let's look at cell phone choices as an example. I use a Nokia 6101, which I purchased without any phone contract-related subsidies for around $50. It's small, is incredibly simple to administer (no explicit patching and very little configuration), can receive e-mail, and can also be synced with my calendar and contacts. There are some things that I wish it had, like a larger display, and there are a few things I wish I could do with it, such as send e-mail. However, even though I'm a very connected person from a communications perspective, I find that this phone really meets all of my functional requirements very well. The icing on the cake is that it just works (to borrow a line from Apple): I turn it on, put it in my pocket, and forget about it. Now, there's no denying that the iPhone is a significantly nicer piece of hardware, and it contains significantly nicer software. It has a large display, a powerful and extensible user interface, and is web-enabled. It truly appears to be the future of smart phones. The problem is that, with enhanced functionality comes increased complexity, and this grouping usually ends up costing you time. The iPhone OS, core, and third-party applications must all be explicitly updated, and sometimes this action requires multiple interfaces. More "moving parts" (from a software perspective of course) means more points of failure, which means you spend more time troubleshooting and fixing your phone. Ideally, something as important and integral to our daily lives as a cell phone should transcend its status as a electronic gadget. It should be so reliable and idiot proof, that you focus on what you want to do, not on how it will be accomplished. If your phone satisfies this requirement, then you should be able to say something like "if I need you while I'm at the store, I'll call you using my cell phone". Notice that I didn't specify my phone's brand, it's communication protocol, or whether last night's iTunes update deleted all of my ringer profiles. Of course, I'm looking forward to the day when it will be practical for me to own a smart phone, and, from a functional perspective, the iPhone seems like a great piece of engineering. I'm just going to wait until it's financial and opportunity costs are more in line with my budget.

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