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Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Why gadgets keep on upgrading

Archie Modequillo - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — It happens regularly, almost every year that smartphone brands release new versions or upgrades of their phones. Curiously, upon the introduction of an upgrade of their phone models, people would begin to complain that their current phones are intolerably slowing down. For example, when Apple made the iPhone 8 available followed by the iPhone X between September and early November last year, Google searches for the keywords “iPhone slow” jumped about 50 percent.

There is widespread suspicion that there is some conspiracy going on. Many phone owners believe that tech companies intentionally cripple smartphones and computers to ensure that people buy new ones every few years. Conspiracy theorists call it planned obsolescence.

Technology expert Brian X. Chen, in an article at www.nytimes.com, refutes the so-called “planned obsolescence” as a myth. While he agrees that phone slowdowns do happen, the reason is far from what’s suspected. That reason, he says, is often a software upgrade.

Greg Raiz, a former program manager for Microsoft who worked on Windows XP, concurs with Chen. “It’s software, and software has various degrees of production bugs and unintended things that happen,” he says, adding, “There’s no incentive for operating system companies to create planned obsolescence.”

Chen explains it: “When tech giants like Apple, Microsoft and Google introduce new hardware, they often release upgrades for their operating systems. For example, a few days before the iPhone 8 shipped in September last year, Apple released iOS 11 as a free software update for iPhones, including the four-year-old iPhone 5S.

“The technical process of upgrading from an old operating system to a new one – migrating your files, apps and settings along the way – is extremely complicated. So when you install a brand-new operating system on an older device, problems may occur that make everything from opening the camera to browsing the web feel sluggish.”

Scott Berkun, an author and a former manager for Microsoft who oversaw engineers that worked on Windows operating systems and web browsers, likens it to “changing the plumbing of the house without changing anything else.” It’s just quite impossible; some wall, some floor somewhere will be affected.

These experts find no sensible reason for tech companies to intentionally make their own products fail. It’s would be like “shooting themselves on the foot” in terms of brand reputation. There are remedies for when not-so-old gadget begins to underperform or slow down.

Brian X. Chen puts together a guide to speeding up troubled gadgets, based on interviews with information technology professionals and operating system experts:

Start fresh. Tech companies make it simple to upgrade to a new operating system by pressing an “update” button, which seamlessly migrates all your apps and data over. However, while that’s convenient, it isn’t the best way to ensure that things will continue running smoothly.

A better practice is backing up all data and purging everything from the device before installing the new operating system. This “clean install” works more reliably because the engineers developing operating systems were able to test this condition more easily.

Remove the “cruft.” Sometimes some light maintenance can be done to speed up a device. Over the long term, an operating system accumulates system files, settings, logs and other data, whichg I.T. experts call “cruft.” This can bog down a device. For computers, some apps for cleaning up the system could cause the slowdown.

With computers, there’s often a cleanup utility included in the system. For iPhones and Android devices, one may open the settings app and select “reset settings,” but has to make sure to back up first in case there are important settings that may be lost.

Be mindful of storage. Just because a smartphone has 64 gigabytes of storage doesn’t mean it has to be filled all the way up. The device will generally run faster if more of its storage space is available. That’s partly because the device needs space to move data around and download software updates.

But it’s also related to how the storage technology works inside smartphones and modern laptops, which both rely on flash storage that stores data in the cells of semiconductor chips. When data is stored on a flash drive, it is scattered across the drive. So when pulling data to open an app or a document, data is being retrieved from multiple parts of the drive. If lots of space is occupied, the data gets crowded and the device may feel sluggish.

Invest in infrastructure. A device may seem slower for reasons unrelated to the device. Many apps rely on an internet connection, so a shoddy Wi-Fi router might be the real bottleneck. To get a nice boost, investing in a modern Wi-Fi system is the answer. Products like Google WiFi and Eero, which are so-called mesh networking systems, can help in seamlessly setting up multiple Wi-Fi stations to get a strong signal throughout the home. They are pricey, but upgrading infrastructure will do more than buying a new phone.

Consider upgrading. New operating systems carry more powerful features that were designed to work better on new devices. In addition, developers of third-party apps typically prioritize making software for newer handsets, and sometimes they even discontinue support for old gadgets. If there are important tasks that an older device cannot do proficiently, an upgrade may be considered. A new device will keep up better with the latest technologies.

Gadgets keep on upgrading because tech manufacturers keep on improving their devices for many reasons – to make gadgets more efficient, more convenient to use, better-looking etc., and, well, to get more business. Unfortunately, any new improvement could slow down an old device, which was probably not designed with such new improvement in mind.

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