Obsolescence is a strange thing in the tech-industry. A software library like ImageMagick can become obsolete in two weeks. An Operating System can last 10 years, but a patch-level may only last a few days. A given CPU microarchitecture can drive compute for a decade or more.

Apple and iOS has the upgrade forcing mechanism of dropping older models from iOS updates, paired with App makers publishing minimum iOS versions. Stay on an old iOS, get old apps, and eventually the ones you need stop working as APIs shift. Time to upgrade.

There are times when it feels like my whole job is to keep adding floors to a sky-scraper that is slowly getting flooded a floor at a time. To stay still is to drown. To embrace older tech requires building water-tight compartments. My job involves enough welding to keep the older parts of the tower dry while we work to upgrade ourselves to a new floor.

Right now I'm personally feeling it in my pocket. My phone is running Android 8.0 and last got a patch-release in January of 2018. And yet, my apps are running fine and still get updates. My apps also perform fine. What I use my phone for also performs fine.

As of this blog-post it'll be two years out of patches, which is pathologically out of date. Even though the hardware is just fine. It burns me that there isn't much recyclable in here, and that the carbon costs of getting a new phone are such that you have to use it for two or more years to 'pay back' what it cost to manufacture.

I've long had a problem with tying something with a 10 year replacement cycle like a refrigerator to something with a 2 year replacement cycle like a tablet. Need to update the in-door display surface for your fridge? Get a new fridge. Great for the refrigerator manufacturer, not so great for my capital budget.

The same goes for your car-computer. General Motors doesn't support Android Auto on your dash-unit and Spotify won't let you use that ancient version? Get a new car. Now, I suspect we'll see subscription services to upgrade the in-dash computer every three or so years, but it's early yet. We don't know how the used car market will adapt to this sort of obsolescence. Cars used to last twenty years, but you can guarantee Android Auto or Apple Car won't support twenty year old computing hardware. Maybe the car companies will be successful in turning cars into subscription services, and they'll do sensor transplants every 7 years to keep their rolling stock earning. Who knows.

Software is in everything these days, and that means everything is following the software obsolescence schedule. Including former durable goods like automobiles, major kitchen appliances, and in-home security goods. This could be a WastePocalypse until we figure out how to maintain a computing platform over a decade plus.

Supporting 10 year old 'mobile' hardware feels nigh impossible, but we're doing it on the server-computing side and have for the last 30 years. You can compile the latest OpenSSL libraries for an Intel CPU that was made in 2010, and it will support Elliptic Curve certificates running 2kb keys over TLS1.3. No, the long-term problem isn't supporting the encryption needed to talk to the mother-ship. The problem is supporting the driver for the cellular modem, the driver for the display devices, and whatever artisanal hand-crafted batch of ARM CPU is driving the head unit.

Truth to tell, figuring out how to get 20 years out of a car chock full of ARM/x86 CPUs will be what allows us to support smartphones over similar periods. Unfortunately, we're probably 10 years from that. Until then, just upgrade and hope your ewaste doesn't end up polluting the water of whatever country is too poor to police the illegal dumpers.