Dilemma: The fast pace of consumer tech turnover

User-facing products now get orphaned in a few years or even in a few months, as in the case of Nokia's Lumia

One reason users like to bring in their own technology: They typically get the latest and greatest, and they can keep up with the pace of change as they prefer, finances permitting. That's the opposite of how companies typically plan out their capital expenses, which for accounting reasons often need to be spread out over three or five years so that computer equipment is replaced no sooner than it is capitalized.

For most of the 2000s, that was OK. PCs built in 2002 were often perfectly good in 2007 or 2008 -- and likely running the same operating system (Windows XP) and apps (Office 2003 and so on). Maybe the Wi-Fi was slow, but corporate Wi-Fi access points were upgraded less often than the PCs using them anyhow. Mice and keyboards also worked perfectly fine on USB 1.0 even as USB 2.0 became the standard.

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iPads, iPhones, Windows Phones, Macs quickly orphan old models
But today, vendors obsolesce their products much more quickly. For example, when Apple ships OS X Mountain Lion next month, it will not run on most Macs built before 2009, including all models of the popular white MacBook line discontinued a couple years ago. That's a three-year life on a product typically expensed over five years by a company. That is, if you want to use the current technology -- those older Macs will continue to run OS X Lion, which nearly every Intel-based Mac supports, covering Apple back to 2006 models. But who wants to use old technology?

The iPad and iPhone are updated annually, often with major (from a user perspective) improvements. Apple's compatibility window for such devices is even shorter than for Macs: This fall's iOS 6 will support only iPads and iPod Touch models from the previous two years; for iPhones, it's the previous three years. According to reports, some features won't run on even two-year-old devices, such as turn-by-turn voice navigation and Siri voice assistance.

But what got people riled was Microsoft's revelation last week that its forthcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system won't run on any Windows Phone 7 devices. The biggest maker of Windows Phones, Nokia, had released just a few months ago in the United States its Lumia series of smartphones on which it is hoping to resurrect its fast-fading fortunes. (Nokia's Lumia Windows Phones were released in Europe last fall.)

Who would buy a Lumia now, knowing it won't run Windows Phone 8 this fall? And what about all the Lumia and Samsung Focus owners whose Windows Phones are less than a year old? As a user, your consolation prize is the 7.8 update to Windows Phone and the knowledge that your Windows Phone 7 apps will run on a new Windows Phone 8 device when your current contract lets you get one. As a Microsoft "key" partner, however, Nokia may be unclear on its consolation prize.

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