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Sadly, as much as you might love your current laptop, smartphone, or wearable, they’re not going to last forever. Parts wear out, software slows down, and technology evolves, making older devices more difficult to use and eventually, obsolete.
In the industry, manufacturers often say devices are reaching end-of-life (or EOL) when they’re a certain age, though there can be some confusion over what exactly is behind that label. It doesn’t mean you need to stop using your gadgets straight away, or that they’ll suddenly cease to function properly. But you’ll run into some issues that you’ll need to be aware of.
What EOL means for your gadgets
Tech companies aren’t always great at being consistent with the terminology they use, and this is especially true with end-of-life status. The concept tends to have different definitions depending on the manufacturer, and sometimes they break down the term into more specific stages. Apple, for example, labels products as “vintage” five years after they stop selling them, and “obsolete” two years after that.
While there might be variations in how companies use these terms, and even between individual products under the same brand, there are some broad themes that almost always apply. For example, once a device hits EOL status, you usually won’t get any more software updates for it. Likewise, manufacturers typically also discontinue any kind of repair or other support service users have had access to for that model.
[Related: When to repair your computer and when to replace it]
Going back to the Apple example, you won’t be able to take an obsolete product into an Apple Store for repairs. You may be able to get them to fix a vintage product, but it will depend on the specific device you’ve got, which makes it difficult to generalize. Sometimes there are exceptions, but when in doubt, you can always ask.
When it comes to their Pixel smartphones, Google doesn’t mention EOL, but it gives a comprehensive rundown of how long you can expect software and security updates for. With newer devices, including the Google Pixel 7 Pro, you get at least three years of Android updates and five years of security patches starting from the handsets’ launch date. This guaranteed support window is something you should definitely look out for when buying new tech.
Unfortunately, not all hardware makers are as transparent as they should be when it comes to the lifespan of their products. In fact, end-of-life data is often hard to track down, and sometimes you won’t get it at all. Some companies —like Microsoft, for example—constantly put out information to help you decide what to buy next. But if you don’t know where to look for it, start at endoflife.date, which is a useful database of hardware and software products you can refer to.
Your device hit EOL. Now what?
You’re not necessarily going to get a big flashing message on your device when it’s reached its end-of-life period. Moreover, chances are you almost definitely won’t. As we mentioned above, you may be able to find this information out in advance from official or unofficial sources, but your best bet is to keep an eye on the daily tech news, so you can stay up to date with the latest announcements.
Once you find out a device you’re using has reached its EOL stage, there’s nothing specific that you need to do, beyond thinking about getting an upgrade. Your gadget won’t stop working immediately, but as it gets behind on software updates, you’ll notice that you won’t be able to update certain apps anymore. This can be annoying at first, as you won’t have access to new features and redesigns, but it can eventually prevent you from using your apps altogether, hindering your user experience.
But that’s the least of your worries. Security is the biggest issue because you won’t be getting regular patches for your hardware, and the software will get progressively more and more out of date. Fully updated software is by no means invulnerable, but hackers often aim their attacks at older code that hasn’t been properly patched, putting you at a higher risk of various threats.
[Related: These simple upgrades could save you from having to buy a new computer]
Repairs are another issue. Your existing gadget may keep on working, but you’ll find problems will continue to add up as time goes by. The problem is that you’ll be relying on third-party companies that may or may not be able to help you out, so your options will be limited.
The speed at which you need to think about upgrading your devices will vary depending on the hardware you’ve got. While it’s unlikely that bad actors will target your first-generation Fitbit tracker or your old iPod, your phone or your laptop are a whole other story. If that’s the kind of device reaching end-of-life status, then you might need to upgrade sooner than you initially thought.