How Old Is Too Old For A Smartphone That Stops Receiving Updates: Between Legacy And Privacy

How old is too old?

Just like pretty much all devices and gadgets, they will age. And as for "smart" devices, they age gracefully, before they stop receiving anymore updates.

Some phones, typically lower-ends, typically receive a few years of software updates, while newer models and high-end types can receive updates for a few more years.

But what happens when they no longer receive updates? What are the drawbacks of keeping the phone as a daily driver?

If the phone is still as shiny as it was 5 years ago on the outside, it's still useable, right?

Old may not be obsolete, and can still be relevant, even in today's standards. But old has consequences.

Old man iPhone 1

First of, there are two types of smartphone user:

  1. Light user: users who use their phone for basic tasks like calls, texts, and browsing, an older phone (3-5 years) might be fine as long as it still runs smoothly.
  2. Power user: If users rely on their phone for demanding tasks like gaming, video editing, or advanced apps, a newer phone (1-3 years) will be more performant and efficient.

And as for updates, smartphones typically receive two types of updates:

  1. OS updates: these come one a timely manner, and tend to deliver new features and changes. OS (operating system) updates also contain maintenance and security updates, and also contain all-important patches and fixes.
  2. Security updates: these updates come occasionally, and are only delivered when needed. These updates patch zero-days, and squash bugs on an emergency basis.

Basically, big OS releases come annually, and smaller updates come in small batches. And typically, smartphones receive OS updates for several years before they cease, and continue receiving security updates for a few more years.

What matters here is when the phone no longer receive security updates, and to most tech-savvies, this marks the phone's end of life.

While the phone may still work like it should, it will no longer be secure.

Exploits, malware, and viruses constantly change, new exploits emerge, and older phones can quickly become susceptible.

Old phones are privacy nightmare because not everything that is on a phone, stays on the phone.

What's more, despite old phones that still look like new can 'theoretically' continue to work just as they should and always have, they will definitely miss out new capabilities introduced by new hardware, and may no longer run certain apps.

This is because developers tend to always target new phones and new OS, and will start ceasing support for older phones and older versions of OS.

A no brainer, because newer phones tend to have a more lucrative market, and the spotlight.

And not to mention, their performance and battery life should have gone worse, because they will decrease over time.

Read: The Reasons Why Smartphones Slow Down The More They Are Used And The Older They Get

Old and discarded phones
Smartphones are just the 'casing' to store and hide the more important thing within: your data

Some people, like light users, may not use a lot of apps, and that they're not glued to their phones like younger generations do. These light users don't take photos that often, and don't care about using social media platforms.

Unlike heavy users, these light users even rely on their so-called "smartphone" to only make and receive calls using cellular network.

These people may not care about upgrading to a new phone, as long as their old phone is still operational.

But they're missing out a lot of things, especially if they consider their phones to be "smart."

So here, the short answer is that, people should always consider upgrading to a new phone whenever the old phone no longer receive support or updates.

Upgrading means that users will remain secure, and benefit from better performance, and also access to new features.

After all, age will come to everything, eventually.

Read: If You Care About Your Privacy, Do Not Sell Your Used Smartphones, Research Suggested

Receiving update is the privilege of newer phones only
Receiving update is the privilege of newer phones only.

However, the statement that old phones are less secure than modern devices need more thorough explanation that just the above. There are two main aspects to also consider:

  1. Older phones, like "dumbphones" lack the sophistication and complexity of modern smartphones. These phones are not actively patched and updated for new vulnerabilities, leaving them exposed to known and newly discovered exploits. But, they are also simpler and less vulnerable to certain types of sophisticated attacks.
  2. Modern smartphones on the other hand, offers a lot more features and functionalities, and they benefit from regular security updates that patch known vulnerabilities and address new threats. But, their complex features and functionalities introduce more attack vectors, and that they're also more attractive to hackers.

Older phones are no longer actively used by a large majority of users, and this fact makes them less attractive targets for attackers.

After all, dumbphones don't have massive storage to begin with, and lacks the connectivity needed for necessary data transfer by modern days' standards. As a result, they are not known to store sensitive information. The potential gains from attacking these phones are minimal compared to targeting a much larger user base on modern platforms.

Ultimately, the security of a phone, whether it's a smartphone or a dumbphone, ultimately depends on various factors:

  • The specific phone model and its age.
  • The security awareness and practices of the user.
  • The specific needs and threats.