How Often Should Companies Upgrade Mobile Devices?

Plenty of businesses like to provide mobile devices to employees. Some use it as a perk. Others find it’s more cost-effective to be able to collectively bargain the support that comes with using mobile phones in the workplace. Whatever the reasoning, if your business is supplying devices, you need to have an upgrade plan.

While a doctor’s office can try to get away with using ancient desktops, mobile devices don’t last quite so long. With a little bit of planning and a few minutes of reading, you can adjust your upgrade cycle to make sure your plan isn’t hurting the bottom line.

The Maximum Cycle

There is a clear upper limit to how long you can reasonably go between upgrades. With Apple devices, that limit is five years. After that time, mobile devices are no longer able to run the latest software versions. While the most spending-averse managers might be willing to try and push devices longer, this is bad for business. Obsolete devices pose higher security risks, dramatic reductions in productivity and are typically ineligible for support from the manufacturer. It’s safe to assume that upgrade cycles involving Apple devices should not be longer than five years.

What about Android? Apple certainly isn’t the only option. Do other platforms fair better?

The short answer is no.

While Android devices have a less regimented upgrade cycle, you can expect those same dips in effectiveness and support options within five years. This is also true for Windows phones and other competitors. To put it in simple terms, software improves too fast to expect a mobile device to be business-practical for a longer period of time.

There’s an additional concern. Mobile devices tend to take a lot more wear and tear than less mobile counterparts. This is especially true for phones. Even if software upgrade cycles stopped tomorrow, you could reasonably expect the average phone to be abused beyond usefulness within five years. No matter how you look at it, this is the maximum life cycle you can expect with modern technology.

Annual Upgrades

On the other end of the spectrum, you really can’t upgrade more frequently than once a year. An extreme tech advocate might bounce between brands to have the very newest phone on the market every three to six months, but in a business setting, that’s easily out of the question and entirely unnecessary.

A better question is to ask if even annual upgrades are the way to go. For the fast majority of businesses, such a schedule is too aggressive and wastes money. The hardware differences between subsequent models in any phone series are moderate. As for software, last year’s phone can do everything this year’s phone does. There may be occasional, individual differences (such as the first time fingerprint hardware was introduced), but it won’t make or break a business.

The one exception to this is with companies that specialize in developing graphically intense mobile applications. If you’re in the business of designing the most beautiful mobile game in the app store, then it behooves you to keep your employees supplied with the best hardware available.

Average Isn’t for Everyone

This brings us to an inevitable conclusion. The average mobile upgrade cycle should be around three years. A three-year-old phone can still run the latest software and do important work. Any older than that and a phone might start to run more slowly and have more crashes. Any younger and you’re probably overspending.

That said, average isn’t optimized. Any given company is going to have specific needs. If heavy encryption and security are paramount, then pushing the cycle to two years is reasonable. For a small, local business that isn’t struggling to keep up with the pace of technology, a four-year cycle is respectable.

A generalized advice blog like this can only give general advice. If you want to fully investigate an optimized upgrade cycle, you should consider partnering with your IT people. They can help you run productivity and risk assessments that can make sure every dollar spent is put to good use. Until then, these guidelines can help you avoid outright mistakes.

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About the Author: Jeff Poirior

Jeff brings 25 years of telecommunications and information technology management experience in voice and data networking, server support, and telephony and security; with a significant emphasis on customer service. Prior to joining Valicom, he was chief of the infrastructure support section for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Jeff was the vice president of operations for CC&N, overseeing telecommunications, help desk, data and desk side support services. Prior to that, he served as the associate director of technical resources for Covance, responsible for managing systems and network operations supporting 1700 users in Wisconsin and Virginia.

He has also led data center operations at Magnetek Electric, supporting mainframe systems, client/server applications, telephony systems, and computer-aided design. Jeff holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cardinal Stritch University and a master’s degree in business administration from University of Phoenix. In addition, Jeff is a past board member of the Wisconsin Telecommunication Association.