Blame Moore's Law for your obsolete new phone

Intel founder Gordon E. Moore. (, Geller/Goldfine Productions).

Intel founder Gordon E. Moore. (, Geller/Goldfine Productions).

South Africa mobile phone contract holders have a big decision to make every year or two, on the anniversary of their contracts: which cellphone to get next. One factor making that decision difficult is the knowledge that the moment one purchases the new phone, one knows that a newer and better model is just around the corner.

This is partly thanks to a concept that has accompanied numerous keynote presentations at tech conferences: “Moore’s Law”.  This was originally the observation by Intel founder Gordon E. Moore that “the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every year”. It was later amended to “every two years”. 

Essentially this means that technology  will evolve so fast, that manufacturers will be able to squeeze more power into smaller spaces at a lower cost - at a rate that will double every two years. Essentially making your phone old by the time you get it home and set it up.

This prediction of the future was made in an article published in Electronics Magazine on 19 April 1965. This week, we marked the 50th anniversary of Moore’s Law. In that time it has become almost the benchmark for electronics manufacturers, allowing consumers to benefit from faster, smaller and cheaper devices at a relentless pace.

Companies who don’t keep up with doubling their technology improvement every two years risk falling behind, and therefore invest more into research and development. The better their products are, the more they need to evolve to be even better. And so the cycle continues. It also explains why one-time leaders often fall by the wayside - they failed to follow the underlying message of Moore’s Law.

Having access to fast and cheaper processing chip is the enabler that allows electronics makers to evolve their products. In 2015, Intel has a 5th generation Core processor, which has 1.3-billion transistors. Only three years ago, in 2012, its Core i5 processor had 1-billion transistors. This is a far cry from the 29 000 transistors on the 8088 processor that was in the first IBM personal computer which started the PC revolution back in 1981.

Technology is continuing on this trajectory and  becoming smaller, faster, cheaper. This has allowed tech companies to produce consumer products that we can carry in our pocket, wear on our wrist and be connected from wherever we happen to be. Over the past 50 years we have seen the Law in action as computers no longer need to be installed in their own room and watches have more chip power in them than NASA’s entire system that sent a man to the moon.

In an industry where products become outdated almost as soon as they hit the shelves, it is impressive that Moore’s Law has stood the test of time for over 50 years, underlining the vision of the man who first declared it.

This article first appeared on

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