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Are phones made to last?

9-3-2019

William Santoro, Contributing Writer

American consumers are holding on to their smartphones for longer than ever- gone are the days of replacing their phone every two years after a contract upgrade. Consumers are now wasting almost three years before upgrading, 2.83 years according to a study from HYLA Mobile Inc- up from 2.39 years in recent years. Pricier phones, better built phones, and the end of two-year phone contracts have all helped increase how long consumers hold onto their phones.

Apple’s iPhones traded in during the third quarter were an average of 2.92 years old according to HYLA Mobile’s data. Nearly four years longer than most androids. iPhones account for some of the priciest smartphones in the market with the newly released iPhone XS Max costing $1,099. Unfortunately for IOS consumers, there is no cheaper device on the market to switch to, so they must wait until they have the spending power to upgrade to the newest phone. Android users are not necessarily stuck with the same dilemma, explaining why the phones traded in were 2.66 years old. Samsung’s Note 9 retailed for $999.99. This is obviously out of the price range for many users, but they also offer cheaper phones consumers can use. Other Android devices are also hundreds of dollars cheaper than both devices, so Android users, who are not necessarily loyal to a phone-maker, have the power to switch to a different Android device that is less expensive if they wanted a new phone sooner. The higher prices have not only caused people to hold onto their phones, but in many cases, family members pass off their old devices to other relatives. I just passed my Samsung Galaxy s7 to my grandmother a few years ago, and before then my HTC One M9.

For the past several years, many Android phones have been IP68 rated water & dust resistant. Recently, the iPhone has also started to make moves to also waterproof their devices (although they still have issues once their frames bend), almost eliminating liquid damage to the devices. For many the only hazards to their phones are cracked screens and displays, which are (for Android users) cheaper repair option than repairing the device. Better hardware in phones means that they’ll last longer, eliminating a need to upgrade so often as the technology is lasting longer, as device prices go up, I anticipate that devices will last even longer (this is my hope at least). Apple is notorious for designing its devices to not be repaired, even going as far as to making their own screws so home DIYers can’t work on their devices. This business practice often leads to repairs costing near or more than new devices, forcing consumers to buy new devices. So, 2.92 years, might be manufactured just a bit lower than it should be due to Apple’s shady business practices. 

Wireless carriers have restructured their wireless plans. Gone are the days of contracts as companies want consumers to pay the full price of the devices rather than subsidizing them on contracts. At least we are not stuck with carriers if the devices are owned, many devices nowadays are also unlocked, so they should work on any network. So, customers are now paying more every month as they must pay off their phones on their monthly bill as well as pay their regular phone bill. “Once you’ve paid the phone off, you realize that you’re getting a considerable sum knocked off your bill every month. When you get a new phone, you lose that financial advantage,” said Jeffrey Moore, a telecom-industry analyst and principal of Wave7 Research. 

I expect consumers to hang onto their phones for over three years soon, if phone manufacturers continue to raise the prices of phones. Hopefully the trend will continue, and it will force manufacturers to lower their prices. They can make as much by selling three devices in six years as two devices in six years, if not more. Hopefully they will figure that out sooner rather than later, and we can all upgrade our phones and have more affordable phones.