New phone models arrive every month. The main phone makers all upgrade their main models once or twice a year.
You could almost set your watch by Apple’s annual iPhone launch event. It usually happens three or four months before Christmas. Samsung and Huawei have two major launches every year. The two companies often schedule one launch for the Christmas run-up and another around the time of Mobile World Congress which takes place late in February.
Other popular brands run similar regular launch schedules.
Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for at least two years even if they refresh their model lines every year.
Carriers agree. Their phone plans are usually two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts.
While two-year phone contracts are still popular, they’re not as common today as they were five years ago.
New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years.
We’re holding on for longer
No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.
People hang on to phones for longer than they did in the past. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for less time than iPhone users. In round numbers an iPhone stays in use for three years while an Android lasts about two years and eight months.
Compare this with five year-old research from Benedict Evans who said at the time that Android users keep phones for under two years. Apple iPhones stay in use for more than two years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This may also explain why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.
One reason people hold on to phones for longer is that each generation of upgrades is less dramatic than the past. Go back a few years and phones would change a lot from one year to the next. These days little changes other than camera upgrades and cosmetic makeovers.
Phone hardware can live for years
Phone hardware can last for ten years or more. There are no moving parts to seize up.
If you don’t drop your phone too often and it doesn’t pick up too much moisture, the battery is the first part to wear out. Constant use and charging cycles mean they degrade over time. After about three to four years use they hold as little as half the charge they managed when they were new.
You can replace most phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. The difference there is more work or the cost of paying someone to do the job. It may seem expensive, typically over NZ$100 if you pay someone to do the job, it’s a lot cheaper than buying a new phone.
Screens tend to die somewhere between three to ten years depending on the underlying technology, the build quality and use patterns. Often it’s the screen backlighting that goes first.
There are times when a new model is compelling. I have an eye condition which means at times I squint at a tiny screen. For me the jump from the iPhone 5 to the 6 Plus wasn’t an indulgence, it was necessary.
There are other examples of when the move from one year’s model to the next brings a must-have feature. Even so, you can expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more.