Tempting new phones arrive every month. Phone makers upgrade their main models once a year. You could almost set your watch by Apple’s annual iPhone launch event. Samsung and other popular brands run to a similar schedule.
Phone makers expect you to hang on to a device for 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.
New Zealand’s Inland Revenue Department depreciates phones at 67 percent a year. That implies a life expectancy of under two years.
No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable.
Hardware lives 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’ve had it.
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.
Screens tend to die somewhere between three to ten years depending. Often it’s the backlighting that goes first.
Research from Benedict Evans says 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.
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 should expect to get at least two years from a device. They should last for three or more.