smartphone repairs mean you can keep your phone longer

New phone models arrive all the time. The main phone product lines each get an annual refresh.

Apple holds its annual iPhone launches all at once. In recent years this has always happened three or four months before Christmas.

Android phone makers like Samsung, Xiaomi and Nokia have more than one product lines. Each line gets its own annual update. The phone makers tend to stagger launches throughout the year.

Add in the smaller brands and we see a dozen notable smartphone launches each year.

Goodbye two year phone refresh cycle

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 two-year contracts. Remember carriers make money when you to buy new phones and roll over two-year contracts. While two-year contracts remain popular, they’re less common today than 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. Depreciation rates are similar in other countries.

We’re holding on to phones for longer

Most of us now hold onto phones for considerably longer than two years. No-one forces us to operate on a fixed timetable. People think nothing of keeping PCs and other devices for much longer.

There’s a noticeable difference between Apple and Android phones. Android phone users tend to keep their phones for a shorter time than iPhone users.

Apple’s sales figures reflect this. iPhone revenues peaked in 2015. Apple now focuses more on selling services to its customers to make up the revenue shortfall.

Android phones last less than iPhones

In 2016 Benedict Evans reported Android users keep phones for under two years. Back then, Apple iPhones stayed in use for more than two years. In many cases closer to three years. There are interesting theories about this in the comments on Evans’ post. This also explains why second-hand iPhones hold their value better than Android phones.

One reason people now hold on to all brands of smartphones for longer is that hardware and feature upgrades are more incremental than in the past. A few years ago there would be dramatic changes from one year to the next. Now phone makers emphasise cameras and cosmetic changes.

It’s no accident that phone makers hold launch events that look like fashion shows. They want to create the impression that you need this year’s design.

You almost never do.

Android support cut-off

Android phone makers are still more aggressive about moving customers onto new models. In early 2022, Google announced it will stop support for the Pixel 3 phone.

As the media reported, this meant there would be no more operating system or security updates for what would otherwise be a perfectly usable phone.

This sounds awful yet it is an improvement on what used to happen with Android phones. Until the last three or four years many Android users would get the operating system that was available when the phone launched and never see an official update. There were workarounds, but it could be hard for non technical people.

Compare this with Apple. The iPhone 6s was released more than six years ago. Late in 2021, Apple updated its phone operating system to iOS 15. That includes support for the iPhone 6s.

It’s worth noting that phones will work after they are no longer supported. They may not be as secure and there may be things you’d like to do, but can’t.  If you take care, you can continue to use an old phone without upgrading.

The latest version of iOS will not work with an Apple iPhone 5 or older. Yet there may be security updates for older Apple models.

How long should a phone last?

Phones can take a beating. Owners handle them many times each day. They get dropped, knocked, scratched and soaked.

Yet, there are few moving parts to seize up. (Avoid any phone that does include moving parts such as a pop-up camera.)

If you look after your phone 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 phone batteries, even those in sealed phones. It can be difficult, there are official repairers and a cottage industry exists.

Although it may look expensive, paying someone NZ$100 to replace a battery is cheaper than a new phone.

Officially Apple has given iPhone owners the right to repair their phones. Later this year it will sell spare parts and the tools needed to make repairs. It’s not for the fainthearted.

Screen life

Screens last three to ten years depending on the technology, build quality and your use. Often the screen backlighting goes first. Again, repairers can fix these problems.

There are times when a new phone model is compelling.

Sometimes moving 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. Five years is no longer exceptional.

There are users who give their phones a pounding. If that’s you, or a family member, you have two choices. You could buy a more robust phone model. Or you could opt for a cheaper model that won’t break the bank when replacement time rolls around.

How long should you hold on to a phone?

There’s no simple answer to ‘how long should you hang on to a phone’. What works for one person doesn’t work for another. You should hold on for at least two years. Yet that’s unambitious.

For some people the best time to replace is when the battery life is not enough to get you through the working day. For others it’s when the operating system is no longer supported and there is a security risk. That’s six years for Apple iPhone users.

If you think that is bad, spare a thought for Android users. Six years is more than double the official supported life of Android versions.

If you love Android and worry about phone longevity, chose a Nokia phone. The company has a policy of keeping phone software up to date.

It guarantees two years of updates but to date has extended support beyond that time. It may be far less than Apple, but that’s better than rival Android brands.

This post was updated on January 29, 2022 to reflect recent changes including Google cutting off Android support after three years and Apple giving customers the tools and parts needed to repair old phones. 

Photo by David Mellis. Creative Commons. 

Samsung S21 FE 5G

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE 5G press release leads with the phone’s case design.

That’s right. Samsung’s public relations professionals think the single standout fact that will get journalists and others writing about the new phone is the case.

This tells you everything about the state of the phone market in 2021: it’s no longer exciting. We appear to have reached an evolutionary dead end. Continue reading

The Ministry of Health has released the technical specifications of its Covid vaccine pass. The documents call it My Vaccine Pass.

There are two passes. The domestic pass is simple. It will carry the minimum of information. The international pass is a little more complicated.

Each pass is an offical record of a person’s vaccination statues. You’ll be able to use them to get into places, to use services like air transport and so on.

We will see these later this month.

A QR code

The pass is stored as a QR code, like the codes used today when you check in to a site using your phone and the official Covid app.

You can also download and print out a version of the QR code if you don’t have a phone. There aren’t many people in that category and it’s likely people who don’t have a phone are going to be people who can’t easily print out a paper code. Hopefully they will be able to print out the codes at a library or marae.

You have to use the code with a form of photo ID, maybe your driving licence or a passport.

Phone app

There’s also a phone app that shopkeepers and others can use to confirm that you are vaccinated. The people using the app will scan your QR code and then check the name tallies with the name on your ID.

The Ministry of Health has opened the technology so that companies and organisations can build their own verification tools. Air New Zealand might want something different to your corner diary.

Your pass verifies you are considered vaccinated. It will run out at some point. How long it lasts hasn’t been made public yet. When booster shots become available they will be included.

Trust, privacy

There is a lot of talk about trust and privacy.

I asked the office of the privacy commissioner if there were any issues to worry about and was given a stock reply that the office has worked with the government on the pass.

It’s cryptic, but implies there are no serious concerns.

One pass to rule them all

Only the Ministry of Health can issue a pass.

The Ministry says people using verification should not trust what they see printed on a pass, only what they see from the verification app.

Companies using the app are not supposed to store the data. At the moment that’s a request although Parliament is due to pass legislation limiting data collection from the passes.

You’re not being monitored

Each scan only lasts a few seconds and disappears. There isn’t any formal reporting back to base (although the Ministry will collect analytical data), so when you show your card at the local pub, no-one in the Ministry or anywhere else in government gets to know about that.

A company called Mattr is building the digital plumbing behind the pass.

It’s an interesting business. Mattr is a subsidiary of Spark that specialises in verifying data in ways that are secure and protect privacy.

In its words, Mattr deals with digital trust. It started business in 2019 .

The technology used for the pass was developed here in New Zealand before the pandemic and is exported overseas. One of the company’s customers is the US Department of Homeland security. It is also working on a project with the US National Science Foundation to look at ways of protecting people from false or manipulated online material.

You can hear me talking about the vaccine pass with Susie Ferguson on RNZ Nine-to-Noon. 

Apple iPhone 13 reviews from the US press are in. There is a wider spectrum of opinion than you’d expect to see when Apple launches a new iPhone.

At the New York Times, the headline on Brian Chen’s Apple iPhone 13 review – the story is behind a paywall – dismisses the new phone as “the most incremental upgrade ever”.

He says the annual phone upgrades from Apple and Samsung are a “mirage of tech innovation”. For Chen, upgrades are “a celebration of capitalism”.

Chen has a jaundiced view, not negative, but not positive.

Battery and cameras…

Joanna Stern is kinder. At the Wall Street Journal her headline reads: “iPhone 13 Review: From Mini to Pro Max, It’s All About the Battery and Cameras”. This is also behind a paywall.

Stern is positive about the battery life improvements. This will make more difference to many iPhone users than the new camera mode which is her second focus.

…better display

There is no paywall hiding the Verge’s Dieter Bohn more positive take. The headline on his review says: “…A better display, the best camera, and incredible battery life.

Bohn makes an important point about the cameras on the new iPhone models. Other reviewers can get bogged down with technical specifications and intense testing. Bohn writes: “ I also can’t remember the last time I’ve said “whoa, look at this photo” as many times as I have during this review.”

Reporting his response this way says more than raw figures ever could.

Low light

His big point is that the iPhone 13 takes excellent photos in low light conditions. I’ve found this to be the case with the last two iPhone ranges. Yet the iPhone 13 takes this one better.

This is the one last feature I want from a phone. Now Apple has fixed low light photography, there is little more to ask for. Phones have reached the end of one evolutionary path.

There’s scope for incremental improvements, there always is. Yet that’s it for today’s metal and glass slabs. The next change to get excited about will be revolutionary.

Incremental or not, Apple does a good job of pushing the boundaries of what is possible with a handset.

A different world

Apple may not throw up as many new ideas and features as the Android phone makers, but they live in a different world.

First, Android phone makers have to compete with each other and prove their phones are not commodities. They crave novelty and points of difference regardless of whether these are things customers want or need.

Second, many of the so-called innovations that turn up in Android phones go away again after a generation or two. Some are half-baked, some are change-for-the-sake-of-change. A few, think of ‘beauty mode’, appeal to people’s worst instincts.

It would be easy to dismiss the iPhone 13 as an incremental update. Indeed, that is exactly what the New York Times review does. Yet that’s not the whole iPhone 13 story.

Numbers, revenue, profit

Apple has won the phone market. While Apple may not sell the most handsets worldwide, it does make more phone revenue than anyone else. Moreover, Apple makes more profit from phones than anyone else. Almost no other company does.

Huawei is, in effect, out of the picture. This month Oppo, a would-be rival, hit the wall. Samsung sells more phones than anyone else, but it makes more money selling technology to Apple. No other phone maker gets close.

Earlier this year Apple sold its 2 billionth iPhone. There are more than a billion active iPhones in use today. It accounts for one mobile phone in four around the world. In the US Apple has a 60 percent market share. That’s 50 percent in the UK.

The most telling statistic is that more than 10 percent of US and UK iPhone users switched in the last two years. The company’s dominance is accelerating.

Apple allure

When discussing this subject, there are frequent comments about Apple’s allure all being in marketing or snob value. And there are claims iPhones are expensive.

The first assertion is clear nonsense. Samsung spends many times as much on marketing as Apple does. So did Huawei when it was still a player.

Likewise the snob value argument doesn’t hold much weight. Apple always sells its phones on the functionality. The product may have cachet, but the company doesn’t talk that way.

When Samsung launched the Galaxy Z Fold2, the company’s reps talked about it being a status symbol.

Oppo tried to push the same snooty buttons with a ridiculous overpriced Lamborghini phone. The market ignored it.

Expensive is in the eye of the beholder. You can spend NZ$3000 on an iPhone 13 Pro with a terabyte of storage. The cheapest iPhone 13 is the mini which starts at NZ$1250. Apple still sells the NZ$900 iPhone 11 and a NZ$750 iPhone SE.

Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on expensive. There are Android phones at all these price points.

Active life

The second part of this is that iPhones have a longer active life and have better resale prices. None of the critics take any of this into account. A $2000 phone with a five year working life is cheaper and better for the planet than a $1000 phone that needs replacing after 24 months.

It’s true you can get by with a $600 Android phone. On the surface there is validity to the argument that no-one needs to spend more than that on a phone.

But this ignores many of the less tangible but valuable aspects of life inside Apple’s curated garden. The App Store is better, the app choices are better. The integration with other Apple products beats anything offered in the Android world.

It’s a better all-round phone experience. I should know, my work involves a constant stream of new phones to test. I have access to almost any model and still choose to invest my own money on an iPhone.

The pay off is better productivity and convenience. Don’t take my word for it, there are a billion other iPhone users you can ask.

Bloomberg reports that Chinese phone maker Oppo says it will cut 20 percent of the staff in its software and device teams. Oppo will merge operations with OnePlus, another phone brand in the BBK stable.

With Huawei, in effect, out of the picture, Oppo was one of a handful of Android phone makers with global reach. For a while it was the top-selling brand in China and it has been the number three brand in New Zealand.

Over the years Oppo’s phones have been serviceable, but otherwise unremarkable Android handsets. In the company’s early years it went to extraordinary lengths to make its Android hardware and software resemble Apple’s iPhones.

More recently Oppo has attempted to push its prices higher without delivering enough features and functionality to justify the extra cost.

The report says:

Oppo… is retrenching after expanding too rapidly on the hiring front in recent years and attacking a premium segment dominated by Apple Inc., people familiar with the matter said.

The cuts affect important units including a team that customizes Android into its in-house ColorOS, and an Internet of Things division that develops a spectrum of wearables such as smartwatches and earbuds, said the people, asking not to be identified discussing a private matter.

…heavy investments to expand into markets from India to Southeast Asia and Europe have not paid off as expected against fierce competition from the likes of Xiaomi Corp. and Apple. It’s now contending with a Chinese retail slowdown as Covid’s resurgence locks down parts of the country.

Forays into adjacent arenas also haven’t worked out. After several years, Oppo’s share of the global smartwatch market remains under one percent, while it accounts for a mere 1.7 percent of earwear shipments, IDC analyst Bryan Ma estimated.”

Oppo’s move underlines a recurring theme on this site: Aside from Apple and, to a lesser degree Samsung1, there is little profit in making Android phones. Nearly all the value in an Android phone goes to Google who gets to clip the advertising ticket almost every time someone picks up their phone.

This is unlikely to be the last phone market consolidation. You can expect to see more brands to merge or leave the business over the next 24 months or so.


  1. Samsung makes more profit selling phone components to Apple than it makes from its own hardware sales.↩︎

According to online retailer Picodi the average New Zealander has to work 8.4 days to afford an Apple iPhone 13 Pro.

This is 0.6 days less than it took a year ago to buy an equivalent iPhone 12.

New Zealanders have it easy compared to people in Turkey. There the average worker needs to toil for 92.5 days to buy a new iPhone. It takes the average Pom 10.8 days.

Things are easier in Australia. There it takes 6.4 days. In the United States it takes a mere 5.9 days. The Swiss have it best of all. They only have to show up at the workplace for 4.4 days to earn enough for a new iPhone.

It’s all relative

Younger readers have no idea how these matters have progressed over the years.

In 1987 when I was working for The Dominion in Wellington, I calculated that it would take a Wellington bus driver over three months to afford a PC. It would take them more than four months to buy a Mac.

Knowing how long it takes to buy an iPhone is useful when it comes to making a buying decision.

Buying decisions

Let’s say you are tossing up the merits of an iPhone 13 Pro and an Android phone that costs half the price. You know it would take 6.4 days to buy the iPhone.

Simple maths tells you the Android would mean 3.2 days of your labour.

You may also know you can do things a little more efficiently on the iPhone. This might not work for everyone, but stay with me, the thought experiment is useful whatever your circumstances.

That spanking new iPhone 13 Pro should be good for three years. So, in round numbers, you have to work one day for each of those iPhone owning years.

Assuming you use the phone every day, you’d come out ahead if the iPhone saved you four minutes a day. That is, one day divided by 365.

This is all before you take the resale value of the two phones into account. After three years an iPhone would lose less value than an Android.

Apple iPhone 13

Apple may launch new iPhone models every year, but the product cycle is, in effect, two years.

In year one Apple unveils a major design update. In year two it refines the design, then gives it a coat of paint and a brush up.

The September 2021 iPhone launch falls into the second category. Yes, the iPhone 13 models are better than iPhone 12 models, but the difference is incremental.

Upgraders

Only the most die-hard fan would spend money upgrading from iPhone 12 to 13. Not much changes. Owners of earlier iPhone models would see a significant improvement.

You wouldn’t be alone if you feel the leap from iPhone 12 to 13 is less of a step than previous leaps.

This brings us to the first hidden message in the September 2021 iPhone 13 launch event.

Incremental

Conventional modern phone designs have gone about as far as they can. For now.

The unconventional folding phones from Samsung represent a fork in the path, but it is the road less taken. Folding phones account for less than one percent of all phones sold in the last year.

We are not talking about a motorway junction here. The folding phone is more a scenic route or a diversion1.

Away from folding, for the last four or five years, the most noticeable change from one year’s model to the next has been in camera technology.

The room for improvement in that department has now slowed. The extra photography features and capability in each upgrade appeal to smaller and smaller groups of users.

It’s a fair bet to say half of all iPhone 12 users could not tell you what changed from 11 to 12 without looking things up.

Evolutionary

Apple can continue to introduce better phone models every year, but the current smartphone format has reached an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

The second hidden message is harder to spot if you are not intimate with the Apple world. Apple doesn’t have much competition any more.

This sounds odd given Apple doesn’t sell as many phones worldwide as Samsung or BBK, the Chinese phone maker behind the Oppo and OnePlus brands.

In the US Apple accounts for almost two out of every three phones sold. Worldwide that figure is closer to one in five phones. Yet Apple continues to collect the lion’s share of phone making profits.

Competition

You can argue all you like that Android phones have this feature or that feature. It doesn’t matter. The closest competition to the iPhone 13 is the iPhone 12.

It is possible to make a case there is more innovation in the Android space. Most of that ‘innovation’ is vapid, unimportant change for the sake of change.

Often the phone makers drop that feature one or two product cycles later2.

There’s a reason Android phone makers toy with new ideas more than Apple does. They throw ideas out there because they are competing with other Android makers for the same market.

Few iPhone users would switch to Android because they want a bigger zoom or a phone that has ‘beauty mode’. The main reason people step away from Apple is to do with price. Many who switch from iPhone to Android to save money later switch back to Apple.

None of this is saying that Samsung or Nokia don’t make great phones. They both do. Yet they are not in direct competition with Apple in any meaningful way. The two worlds barely intersect.

No doubt people reading this will disagree with this point of view. That’s why I’ve reinstated comments below. Feel free to chime in with your view.


  1. That’s not to say folding phones are without merit. It’s that, for now, we can’t take them too seriously. ↩︎
  2. Apple does similar with Macs. It never made a second model of the confusingly named 2016 MacBook and it looks like it has quietly dropped the unpopular Touch Bar. ↩︎

From next month well-heeled New Zealanders will be able to spend NZ$2700 on a Galaxy Z Fold3 phone. NZ$1600 will put a Galaxy Z Flip3 in one of your deep, deep pockets.

As the numbers in the names suggest, these are Samsung’s third generation folding phones. That does not mean they are mature, nor does it mean they are heading for the mainstream any time soon.

The first folding phones were a disaster. Within hours of unpacking the devices, reviewers reported broken screens.

No longer embarrassing

By the second generation the technology was no longer embarrassing. But it was no easier to see the point of a folding phone.

Yes, there was the promise of being able to fit a device with a screen the size of an iPad mini in your pocket.

But how necessary is that? You can buy an iPhone 12 Pro Max with a 6.7-inch screen or a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with a 6.8-inch screen.

The Galaxy Z Fold3 opens out to 7.6-inches. That’s roughly 25 percent more screen real estate, which sounds good, but means less in practice than you might expect.

Heavy, thick

In return for that extra screen you have to carry a phone that is heavier and, when folded, thicker than a conventional phone. It weighs 271g,

Carrying an 300g iPad mini is unlikely to be much more trouble. And you’d have the benefit of an even larger 7.9-inch display and a more robust device.

Prices for the iPad mini start at NZ$680.

Another consideration is the operating system. Android has plenty of fans, but it has failed to ignite in the tablet market. There’s a reason for this. The software can be good on phones, but does not adapt well to larger screen sizes.

Samsung is not the only company making foldable Android devices. Huawei was early into the market with a foldable phone that never made it to New Zealand in any volume.

And then there is Microsoft’s weird Surface Duo. It undoes a lot of the good work the Surface brand has done for what is now a cloud computing company.

Fashion statements

When the first Samsung folding phones arrived, the company positioned them more as fashion statements than practical answers to everyday productivity problems. At the New Zealand launch the company’s representatives stopped just short of saying they had snob value.

The new models are tougher, able to take more punishment. And they are more waterproof. Their ancestors were fragile things.

Much as Samsung would like us to believe folding phones are heading for the mainstream, that is not the case. Not even close. The first models sold about half a million phones.

This year Samsung says it hopes to sell up to 7 million. Given around 350 million phones sold world wide in the first quarter of 2021, that’s a rounding error.