I got a new phone last week, but only because I don’t have to pay for it.
Until now, I have owned an iPhone SE (1st generation, released in February 2016), which I bought new almost five years ago. If my parents weren’t buying me a new phone, it would last me for another year.
The same thing can be said of most iPhones, especially later models than mine. But with Apple’s new iPhone 13 lineup on the shelves and Christmas lists taking shape, the allure of the latest devices may be enough to catch a college student’s eye: new colors and slightly better features.
But with prices starting at $699 and the top models easily exceeding $1,000, is it worth the money to upgrade your iPhone in 2021? For most users, the answer is no. If you think you’re missing out on the latest technology, don’t — phone upgrades are less necessary today.
My phone is still running strong: the battery is good (Apple says it has 89% of its maximum capacity left), and I can still use it for two days without a charge. It also runs all the apps I need, plays music flawlessly, and takes good enough pictures to run in The Collegian.
At the Hillsdale AT&T store, an employee concurred.
“Technology is at a standstill,” he said. “Fewer people upgrade their phones than they used to.”
He said that the only technology that has drastically changed things is folding smartphones – which Apple doesn’t offer – and they are too expensive for most people to buy.
It’s clear that phones aren’t improving as quickly as they once did. While most people quickly upgraded the first five versions of the iPhone because of the vast changes in size and processing power, many older iPhone 6, 7, and 8 models – while all more than four years old – still permeate the market.
Since then, Apple has managed to add a few more camera tricks and a bit better battery life to its phones, but changes have gone from drastic to incremental.
Sales prove that people aren’t getting rid of their old devices: iPhone shipments increased yearly until they peaked at 231.5 million in 2015 when the iPhone 6 and 6S were new, according to Apple. Shipments have steadily decreased to about 200 million units a year.
Nevertheless, the number of iPhone users has jumped from 569 million to more than 1 billion, with market share increasing from under 30% to a record high of 67% from 2015 to 2021. If users were throwing away their old phones, iPhone sales would correlate with the number of users.
Why are people keeping their phones longer? Part of the problem is Apple’s own fault: it supports its latest software on its older devices, which makes them even faster than they were new.
For example, Apple still supports my SE and the iPhone 6S on its newest software, iOS 15, making them the first phones to get seven major software updates.
I have suffered the pitfalls of upgrading too early firsthand, when I bought an iPhone XS – Apple’s 2018 flagship model – in May 2020. During my three months of ownership, I found its newer processor and two cameras less advanced than advertised. The phone opened apps only slightly faster, and its pictures barely looked any better. Its newer and bigger battery drained quickly, even worse than my “dated” SE. It was a waste of money.
When I lost my XS in a river in August 2020, I turned back to my SE again, and have used it ever since.
My SE, like all iPhones, is a testimony to good quality: I have dropped it countless times and it has refused to break. I even lost it in four feet of snow in the mountains of New Hampshire. Despite freezing conditions, it still survived.
If you’re looking to save some cash, don’t get stuck in the two-year upgrade cycle cell phone providers advertise. If you really need to upgrade, settle for last year’s model. Or save yourself a hefty bill and use your old phone for an extra year. You won’t regret it.