Apple recently introduced the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. At the same time they introduced a payment plan that includes automatic replacement when a newer version of the iPhone comes out, presumably once a year, and insurance should the phone break before the new model emerges. According to the Apple website:
“Getting a new iPhone every year is easy. After 12 installments, you can get a new iPhone and start a new iPhone Upgrade Program. No more waiting for your carrier contract to end. Just trade in your current iPhone for a new one, and your new program begins.”
The phone is paid off in 24 installments, which means that you always get a new phone before the old one is paid off. I have two questions: with Apple now financing unlocked phones, does this put them in the driver’s seat and push the carriers back to simply a “pipe” provider? More importantly to me, can Apple provide enough of a technology refresh and differentiation that people need a new phone every year?
Apple vs. National Carriers
The four national carriers, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint, already offer a similar refresh deal by adding a fee to the normal monthly contract. However, those phones are sold and locked by the carrier so you are bound into a contract with them. When you buy an unlocked phone from Apple you are free to move around outside of a carrier contract. If other manufacturers follow suit then that drives the carriers away from being phone stores to being monthly service providers. In other words, it relegates them to the same status as the old Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC) with landlines. Coincidentally, Verizon and AT&T have both grown out of the old RBOCs so we could be right back where we started. I am watching with interest to see how cell providers respond to this challenge from Apple or whether Apple at some point will make a bid to become their own cell provider, thus cutting out the carriers completely.
How Much is Too Much?
Now, the real question on my mind is this: does a person need a new phone every year and does it really make their life better? I am interested in your opinion and hope that you will chime in. In full disclosure, I usually end up with a new phone every year but that is because mine breaks. Apparently you are not supposed to take your phone kayaking or rock climbing. My replacement is usually a cheap $20 Android smart phone so I never have the latest and greatest but it does what I need it to do and it fits my frugal nature.
The latest iPhone touts a better screen, better chipset, faster Wi-Fi, new 3D-Touch, and a better camera. Are the new features that much better than the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus introduced a year ago? For some sophisticated consumers the answer is obviously yes. In a recent study by the University of Missouri, researchers found that iPhone separation in some people resulted in anxiety and poorer cognitive performance on tasks requiring close attention. It appears that for some people smart phones have become such an integral part of their lives that they need them nearby in order to perform tasks that don’t even require a smart phone. Perhaps the latest and greatest features do help us live better lives.
Psychology author Michael Clarkson provided a counter argument for constant technology refresh in a CNN iReport earlier this year, “Escaping Society and my Cell Phone.” In it, he chronicles his attempt to escape a technology filled world by spending time in his backyard fort.
Whether we refresh our smart phone every year or two or five, technology is having a real impact on how we live and how we interact with others. I believe that we need to examine our own interaction with technology to determine how much is enough and how much is too much and too often. What is the right balance for you? Is technology a tool or has it become something more? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.