Why Are People in the US Buying Fewer Smartphones?

Smartphones have become something of a cult obsession for some individuals, with many of them buying the latest models as soon as they are introduced. Newer data from HYLA Mobile reported by The Wall Street Journal shows that this trend is changing in the United States and that we should expect shorter lines in front of stores on release dates. A close examination of the reasons behind this new trajectory reveals that this isn't anything to fret about.

Why Is this Happening?


Although people have a general tendency to stretch out the lifespan of their electronics, people in the United States had other incentives not to hop on this train. Historically, from a time before popular consumer-oriented smartphones started entering the scene in 2007, when you bought a subscription to a carrier, it was often offered with a phone. Every time you renewed that subscription, you also got a newer, fancier version of that phone.

This was a common practice by the largest carriers until recently, when big names like AT&T and Verizon stopped being so generous with their packages. Because carriers stopped subsidizing new phones, individual customers decided to pass up the opportunity to upgrade in return for savings.

According to The Wall Street Journal's report, customers are waiting 2.83 years to upgrade their phones in absence of the previous status quo of a two-year subscription renewal cycle. The trend is exacerbated by the fact that flagship phones like the iPhone are selling for loftier prices than ever before.

Apple's iPhone XS Max now costs a whopping $1,099. Customers in high-tariff markets, such as those in Eastern-European EU member states, see prices between 50 and 100 percent higher.

When commodity prices go up, people buy fewer quantities. Apple users in the United States, on average, wait 2.92 years to purchase their new phones now. The higher wait times could also stem from the fact that Apple supports older phones for a longer time than most Android phone manufacturers. This includes OS updates and crucial security patches.

It Isn't Time to Panic


It's natural to be averse to changes to things that have previously been seen as beneficial, but carriers in the US changing their subscription policies might actually be a good thing in the end. Although European markets also tend to provide discounts on phones packaged together with carrier subscriptions, this is far more pervasive in the US market, where people are more accustomed to getting their phones through their carriers.

Seeing this trend erode might actually be encouraging for a number of reasons:

  • Having a phone independent of a carrier's subscription offers more control and less bloatware.
  • If a carrier is able to give you a phone, it's also able to take it away, depending on what kind of contract you signed up for. Having your own phone eliminates this possibility.
  • Customers will see better plans from their carriers. They'll compete better. We can already see that with Sprint's "bring your own phone" unlimited offer that costs only $10 per line per month.
  • Carriers will also draw benefits from this because of better customer retention numbers. US customers would often consider the two-year mark an opportunity to switch carriers for one that has a more advantageous offering on a particular phone. By distancing subscription renewals from phone upgrades, this removes the incentive to go "phone hunting."
  • This cuts deep into the growing e-waste problem in the American consumer market, where annual smartphone purchases have always been higher than in other parts of the world.

The only realistic disadvantage I could think of here is the fact that you'll end up paying more for your phone. This means your smartphone will become more essential to your everyday life, making it far more catastrophic if you would somehow break it. Take more care of your phone, and it will serve you wonderfully!

How long have you managed to keep the smartphone you currently use? Tell us about it below!

Miguel Leiva-Gomez
Miguel Leiva-Gomez - Staff Writer

Miguel has been a business growth and technology expert for more than a decade and has written software for even longer. From his little castle in Romania, he presents cold and analytical perspectives to things that affect the tech world.

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