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Summary:

A survey from Gazelle indicates very high interest in iPhone upgrades, even though most respondents don’t feel the technology improves enough to upgrade each year. Why upgrade then? The current iPhone loses its luster within a year, say most.

Gold iPhone

Apple’s core audience of iPhone owners may be the most loyal customers when it comes to upgrading to new models. According to a recent Gazelle survey with 881 respondents, 85 percent of iPhone owners are either likely or very likely to upgrade to an upcoming new iPhone model. Somewhat oddly, 66 percent say the smartphone technology doesn’t improve enough to justify a new phone each year.

Perhaps most of the survey participants are in the second year of a two-year contract? Or maybe it’s this other datapoint captured by the survey:

“The excitement of a new iPhone doesn’t last long, with more than 70% of respondents telling us the appeal wears off within a year and 33.1% stating it wears off within the first few months. It seems like Apple does a great job of creating that initial hype around new products driving people to upgrade. “

If that new iPhone has lost its luster within a year or less and the new iPhone has just enough new features to build desire, the typical two-year upgrade cycle could be cut in half for Apple’s newest iPhone model.

The relatively high percentage of likely iPhone upgraders actually doesn’t surprise me when considering the source of the survey. Gazelle is an online buyer of recent and old devices. The typical person using Gazelle’s services would likely be a phone upgrader; they’re unloading their old handset to recoup some money for the next shiny object.

It’s interesting to me, however, what the survey uncovered about desired features. When asked why they’d upgrade their iPhone, survey participants pointed to these top three reasons:

  • iOS7 28%
  • Better/Faster Processor 21%
  • Bigger Screen 20%

The first makes little sense to me unless people are still using three-year old iPhones: While Apple hasn’t yet said which devices would be upgradable to iOS 7, it’s a safe bet that the last two, if not three, models will simply get the software. A faster processor (and GPU, for that matter) are generally always part of the new iPhone model, so that’s almost a given as well.

But the third reason — a bigger screen — is telling. For years, iPhone fans have loved the size of the iPhone: It’s easy to carry, use and fit in a pocket. Only last year did Apple expand the screen size a small bit on the iPhone 5. Unless the company surprises us all, it’s not likely that a new iPhone will follow with an even larger screen, although anything is possible until the launch event.

  1. Gazelle is in the business of buying your used iPhones, so I have to wonder if their study is a bit biased.

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    1. I don’t wonder: I basically said that in the post. ;)

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  2. The last two versions of the iPhone have been technologically obsolete upon release. The last didn’t have NFC and the one before that didn’t have 4G. So it’s not that they lost their luster, they never had it in the first place. ;-)

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    1. OUCH! Spoken like a happy Android owner. LOL! ;)

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      1. Peter H Pottinger Tuesday, August 20, 2013

        I own an iPhone and his point are spot on. You don’t have to be a fanboy to be critical of other companies :)

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        1. Oh, I agree! I was just joking. :)

          I try to be as platform agnostic as possible in order to see what’s going on in the entire mobile space. Keyword: “try”. ;)

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    2. Kary, I have to wonder. Are you joking? I think you aren’t. You can always go and buy a product that has all of the techno geek specs met, and it won’t be an Apple product.

      Apple has a very clear vision of the best products in the world, and that isn’t about putting a check mark next to a new technology. It’s about delivering the most usable product to the end user.

      If you are joking ;~) then I agree.

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      1. It was a joke, partially. But the reason I bought an S4 rather than an HTC One is that the S4 has MicroSC, and a removable battery. NFC and IR was also a must haves on my list of features, and the HTC One has those, but the iPhone doesn’t. So rather clearly the iPhone doesn’t serve my needs. There is no “luster” there at all. That part is not a joke.

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        1. To be clear, I’m talking about a Samsung S4.

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    3. @Kary

      Where do you use NFC? I have turned it off because of security concerns.

      I’m curious how much an average Android user uses NFC.

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      1. I’ve only started using it–to change settings in the car so that the screen doesn’t timeout. FWIW, my wife doesn’t like doing that.

        My reason for wanting NFC though is I tend to keep electronics a long time–I had my Droid 2 Global roughly 2.5 years. I don’t want to have to buy a new phone because I wish it had a feature that was available when I bought it.

        The range on NFC is incredibly short–too short IMHO. You have to really try to hit the tag. I really doubt it’s much of a security concern.

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        1. Yeah that’s what they said about Lexus vehicles till hackers developed a way to shut down vehicles from 2 blocks away via bluetooth sniper.

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  3. The bigger screen and better/faster processor reasons are from 4S and older owners. They aren’t expecting an even larger screen this year. They just mean the current size is bigger than what they have now. Those aren’t reasons to upgrade from an iPhone 5. Those are reasons to upgrade from older iPhones.

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    1. Great point that I neglected to consider, thanks!

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  4. Nicholas Paredes Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    I manage mobile UX and am still running on 4S. Why does everybody feel the need to continually upgrade? That said, it is time, so yes I will update.

    The Moto X is likely going to be my Android device and it is also far from the most advanced device.

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  5. Peter H Pottinger Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    Perhaps in silicon valley where everyone needs to have the latest and greatest, but within my very diverse circle of friends i would wager less than 10% obtain the latest models and only at the end of their contracts.

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    1. Nicholas Paredes Tuesday, August 20, 2013

      While it is really important to understand where technology is headed, it is equally necessary to understand where your users are. This is one of the reasons I tend to upgrade in two year cycles.

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  6. The “only” reason I would consider buying an iPhone 5 (or newer model) would be for this:

    http://www.boxwave.com/apple-iphone-5-cases-and-covers/keyboard-buddy-apple-iphone-5-case/bwpdd/pkz-zvwt/

    It’s a shame the geniuses behind iOS never thought of making the home screen work in landscape mode. I guess my TP2 is just getting stale, but I really wish HTC came out with a modern Android device with the same awesome sliding keyboard.

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    1. Nicholas Paredes Tuesday, August 20, 2013

      What is interesting is that I frankly hadn’t realized that the iPhone doesn’t run in landscape, while that is one of the most respected features of the apps I have designed!

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    2. I owned and loved all the slide out keyboard phones!! HTC Touch Pro, HTC Touch Pro 2, HTC Desire Z. Very disappointed that there are no new versions available and we are forced to type on touch screens. Physical keyboard is much more accurate!
      The limitations of iOS would however never convince me to go for iPhone in order to use this kind of accessory. Would rather mistype to death on Android or even Windows touch screens than tolerate the primitive and limited iOS experience!!
      Only the sheeeeple will be “upgrading” to the latest iPhone!!!

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      1. There’s a similar device for the Samsung S4. I haven’t tried it.

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      2. Stable and Secure Wednesday, August 21, 2013

        My dear Ray, the “sheeeple” as you put it, are the ones that go with the herd. (If you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor.)
        But wait, what is the herd on? Windows and ‘android’.

        I have a theory about the thousands of dweebs that infest every article online that mentions the iPhone or Apple in general. I think there’s something wrong with them.

        I never *ever* bother trolling articles about HTC, it’s as interesting as hip replacement surgery, but people that have actually built up hatred for a technology corporation – in this case Apple – must have something mentally not quite right. Some subconscious unmet need? Some form of insecurity? Who knows.
        Whatever it is, it’s sad. Or funny. Or both.

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  7. http://www.apple.com/ios/ios7/features/
    At the bottom of the page it gives compatible devices… Unfortunately I WILL have to upgrade! ;)

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  8. Meh. I just upgraded from an old Android 2.2 phone to a new iPhone 4.
    It’ll do just fine for at least a couple more years. I hate being on the bleeding edge.

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  9. Boris: Statistically iPhone users are not moving to ‘android’ devices. More people move the other way.

    Most folks knee-jerk with ‘more!’ ‘faster!’ ‘bigger!’ instead of more important things like security or aesthetics or ease-of-use.
    Nobody puts that stuff in surveys and that’s why Apple never does market research.
    If they had asked people in 2007 what they wanted in a phone they’d have asked for better plastic buttons.

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