Apple's iPhone trade-in program: Can it prime the upgrade pump?

Apple's iPhone trade-in program: Can it prime the upgrade pump?

Summary: Apple's trade-in program could entice customers to swap out those iPhone 4 devices for a fresher model.


Apple is reportedly prepping a trade-in program in its stores that will allow customers to trade up iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S devices to new models. The larger question is whether Apple's outreach can break the two-year carrier contract lock-in and boost refresh cycles.

According to 9to5Mac, Apple is training its retail workers to handle trade-ins. There are other trade-in deals at Best Buy and other places, but Apple's retail reach could have a real impact.

Key points to note:

  • Apple wants to control more iPhone sales compared to today's channel picture, which revolves around carriers.
  • Apple thinks it can upsell to other goods like iPads and Macs.
  • And Apple would like to have a system to smooth out lumpy iPhone sales.
  • TechCrunch noted that limited pilots have been underway for weeks.

What's unclear here is what Apple will offer for trade-in handsets relative to others. It's also unclear whether this program will prove to be little more than a customer service win or maybe even a gimmick. Here's what's clear: Apple has to do something. By putting iOS 7 on older iPhone devices it gives customers an excuse to stick with older hardware. 



On the surface, Apple's trade-in program makes a lot of sense. In the war against Android, Apple's biggest asset is its direct reach through its retail stores.

In the end, the devil will be in the dollars and return on investment to consumers. Apple's ability to add features and new toys will also play a role. Apple will have to thread the needle between dangling trade-in carrots and sparking gadget lust.

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, iPhone, Mobility

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  • If nothing else, this sort of thing is probably

    Better for the environment, provided the trade in devices are reconditioned or recycled.
    • True

      Trade-ins are nice and all, but the big question is whether they've done enough in the next iPhone to keep their customers from jumping ship anyway. September 10 is going either going to address everyone's hardware stagnation concerns, or Apple's phone business is going to take a dismal turn for the worse.
      • Oops...

        ... too many goings in that comment...
  • Trade-Ins Not the Whole Answer

    1. Rare agreement with OwlllllllNet, but Gazelle is a better choice to give you freedom to switch platforms as well as upgrade.

    2. What about those of us interested in moving from iPhone 5 to 5s? If you have a 4 or 4s it is highly unlikely that you don't have a contract renewal upgrade at your disposal.
  • I don't see the point...

    Not upgrading to the latest iphone is as big a fashion faux-pas as wearing white after labor day or pin striped pants with a polka-dot blazer. Apple's fans would not dare do such a thing. It's going to cost Apple billions since their flock would have happily upgraded at twice the price and discarded their old phones as if was a vile, flaming turd.
  • At this point, I don't want more flash...

    I want lower monthly TCO! The average smartphone now does more than enough for me. I want a lower bill. Trade-in for another iPhone version is moot.
    • I vote with you.

      Everyone wants to hype the "new" when there is really little additional value. I suspect my 4s will be just fine until the iPhone 7 or 8.
      • So do I

        I am with you on that one-still rockinga hand-me-down 4. Does what I want it to-make calls and (mostly) respond to text-without any problems. If I need directions, I call up the place or person but mostly, get it before I begin my journey.
  • I see the trolls are out

    Geez, can't you guys give it a break?

    Frankly, I have played with the "next big thing" and frankly it doesn't work as well as my iPhone. Sure, it is much more flexible, and does more things, but a lot of them it doesn't do very well at all and in general everything seems to be just an extra click or an extra half second.

    The iPhone is a very well made phone and the components work pretty much seamlessly together. From a hardware standpoint the components might not be "the most advanced" but that is a very simplistic way of judging a device, once you get past a certain point raw specs are actually relatively unimportant

    As far as a trade in or upgrade, I will do which ever seems to be in my best interest. One thing I won't do is trade for a Windows phone of any kind as IMO the W8 interface is butt ugly. I HATE it when MS changes the menus with every new software update and I choose to speak to them through my pocketbook.
    • Specific examples please.

      I keep hearing how Apple products are supposed to be so much easier / intuitive to use. As an owner of the three big mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8) I see none being easier / more difficult to use. Each has their strengths and quirks.
      • You beat me to it.

        I was about to ask the same question. It always will end up to FUD or justification to their chosen phone.
  • It depends on

    What they give you for the phone. I looked up phones on an iPhone 4s is worth $180, in average condition, while a 928 is only worth $150. If Apple is giving $200 for an iPhone 4s, I'm more likely to go with their deal, as I'm no longer under contract. But since my experience with Nokia Phones is less than good, I don't see me getting one anytime soon.
    Troll Hunter J
  • Iphones and the rest.

    Most people don't want "other" phones. I gave my daughter a Motorola Atrix hd (but honestly it could have been any android) and she was very ho hum. She has had the Atrix for a year but would dump it for an Iphone in a second.
  • Trade ins

    With retail operations like Best Buy and Target offering 150+ for immaculate iPhone 4S models, they may have trouble finding it profitable unless the carriers elect to subsidize that too.
  • My iPhone 3GS 3 GB...

    at is worth $20. Do not laugh, this 3GS remains fully functional. Yes, when the next iPhone comes out I will purchase it, however if it would run iOS 7 I would keep using it.
    • 3GS FTW

      Yup, mine is still running great and does everything I need. Unlocked by AT&T after the contract was fulfilled so upgrades from Apple are non-issues. I pop in a local SIM when I travel internationally. Not gonna pay full price to Apple to get an unlocked unit and don't wanna wait 2 years before AT&T will do it for one of theirs.

      Oddly, I only got offered $12 by gazelle.
  • uhhhh is it jst me or dont all of those ohones look oretty much the same

    Sort of exposing the iTard mentality right there in pictures if you ask me...
  • Good idea from Apple, and other makers should copy that idea, whereby...

    they take iPHone4s as trade-ins for much better devices, like the Samsung and HTC and Nokia smartphones. Then, those iPhone 4 trade-ins could be sold as cheap devices to 3rd world countries where people can't afford the better and higher quality devices. ;)