Data shows fewer Americans are upgrading their smartphones as carriers launch new programs

Data shows fewer Americans are upgrading their smartphones as carriers launch new programs

Summary: T-Mobile and AT&T just rolled out programs to help people upgrade their phones more often as data shows that fewer are finding the need to upgrade more than every two years.

Data shows fewer Americans are upgrading their smartphones as carriers launch new programs
(Image: Nokia)

Both T-Mobile and AT&T announced programs to encourage more frequent smartphone upgrades, at a premium price. According to data reported in this Wall Street Journal article, Americans are upgrading their devices less often as innovation slows and current smartphones are more than adequate for their needs.

Since I cover smartphones here, I tend to upgrade more often than regular consumers. However, I have indeed noticed a slowdown in smartphone purchases that I have made over the past year and am regularly keeping phones for more than six months and sometimes up to a year.

James requested reader feedback in his next big thing in smartphones post and it is tough to come up with the next big "wow" factor that will have people upgrading more often. Most all smartphones have great displays, decent cameras, ability to run thousands of apps and cool designs.

US carriers, other than T-Mobile, heavily subsidize phones, so they haven't made it easy to upgrade in the past. The new AT&T program, when compared to T-Mobile, charges the customer for the price of the phone while also essentially charging the customer the subsidy as well (it is rolled into the higher monthly plan fees). In order for people to jump on this plan, there have to be devices that encourage more frequent upgrades. 

Manufacturers are trying to innovate, but the laws of physics also apply and there are limitations. We are seeing refinements in devices with just a few innovations, such as the Nokia Lumia 1020 camera or the HTC One camera utilities. How often do you upgrade your smartphone? Have you noticed a slowdown in your upgrade habits?

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones, AT&T

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  • I'm sure I'm in the minority

    I seem to want to upgrade after about 4 months and usually make it 8-12 before I actually do. Then again that's what disposable income does. I would upgrade every 4 months if my wife didn't threaten my life.

    Then again, my $500+ smartphone is substantially more useful, in my opinion, than her $500+ purses. If only I could convince her she only needed a new one of those every 8-12 months...
    • Mobile will be like PC

      It's just a matter of time before it too saturates and starts to stagnate.
      • Yes, cell phones aren't obsolete in 6 moths anymore

        I'll keep my same nokia 920 for 2 years, then I'm going to T-Mobile to save money

        Your comment contains words or phrases associated with spam and will not appear on the site until it has been checked by a moderator.
        • To be fair

          My situation was that I went with the HTC 8X, which I was happy with overall, on Verizon. But I really wanted a solid Nokia. The 928 came out, my daughter is old enough for a phone and she picked WP8 over iPhone (daddy's girl, what can I say?) so she got the 8X and I got the 928. A win for everyone. And I'll likely go to the latest 8.1 hardware when it comes out since I still have an upgrade floating about. Do I NEED more than what my phone currently has? Not really. Do I WANT it? Absolutely.
  • Correct, nothing to see here

    I've been eligible for an upgrade with Verizon since December and haven't seen a compelling device to make me want a new one. However, another big part of the reason I haven't upgraded is I'm clinging to my Unlimited data plan. With the next upgrade I'll be giving that up (it's through work so switching carriers isn't an option).
  • big detail here

    The most popular phone pushed by the carriers - the plasticky Samsung Galaxies - have removable batteries, and it's a lot easier to get batteries now that everyone buys the same 1 or 2 phones in America. The carriers shot themselves in the foot with their greedy lack of diversity and kowtowing to Samsung.

    Plus, yes, phones are already good enough. The galaxy iv was no real upgrade, and the sequel to the Note came out way too soon.

    There's definitely upgrade fatigue, plus the middle class keeps shrinking, so there's no place to grow except prepaid sales.
  • Trade Offs

    No matter who makes it, your choice in a smartphone always involves trade-offs.
    I currently use an HTC One and an iPhone 5. Before that a Galaxy Nexus. Many other before these.
    As a new device comes out, if it fixes or addresses an issue, I will look and evaluate; maybe buy. The days of "gotta have it - it's new!!" Have come and gone. Too expensive for the average user.
  • No! Say it isn't so (scarcasm)

    Don't allow consumers to realize that their old devices achieve the same things that the new devices do, only the old device is already familiar and customized. As I've heard over and over in the 'post-PC' narrative, all that most people use devices for is email, web, and such. Maybe they are beginning to realize that what works now already works, isn't broken, and everyone else is so self-centered that they don't give a darn about what tech you happen to be using.

    *scarcasm off

  • buy new phone

    I usually buy a new phone when the old one dies (or malfunctions in some way). I am never selling my old devices and if there is not someone to immediately give it to, it just sits and collects dust --- taking up space.

    There are very few things that are news in these devices, especially if your existing phone is the best on the market.
  • Buy a new $500+ phone?

    I am still using my Galaxy Nexus which has finally started working well after a little over a year.
    During that time Verizon replaced 2 or 3 times replaced the SIM card 3 more times and after multiple OS upgrades to 4.2.2 it is now working almost like a phone should. I can't afford to upgrade now and start the process over with a not ready for prime time latest greatest replacement. When I can get a note 3 for under $100 I may be ready to go again.
    By the way I am a slow starter, this is my first smartphone. I do hate paying for the data plan, but I do find it convenient.

  • Smartphones have lately reached maturity, and, just like PCs before them,

    are now going to be "good enough" to last consumers for a few years, and perhaps even longer. Smartphone users have begun to realize that, just like with their PCs, they do not really need to upgrade their PCs every 3-5 years, smartphone users are realizing the same. Same thing will happen with tablets, but the tablet market is still undergoing a few evolutions, and will take another 2 or 3 years before they too reach maturity.

    Essentially, just like it's claimed by the "post-PC" crowd, we might have reached the "post-Smartphones" era, when they too will see a huge drop in sales. Tablets will be next.