Can iterative devices justify their price tags?
In Australia, Apple’s newly-announced iPhone X costs $1,579 for the 64GB model, or $1,829 for the 256GB model. Needless to say, unless you’re Rupert Murdoch or Donald Trump, that’s a lot of money to spend on a phone. Now, there is some justification for that price tag. Not only does the iPhone X boast a better OLED screen, but it nearly scraps the bezel entirely, alongside camera and AR tech that promise to be futuristic, even if rather superfluous (and in the case of Face ID, mildly alarming).
But who is it for? The wealthy, basically, or else people who really need to have the best available phone technology in their pocket and don’t mind sacrificing a great deal else. People will buy it regardless, but as time goes by it seems increasingly silly to fork out too much on a smartphone because, let’s be honest: these things just aren’t built to last, nor are they meant to.
There are a bunch of factors that contribute to a smartphone’s lifespan. How heavy a user are you, and how many times do you charge it per week? According to Battery University — an independent battery testing company associated with battery analytics firm Cadez — your average lithium-ion battery can only handle between 300-500 charging cycles per lifespan, with a cycle consisting of any charge commenced when the phone is below 70% capacity. That means if you’re anything like me, your battery is likely to start tapering off at around the one year mark.
While that’s the most practical consideration, there are also other more nebulous things to take into account. Apple releases at least one new iteration on its phone per year, as do all of the Android brands. Is this $1,579 going to feel like dead money this time next year, when Apple unveils new must-have concepts? Clearly this consideration isn’t going to help enthusiasts who simply must own all the new tech, but for anyone thinking a more expensive phone signals a longer term investment, then… probably not, I’m afraid.
Because in addition to battery degradation, alluring new models and the fact that you’ll probably end up dropping the damn thing, Apple has a habit of rolling out new OS versions which, if they don’t render your phone unusable if accidentally installed, may very well slow them down to the point of annoyance. This mild form of planned obsolescence is largely unproven with statistics but, in a New York Times article from 2014, the publication showed a graph that proved search queries for ‘iPhone slow’ tended to spike at a certain time every year.
The thing is, spending money on new phones feels really nice. But then, in a matter of months, you’ll forget that your phone was ever a novelty at all. Then, if you’re the soul-searching type, you may begin to wonder whether a $1,800 phone makes you happier than a $500 one. And you may discover that actually, it doesn’t, and that this impulse to acquire may find a better salve in craft beer brewing or hobby trains. Buy the new phone by all means, just do so knowing that you might be up for another $1,500 in less than twoyears time.