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Smartphone Owners Wait Years to Replace Handsets

Many wait until phones die before replacing them

June 29, 2016

A strong majority of smartphone users wait two years or longer to upgrade their handset, according to June 2016 polling. Nearly half wait at least three years between upgrades.

Frequency with Which US Smartphone Owners Purchase a New Smartphone, by Gender and OS, June 2016 (% of respondents in each group)

That’s according to ad tech firm Fluent, which surveyed US smartphone owners in June about their device habits. A plurality of respondents—30%—said they upgraded their smartphone once every two years, which used to be the typical length of a wireless service contract that came with discounted-upgrade privileges. But major wireless providers have phased out such offers in favor of payments plans that ultimately have smartphone users shelling out for the full sticker price of their handsets (plus interest).

That could be one reason why even more respondents wait longer than two years: 42% of the overall respondent base said they waited three years or longer before trading up.

Frequency with Which US Smartphone Owners Purchase a New Smartphone, by Gender and OS, June 2016 (% of respondents in each group)

However, respondents were more likely to say they would upgrade at some point in the next year than they were to say they upgraded yearly in general. Among women, 41% said they were more likely than not to upgrade in the next year, vs. 27% of women who said they normally upgraded at least annually. Among men, the figures were 43% and 29%, respectively.

About half (49%) of iPhone owners said they would definitely or probably get a new phone in the next year, though only 30% said they typically upgraded yearly. Among Android users, 45% planned to upgrade in the next 12 months, but just 31% made a habit of purchasing a new phone each year.

In May 2015, Gallup asked US smartphone owners how often they upgraded, and found that a majority (54%) waited until their phone stopped working or became “totally obsolete.” Another 44% said they upgraded when their wireless provider “allows” it—but, again, this typically no longer means a discounted upgrade.

Frequency with Which US Smartphone Owners Upgrade Their Smartphones, by OS, May 2015 (% of respondents)

Meanwhile, just a tiny 2% of respondents upgraded when a new model was released. Gallup also found that iOS users were somewhat more likely to upgrade every two years vs. waiting for their phone to die, suggesting they are somewhat less price-sensitive than Android users.

In September 2014, AYTM Market Research found that 21.7% of US internet users surveyed had last bought a new phone more than two years ago, and 17.9% planned to wait two years for their next handset upgrade. About three in 10 mobile phone users said they planned to get a new phone within the next six months or sooner, and about the same number said they had last upgraded within the previous six months.

Earlier, in June 2014, comScore MobiLens reported that iPhone owners were significantly more likely to plan to upgrade their phone in the next six months if they had older handsets. For example, a high of 46% of owners of 3G or 3GS handsets planned to upgrade by the end of 2014, compared with just 15% of owners of the iPhone5c and 24% of owners of the iPhone 5s. At that time, both the 5s and 5c were about nine months old already. Only around a third of iPhone 5 owners—then nearly 2 years old—said they would upgrade when the 6 rolled around.

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