10 reasons why you don’t need to upgrade your phone annually
Smartphones have been around for over a decade now. What started as a luxury product that not everyone could justify paying for has now become a quintessential part of our lives. From basic tasks, such as viewing a restaurant’s digital menu, to more complex ones, like authorizing transactions — smartphones are no longer just phones. They’re our cameras, health record storage, media library, mobile bank branch, house and car keys, trip planners, and so much more. The most popular phone manufacturers tend to release an upgrade or two per year. For example, Apple launches a new high-end iPhone lineup every fall, and it sometimes does a mid-range release in the spring. Similarly, Samsung announces new smartphones at different times of the year — offering various specs and price tags to cater to a wider audience.
When it comes to phones, we can classify its users into two camps: — enthusiasts who upgrade annually or more frequently, and the vast majority who couldn’t care less about that. The latter group just wants a phone that works. On the other hand, the former is tempted to get its hands on the latest and not-necessarily-greatest, no matter what. In my opinion, though, even a power user doesn’t need to upgrade their phone yearly at this point.
1. Mature-r hardware, slower innovation, boring phone upgrade
When a company releases a product that belongs to a new category, the first few generations usually pack a ton of improvements. As the device matures, innovation slows down. Let’s take the iPhone as an example. The original iPhone reimagined what a phone can look like and do. The following release introduced 3G support and the App Store for third-party apps. These changes are notable enough to push users to upgrade. Skipping the iPhone 3GS, the iPhone 4 introduced a modern design and FaceTime support. The phone was gradually starting to shape up.
Year after year, the element of excitement started to fade away when Apple launched new iPhones. There were some noteworthy moments, like when it introduced Touch ID, the bigger iPhone 6, and then finally the notched iPhone X with Face ID. It would make sense for someone with an iPhone 5 to buy an iPhone 6. However, upgrading from an iPhone 7 to an iPhone 8 wouldn’t be as reasonable. An annual phone upgrade lost its significance — as we further advanced in this department. Some people can’t even tell the difference between an iPhone 12 Pro and an iPhone 13 Pro.
Similarly, Android phones have almost fully matured, too. Companies can no longer come up with releases as mind-blowing as those of yesteryear. We’ve figured out how to master smartphones, and we almost have. It’s normal and expected to reach this point — where new changes are a bunch of bumped numbers that mean nothing to most users.
2. Future-proof phones are now affordable
Back in the day, buying an affordable phone came with frustrations — mostly revolving around performance. Low-end and mid-range phones would typically start slowing down after a few months of active use. This pushed many people to upgrade often, as they’d start dealing with “you’ve run out of storage” alerts and other annoyances fairly quickly in the phone cycle. That’s not to mention that we passed through a phase during which app updates started getting notably larger. This ruined the experience for those who had phones with low storage capacities.
Things have changed now. Whether you buy the iPhone SE 3 or almost any other middle-range Android device, it easily survives for at least a few years. Manufacturers are promising more years of software support, and the minimum technical specifications are now decent and acceptable — relatively speaking. So even those not investing in a high-end phone shouldn’t be feeling any pressure towards a yearly upgrade.
3. Battery repairs sometimes replace a phone upgrade
A person may want to upgrade their phone because their current one irritates them. Many factors can fuel this frustration. However, what many users don’t necessarily realize is that sometimes the solution doesn’t have to be a phone upgrade. “My battery barely lasts me for a few hours” is a common complaint we hear when someone starts planning to upgrade. So, why do we replace the whole phone when replacing the battery can be enough?
Granted, battery replacements have gotten significantly difficult from the early days of smartphones. Removable batteries haven’t been a thing on mainstream phones for a while now, and glass sandwiches are notoriously difficult to maneuver for a battery swap. But they are still largely possible and cheap enough to consider once your phone crosses the 2-year mark. If you bought a flagship, you can eke out another year or two of great performance out of it before considering a swap over to a new phone.
Switched out the battery and still unhappy with the performance? Sometimes a factory reset fixes that. By starting over, you delete all of the unnecessary, cached data and get a fresh experience. Back when I used to carry an Android phone, I’d perform a factory reset every now and then. That had a notable, positive impact on the performance (or at least enough of a placebo effect) — despite it being a hassle.
4. Software updates rejuvenate the experience
One great thing about smartphones is software updates. Typically, Apple and Google release one major update per year to iOS and Android OS respectively. These usually come with user-facing changes and additions that enrich the operating systems. They’re not the mundane bug fixes and security patches we see almost monthly. So even if you’re not carrying the latest phone available, your device will look similar to it after the software upgrade. Yes, the hardware won’t change. However, the user interface and the new packed perks will look similar — for the most part.
Personally, WWDC means more to me than the iPhone fall event. Why? Compare the difference between iOS 15 and iOS 16 to that between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups. That’s why. iOS 16 introduces a customizable Lock Screen with support for widgets, rich iMessage and Mail features, etc. Now ask an average user to tell you the difference between the aforementioned iPhone generations — they’d probably be clueless. The introduction of Material You on Android is a similar story. When we use our phones, we interact with the software more than the hardware. That’s why a mere software update can substitute the annual phone upgrade for many users.
5. Your current phone camera doesn’t need an upgrade
One of the many reasons a person might want to upgrade their phone is getting their hands on a better camera. Every year, phone manufacturers typically make improvements that result in better photo and video output. Whether it be through the lenses or the chip and software processing, we almost always get a bump in the camera department. This is often used as a selling point and a motivator to pressure undecided users into upgrading.
Though the million-dollar question is — do you actually need this slightly better camera system? Likely not. Modern smartphone cameras are already powerful enough for you to build a vibrant library of memories. That’s not to mention that your favorite social media platforms tend to compress your uploaded photos and videos. And then there is the fact that people viewing that content may not be viewing it on ideal displays either. Additionally, even if you’re viewing the full-quality, local copies, you likely won’t be able to tell the difference between slightly different resolutions.
Yes, some camera features are groundbreaking, like Samsung’s Space Zoom. However, this is just an exception. A phone’s camera doesn’t usually get an upgrade as big every single year. So skipping a smartphone generation or two won’t really have a drastic impact on your life or its digital documentation. In most real-life scenarios, the mere presence of a camera is more important than the fine details coming out of the photograph — you’d be just fine with an older phone.
6. Many selling points are mere marketing gimmicks
When companies announce new smartphones, they try to tempt you with all sorts of shiny specifications. “For the first time ever, the Banana Phone comes with 5G support!!” They promise you incredible speeds that you can only achieve under ideal conditions. But the harsh truth is — we live in a far-from-ideal world. In reality, 5G has been a disappointment so far. Users aren’t getting the maximum speeds corporations boast about in keynotes. Additionally, even if you achieve the full speeds — what do you need it for? 4G/LTE is already fast enough to stream high-quality content on the go. The instability and increased battery drain are just not worth it for most users.
Similarly — the slightly more shatter-resistant glass this new phone upgrade will get most probably won’t affect you in any way. No matter how resilient the front and back glass panels are, dropping your phone at a certain angle from a certain height on a certain material is going to crack it. It’s all about how careful and how lucky you are. Yes, the used glass has improved over the years. However, the difference between a single generation is almost always unnoticeable. This will get us to our next point — processors.
7. You don’t need the fastest chip for your Instagram scroll
With every major phone upgrade, manufacturers tend to give the processor a performance bump. This used to matter in the past because smartphone chips started out as rather slow. Every new generation would make an impact, and older phones would quickly lose support for newer system and app updates. This is no longer the case. Phones from a few years ago can still run the latest versions of the most popular apps. Just because the 2022 chip is 20% as fast as that of 2021 doesn’t mean it’ll actually affect your experience in any way. In fact, there’s a big chance you’re not unleashing the 2021 chip’s full potential in the first place. This will bring us to the next point — we’re past major breakthroughs in the phone upgrade department.
8. The smartphone is in a transitioning period
Not to be the bearer of bad news, but the smartphone party is over — wrap it up! Smartphones were exciting once upon a time. They used to move us, to actually stir our emotions through their advanced offerings. Now they’re just meh to many of us. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned earlier, they’ve matured. There’s nothing left to add, not in a major way at least. Companies have had around 15 years to learn from their mistakes and build a solid foundation to reach where we are today. They’ve already mastered the format, and this becomes obvious when the only noticeable difference between the two generations of phones is the slightly shifted camera locations.
Now we wait for the next big thing. This could be a mixed-reality headset, eyewear of some sort, or who knows what else. Until then, newer phones will likely remain tweaked iterations of their predecessors. It’s unfair of us to expect corporations to blow our minds every single year at this point. Additionally, as a consumer, by not adopting the annual phone upgrade habit, you’re also, in a way, pressuring these companies into coming up with more impressive and innovative products. Blindly buying every single model is validation to them. Don’t give them that if they haven’t earned it.
Realistically speaking, the next step on the smartphone timeline could be foldables. This category of devices is slowly starting to take off, and manufacturers are filling the gaps of previous-gen models with every new release. Foldables could act as a bridge between regular smartphones and the next form of mainstream mobile devices. After all, if mixed-reality headsets indeed end up replacing the phone, it will likely take a few years before the masses adopt them. Ultimately, it’s still in its early, emerging phase, and what’s next remains vague for now.
9. Give Mother Nature a much-needed hug
One of the most important aspects that users either forget about or simply ignore is the environment. The more frequently you upgrade, the more you harm our nature. Whether it be through the manufacturing process, packaging, or shipping — it all pollutes Earth. Skipping an unnecessary phone upgrade is greener than upgrading annually and recycling the older unit. If we can’t collectively take more responsibility for what we’ve done to the only inhabitable planet we’re aware of, then we’re in for some very deep… problems.
10. Set some Benjamins aside
While you wait for the next big thing — which could cost more than a typical smartphone, especially in its early days — save some money. Even if you’re wealthy, you could always treat yourself to something more meaningful than an annual upgrade that doesn’t bring you any value. If Lana Del Rey and Chris Evans can hold onto their iPhones for like half a decade, then so can you. Ultimately, it’s your money and decision — we’re not arguing about that. I’m merely pointing out that an average user (and, arguably, even a power user) doesn’t need to upgrade their phone annually. Unless you are a reviewer or have a job that revolves around needing the latest smartphones and gadgets, then there’s no point in upgrading your smartphone annually.
Once upon a time, buying the latest smartphone equated to getting one’s hands on original technologies. That ship has sailed a long time ago. Just focus on the past few keynotes from a given manufacturer — they likely introduced the same device over and over again throughout the year with a few tweaks here and there. Now a breakthrough in this field only occurs once every several years. If you don’t find these 10 reasons convincing, then go ahead and resume your annual phone upgrade cycle.
How often do you upgrade your phone, and why? Let us know in the comments section below.