Smartphone Lifespan and Pricing

As an Android developer, I’ve been passionate about smartphones for quite a while. It always seemed to me that I should update my smartphone every year or two in order to get all of the exciting new features that were constantly added to the mobile platforms via the hardware upgrades and software enchantments but it seems like those old rules do not apply anymore.

Early Days

My first smartphone was Samsung Galaxy Gio. I bought it for about $130 and it was a terrible phone, sometimes I couldn’t even set my alarm because it took forever to open the alarm manager app. There was also this button that you can click if you wanted to clear your RAM. It seemed to help sometimes so a lot of the Android 2.2 users pressed this button rather hoping that it would increase the phone performance.

Nexus 4

My next smartphone was Nexus 4 and it was probably the best smartphone I had in my life. It had a great design and outstanding performance. The price was a bit higher, somewhere around $280 but I had no doubt at all that it was worth every penny. In fact, I know a few people who still use this phone and it still works great.

Nexus 5

I had no doubt that I should buy the next Nexus as soon as it became available which, of course, I did. That was a first disappointment in the Nexus line. Not that this phone was bad, it was rather good performance-wise but the design was not so great and the phone itself felt cheap which was surprising bearing in mind it’s $300 price tag. This phone started dying after 1 year of heavy usage, probably due to the battery related issues because it always gave me the wrong charge measurements and could easily shut down while showing that the battery was 40% full.

Sony Xperia

After my Nexus 5 died I decided to try Sony phones and I bought Sony Xperia Z2. The price tag was the same as for the Nexus 5, about $300 and I really liked this phone. It was very powerful, it had a decent look and it could last up to 3 days on a single charge which was far longer than Nexus 5 could, even before it’s battery started to degrade. This phone fell from the boat somewhere near Phi Phi islands in Thailand but I was able to find it and it lasted for a few months after this incident.

Nexus 5X and 6P

I had good memories of Nexus 4 and I thought that Google would learn from the mistakes from Nexus 5 and the new Nexus would be closer to the 4th model so I bought both Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P despite their higher than usual price tags ($400 and $600). Both of those phones worked rather well for the first year of usage but then the problems started to emerge. The Nexus 5 just melted and Google actually admitted that it was a common issue. It turned out they were poorly assembled and some components just started to lose contact with each other, causing the phone to fail. My Nexus 6P lasted a bit longer but it started to have problems with the battery to the extent of losing full charge in an hour or two.

Xiaomi

I tried Xiaomi phones in 2014 and they were terrible so I didn’t consider this brand at all but then I saw one of Xiaomi’s new phones on the Android One project website and I liked what I saw. The deal was that Google would take care of the UI and software updates, the main thing that made Nexus line so great, but Xiaomi would handle the manufacturing process. I liked this kind of arrangement so I ordered Xiaomi Mi A1 and it cost me about $200. This price seemed ridiculously cheap compared to the new Pixel phones with the prices of $1000 and up.

I’ve been using this phone for over a year now and I haven’t even thought about buying a new phone yet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an ideal phone but it’s rather decent in any measure. The performance is great, there are no noticeable slowdowns in any of the apps I use and the battery life is good.

iPhones

I don’t own or use iPhones but they seem to follow the same trend: they are becoming more expensive and there are less and less of a difference between phone generations.

Is This Just Me?

It’s surprisingly hard to find the data on smartphone sales but the sources I found suggest that the smartphone sales either stopped growing or started to fall which can be explained by one or both of the following factors:

  • some people didn’t have smartphones before but now almost everyone has them so there is little potential left for expansion
  • higher prices and little innovation discourage people from upgrading their phones often, prolonging the average lifespan a phone

Conclusion

It looks like the smartphone boom is over and the market has changed a lot since the early days. I remember the times when the price of the smartphone predicted it’s quality but this correlation has diminished in the recent years. Also, the global demand for smartphones has slowed down, and the smartphone lifespan may increase significantly since there is a limit on how much the consumers are willing to pay.

Rising smartphone prices have increased the profits of many companies in this market but it might not be sustainable if the people will not upgrade their phones as often as they did in the past.

It will be interesting to see what happens to companies such as Samsung and Apple in this perfect storm of slowing demand and prolonged device lifespans. They are trying to diversify but they still have a high stake in the smartphone sales.