6.22.2016

Smartphones: Commodity or Luxury?

Phones are important, but is $700 a year worth it?

Too Good to Be True

Smartphones have become ubiquitous; 64% of Americans owned one as of last year. Over half of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices. And trends suggest that that gap between desktop and mobile will only widen with time; PC sales continue to decline.

The four to six-inch metal, plastic, and glass rectangle has become our constant companion, the most important gadget it our lives. We take our smartphones everywhere and spend an unhealthy portion of our day on them, five hours a day to be exact.

“Five hours a day.”

With so much time being on mobile devices, cell phone carriers have benefitted enormously. They have become the internet service provider (ISP) for a majority of our time online. Companies such Verizon Wireless and AT&T have surpassed the likes of Charter Spectrum and Time Warner Cable with respect to the direct level of control they exert over how we engage with the internet: data caps dictate the type of media consumed, peak traffic hours slow page loading times, wireless radios are a drain on battery life. And so mobile data has a unique and significant impact on our day-to-day lives.

There are two major types of smartphone data plans: prepaid and contact. The advantage of the latter is you receive a flagship phone upfront and pay it off over the course of your contact (most frequently lasting two years). Folks would rather get the newest iPhone as soon as it comes out and pay it off over the next year or two than save up for it and be stuck with something midrange or even low-end

Most people want a great phone but are unwilling to pay upfront for it. It's much the same with motor vehicles; most car buyers opt for financing so that they can be on the road in a better ride than they'd otherwise be able to afford. They eventually pay the full price of the car and then some, ditto for smartphones, but reap the reward of having been in possession of the car that whole time. 

The Galaxy J5 and S6 - Nearly Indistinguishable

But is paying to rent your smartphone, like file storage by way of Apple iCloud and other cloud storage solutions, the wise move? Are we really happier with $700 flagship phones than we’d be $500 richer and with something mid-range? Buying a used cell phone through a vetted source like Swappa or eBay (make sure returns are accepted) is another great way to buy something that will get the job done. 

Getting back to my car analogy, most people buy used because the savings outweigh the allure of a brand-spanking new vehicle. Why is it, then, that millions of people are addicted to upgrade cycles? (Both Apple and cell carriers are plotting to shorten them further.)