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Will iPhone Mess Up Cell Phones Upgrade Cycle?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on January 23, 2007

Could Steve Jobs’ iPhone mess up cell phone upgrade cycle? I think that’s a possibility.

Sure, for decades now, people have been replacing their mobile phones more and more frequently — most recently, every 18 months. With the advent of touch-screen phones, I believe this trend could reverse.

Here’s my thinking: The new iPhone from Apple, and the recently announced phone from LG brag touch screens instead of buttons. That means that if cell phone makers or carriers decide to add new functionalities to these phone when they are already in use, they could, potentially, do that over the air. Want to enable consumers to shoot, edit and post videos to a mobile site in a new way? Just send them an application with virtual buttons that will appear on their touch screens and allow for this application’s use.

If consumers are able to get new applications this way, I think some of them will stick with their phones longer. After all, today’s phones all feature cameras and Web access. Unless handset makers come out with additional hardware making replacing handsets every 18 months a must, I don’t see why consumers will keep on changing their phones as often, especially since the phones’ prices seem to be on the rise. After all, with a simple software upgrade, users will be able to drastically change their phones’ looks and functionalities anyway. So, why splurge on a new phone? Do you agree?

Reader Comments


January 23, 2007 6:35 PM

Agree 100%. Apple will update thru the iTunes sync.
From what I've read, the LG isn't currently configured to work in the U.S. (wrong frequencies) so more than likely won't even be a factor here but I'm guessing Apple has now set the trend for future phones.


January 23, 2007 10:21 PM

I doubt that touch-screen phones; with fingerprints, faceprints, possible scratches, and no tactile feedback; will be the predominant cell phone interface of the future.


January 23, 2007 11:52 PM

However, you assume that the content providers and cell phone companies will be interested in offering those software upgrades. Many phones are already cripled by service providers to guide you to use their (pay) features. Additionally, as new hardware technolgies come out (say, Bluetooth v3), you will still need to upgrade your device. So, while it is quite possible, I would take a wait-and-see approach.


January 24, 2007 12:10 AM

i'm tired of being accused of
1. being an apple fan boy
2. hogging the apple kool aid
i simply have a very inflated budget cause i work hard and i'll gladly pay a premium for "PRODUCTS THAT ACTUALLY WORK AS ADVERTISED!" This is what Apple admiration is about. So get a clue all you non believers!


January 24, 2007 12:14 AM

What part of "touch screens" makes this a more realistic model for the iphone than any other phone? If wireless updates can do as much as add features and buttons, why can't they just add menu options and such to an "ordinary" cell phone? They're just running software, too.

I'm not sure I want software updates on a cell phone anyway. I just need one poorly timed update to disable my phone when I need to call 911 in order to die.

J Tosey

January 24, 2007 1:19 AM

Massive opportunities to improve hardware will only accelerate the upgrade cycle. This device can be radically improved with location hardware (GPS), better still resolution, HD video capture resolution, 3D graphics/physics acceleration, storage/CPU improvements, array microphones/noise elimination, size/weight/battery life improvements, biometrics, multi-radio access, FM integration, near-field transaction manager, persistent zero-power display. The iPhone release is just a pitstop on the roadmap of phone evolution.


January 24, 2007 3:57 AM

Um ... Not quite.

The cell phone market is on an 18 month cycle primarily due to households and consumers who opt for the free or cheap phones that come packaged with two year service plans.

Those phones just don't have the durability of more expensive phones and thus lead to consumers upgrading and signing into a new plan.

The iPhone won't change that as it's price, and Apple's unwillingness to offer instant rebates, will exclude the lower income consumers from ever using it.

Cheaper versions will surely come around, but in the end, you pay for what you get. The cheaper versions simply won't hold up as long and will lead to the same trend we see now.

That's not to say the iPhone won't do very well, it will, it's just that it's price tag won't allow it to change the market in the way you describe and the cheap alternatives that will spin off simply won't be of a quality to last 3-4 years.


January 24, 2007 4:20 AM

I don't think the touch screen will stop cellphones upgrade. Consumers still need a different design in 18 months. It is not about the appearance of what comes on screen, it's about changing the design as well.

Giovanni Zangrande

January 24, 2007 4:32 AM

Why would Apple, or any other device manufacturer want to make the replacement cycle longer and sell less over time? In my opinion software updates will be limited to some bug-fixing or add-on, but you will still need to buy the latest and greatest phone to have a real step forward.
And even then, what happens if the signal goes down during a software update?


January 24, 2007 7:17 AM

Yes, all those fingerprints and potential
scratches will certainly prevent the iPhone
from setting the new standard. Exactly like
those same traits have hampered the iPod
from really taking off.


January 24, 2007 7:49 AM

Every phone i have ever had has had problems. ok you can update your computer at home with current stuff but that doesn't always solve the problems. Plus I agree with john ware and tar on the phone will happen unless they're making it out of some sort of metal.


January 24, 2007 8:17 AM

You would think that they would keep their phones longer, but that wouldn't help Steve out now would it? Look at the original ipod and where it is today. Apple will continue to wow the crowd with new innovations and tactile feedback will most likely be one of improvements.

Nick Taylor

January 24, 2007 8:26 AM

I agree. It makes upgrading phones far more easier. And I do think that they will eventually perfect the touchscreens, avoiding scratches in the future.


January 24, 2007 8:41 AM

People don't upgrade their phones for new features. People upgrade their phones because their current one has gotten beat to crap and they wait for their contract to be up so they can get a new, free or discounted one.

Touch screen phones aren't going to hold up any better...they'll probably hold up worse. The iPhone looks like one giant scratch waiting to happen.


January 24, 2007 8:41 AM

In principle it sounds like a wonderful idea but then why would Apple or any other cellular phone manufacturer want you to upgrade the OS when it is in their interest to sell you a brand new telephone for $600 to replace the old one you have been toting around for two years?

Besides most cellular telephones after two years of daily use are not exactly a thing of beauty to behold and with cellular service providers constantly offering you to sign up for new contract with dirt cheap equipment offers, it really doesn’t make sense to upgrade just the software when the entire phone is beginning to show its wear and tear.

I suspect the reason the upgrade cycle is approximately two years is due to the combined effects between most cellular phone service contract being two years in duration and the fluidity of the cellular phone market in which the users tend to switch their service providers rather frequently. Each switch, of course, means a new phone.

In short, so long as cellular phone service providers are tying their services and equipments with service contract, the upgrade cycle will stay the way it is.


January 24, 2007 8:42 AM

I totally agree! I never thought of that unitl I read your article. It may also have an effect in price dropping. If everyone would wait longer to purchase a phone prices could drop.


January 24, 2007 8:48 AM

I doubt it, smart phones have been running upgradable and replaceable applications for years, and folks still by bigger and better models all the time.

In fact, it seems most iPod users replace their own iPod with bigger and better models too. It is not as if every unit sold represents a new adopter of the technology.

If anything, more technology options will shorten the upgrade cycle, not lengthen it.


January 24, 2007 8:53 AM

who cares if I can feel the numbers while I'm pressing them when I'm afforded more functionality in the same space as I would have normally had JUST a keyboard? "Tactile feedback" is the new WMD...just a red-herring. Gives people something to rally around and fuss about..another divisive catch-phrase. Soon the world will be divided along the lines of those who insist on "tactile feedback" on their phones (e-conservatives?) and those who demand touchscreens on everything (iliberals?) Then the econs and ilibs go to war over how advanced technology is enablig teens to make their own porn and share it in school on luscious 3.5" touchscreens... spawning armies of youth obsessed with "self-tactile-feedback"-ing.


January 24, 2007 9:09 AM

Some of his features aren't attractive to the adult consumer. Of course, that may not be the target consumer for this phone. Finger prints, oily face marks, and scratches will detract from the attractiveness of the phone for many. It will change how phones are used in the future though.


January 24, 2007 9:23 AM

I totally disagree. Based on the experience with how Apple releases iPods, you won't get updates to the previous versions of their hardware for new functionality. Their business model is to release new hardware with new software. They do not release new software for existing hardware. This is just based on their iPod lineup. Cover art and games, those could have been sent to previous iPods, but NO you had to buy the new iPods to get that functionality even though it didn't require anything but software.


January 24, 2007 10:34 AM

I disagree JohnJ. Have you seen all the accessories for iPods these days? I'm sure there is a company out there that is already in the process of manufacturing an accessory for the new iPhone that will prevent fingerprinting, faceprints and scratches. I think iPod accessories have helped increase the sales of iPod.

def j

January 24, 2007 10:44 AM

i doubt it, 18 months from now phones will have faster cpu's that are more power efficient, better cameras, better battery's etc. apple will have to add real internet access to the iphone as well, and wireless 802.11 n networking. none of these things can be updated remotely. also, imagine the phone you had 18 months ago, yuck


January 24, 2007 10:45 AM

I'm sure it may delay the cycle somewhat, but Apple will definitely release another version of the iPhone with better or even completely different features, which they have done before with other products.

Frank S

January 24, 2007 10:54 AM

After using the Treo 650 and switching back to the flip style phone (LG VX8600) I believe that the whole touch screen craze will have a fw good years but in the end crash. With the nonstop creation of viruses phones are going to be at risk more than anything....Personally my Treo 650 was infected with a virus causing loss of a lot of information. Finally I decided to switch back to the regular style flip phone and keep all my information on my MacBook...bottom line I believe that th iPhone will come in as a blaze of fire and fall just as quick

Ewan Oglethorpe

January 24, 2007 10:58 AM

In this article it seems as though you are calling the lack of replacement a bad thing... it completely fails me as to how not replacing your phone every year or so can bring harm. When people replace their phones after a perscribed amount of time from their cellphone companies, it costs the cell phone compaines money since the upgrades are free, and the companies must create and package and ship the new replacement phones.

Also, I don't think that purely touch screen phones will become popular until several generations from now. This is because people today are accustomed to using a button based phone, and changing to a purely touch screen phone would be un-natural.


January 24, 2007 11:02 AM

Judging the amount of articles Jobs' announcement has created will the iPhone have a profound effect on how we view mobile phones, it already has.

Whether the iPhone will be a smashing success and grab most of the market (like the iPod), or if it will get more modest interest when it's time to buy it, only time can tell. I don't think it'll become a complete failure judging Apple's history.

No matter how well the iPhone will do, it'll be very interesting to see what their competitors will create (they must do something!).

Let the race start! :-)

Sean Dixon

January 24, 2007 11:11 AM

I agree. I think the only reason folks upgrade their phones is cause carriers give heavy subsidies to sign contracts. If the user had to pay for the phone or pay more for the phone the upgrade cycle has to slow obvioulsy. But, if the phone is great like the iPhone and is upgradeable, then why upgrade. Maybe Cingular could sell the upgrade along with a contract extension or they might not need to given that an upgrade would make the customer sticky. And, I suppose the iPhone will only work on Cingular to stickiness is automatic.


January 24, 2007 11:21 AM

Yes.... they would.... batteries die out pretty soon... only nokia's batteries last for more than a year, Motorola is a big sucker in battery life.


January 24, 2007 11:44 AM

This article misses the point! Phones usually aren't replaced because of new functionalities etc.. Its because they simply die after 18 months. Mobile phones are used intensively: they get dirty, they're dropped and are constantly being charged which places high demands on batteries. Apple ipods have rather poor battery life and arent used to the same intensive wear and tear mobile phones endure...making the iphone durable (over 18 months) is going to be difficult..

Eric Martinez

January 24, 2007 12:03 PM


Very good observation. With the advent of the iphone or Predominantly touchscreen based phones, there is definitely room in the future for an open-source touchscreen phone that can be capable of running multiple mobile phone operating systems and able to work on different mobile carrier networks. As you stated, virtual buttons makes it possible to change the look and functionality of the phone. Heck, I wouldn't mind using a mobile distro of linux on my mobile phone. Here's to change!


January 24, 2007 12:04 PM

I think it will take atleast a few years until touch screen phones become sophisticated enough so that they dont require hardware upgrades. After that, the cell phone upgrade cycle will be lot slower.


January 24, 2007 12:27 PM

If the new touch-screen technology is adopted widely, the reasoning outlined in the article makes sense. However I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, if ever.

Why? Cost and Durability.

The new touch-screen phones cost a lot of money and we don't have any real world experience with them to know how long the screens will last. Scratches, skin oil, drops, etc. are just some of the more obvious concerns.

If the screens were relatively inexpensive and user-replaceable, I would feel better about the phones' longevity.

Wael Safieddine

January 24, 2007 12:43 PM

Well, I agree 100%.
The technologic world we're living in is getting crazier every day. Steve Jobs is a genius. I think that iPhone will be the next revolution. Indeed we must think technology, think future.
Therefore I think that everything will happen on the Internet. New software, new systems that you will be able to download. You will be able to customize your phone's system. Now this is the future.


January 24, 2007 12:50 PM

This thinking assumes that the new phones will last longer than current mobile phones. I think that these devices will be more delicate that your run of the mill flip phone, and those seem to have trouble lasting the typical 2 year "free" upgrade cycle most carriers offer.


January 24, 2007 12:54 PM

I think this is a good thing as far as lifetime of the phone, and the Iphone looks like something out of startrek. The only problem I see is the price tag, it locks many out of the market.


January 24, 2007 1:00 PM

Yes, I do agree 100%.Unless the device is broken or not working, why would someone change their device if the software can change its look.


January 24, 2007 1:25 PM

Manufacturers and providers could send us new applications now, and rarely do. Most phones have a "D-pad" with "Select" a couple of "Soft" keys, and the 10-digit (plus # and *) pad. That's plenty of keys to operate most anything.

These folks aren't interested in us keeping our phones, there's no money in it. Getting new phones forces us to renew our contracts, keeping our money where they want it.

Apple just might reverse this trend some, because they're Apple, and they do things differently, and because the phone has (I think) more of an O/S than most.

Still, Cingular's exclusivity agreement includes "all models" of the iPhone, hinting that there will be derivatives, and look at the proliferation of iPods through various generations. We can only hope that the iPhone will be as friendly with accessories as iPods are.


January 24, 2007 2:11 PM

I suspect that the reason most people upgrade their phone is that after about 18 months to 2 years they need a new battery. The wireless carriers charge more for a replacement battery than a new phone with a new 2 year commitment.

John Smith

January 24, 2007 3:21 PM

and you will recall that the iPhone does NOT have a replace-able battery!


January 24, 2007 3:33 PM

Depends... The Apple iPhone is not 3G. Will they be able to upgrade it with an over the air application ? Downloading E-mail with Cingular is slow even with 3G...


January 24, 2007 4:25 PM

Well while I would agree if this were a normal phone I think what needs to be looked at for the iPhone is not the past phone upgrade trends but past iPod trends. iPod owners (of which I have never been one) tend to upgrade thier iPods quite regularly, many upgrade whenever a newer version comes out, buying the original iPod, the video, the 60 gig video, the nano despite already owning an iPod that performs the functions they need well. People will be the iPhone, then the newer iPhone with more space for music, then the newer, smaller iPhone then whatever other gimik version that comes out ofter that. People will tend to upgrade (notice that 18 months is halfway between 1 year and 2 years? thats because some people get 1 year contracts, some 2 year contracts, but almost all upgrade when thier contract expires and they can get hundreds off a new phone) at the same rate, or in the case of iPhone owners a possibly increased rate.


January 24, 2007 7:05 PM

I am no fanboy but this phone is the s**t. Generations ahead of anything else on the market. Most of you folks that are mad are just jealous because your manufacturer or service provider didn't make it. It's innovative if you ask me. Don't use Cingular but I'm getting one of these on day one. Shoot, I already started saving for my gift to myself!

Luis Pablo

January 24, 2007 7:22 PM

I don´t think this is nor Apple's or the carriers' intention, to have a longer phone upgrade cycle. Just as everyone else running a business, they primarily design and offer products in order to sell them and make a profit, and one of the means to it is having consumers buying regularly a certain product to satisfy the same need.
So they will launch new products in this case Iphones, to replace older ones trying to convince the consumer they really need to do that. Of course carrier contract offers and discounts help to this end too.
Then you also have other reasons why people change phones that have already been pointed out, like phone wear, arising needs or simply for 'fashion' purposes.
And last, this is an electronic device with a microprocessor, so may be Moore's law could be applied to some measure here.-


January 24, 2007 11:23 PM

it's a telephone. it can't change the nature of capitalism. your argument is ridiculous.


February 5, 2007 10:50 AM

I don't see a longer service life for the iPod phone. The battery is the weakest link in any multimedia device. The size of the phone will limit the battery size and operating service life will be half the initial service in 12 months of phone use. Backlighting for a large 3.5" TFT touch screen display will draw far more energy than any traditional phone keypad. By 18 months you'll be ready to replace the phone, since phone batteries are not consumer replaceable. People toss out their iPods today, even though kits and services are available for battery replacement. Of course, short battery life has become a pillar of Apple's trade-up strategy. Apple knows full well that the electronic integrity of the components in their devices will outlive many battery replacements.
Apple's competitors now rigorously mimic the industry leader, compounding this problem.

And as someone has already pointed out, the physical integrity of that 3.5" display under the normal conditions of cell phone use and abuse assures a very high annual attrition rate for these devices. While I commend Apple on the artistic design of the phone, I see a product with a higher rate of replacement and disposal, that will further contribute to the ever growing problem of consumer electronic waste.


February 19, 2007 9:57 AM

Notice how Steve Jobs always uses his index finger to use the phone. When a phone requires at least two hands to use(that's all of them), that's abig problem. Anyway, I've already decided to buy the phone despite this. So, I'm guessing there are many people like me. Yes, I think it'll disrupt the cycle, because this phone is pretty expensive, once I buy it, it's going to be a while before I buy another one.

Shamit Patel

March 26, 2007 9:40 AM

This woman has got it all wrong. HEre is why.

Shamit Patel

Jim Grissom

March 29, 2007 11:26 AM

I disagree that the touch screen iPhone will have much affect on shortening the hardware cycle for two reasons. Number 1 - The price point on the iPhone will prevent it from being in the hands of all but a relatively small minority. Number 2 – Even if Apple gets the price way down - (yeah right!) - The innovative techno-brain-trust at large will embrace and cater to this technology. This will result in more elaborate applications that will quickly overpower whatever hardware is currently in the hands of consumers. This development cycle will not stop until the hardware is saturated with demand necessitating an upgrade just to keep all the stuff working. Case in point - your PC. No matter how fast Intel makes their processors the OS developers and software houses have quickly maxed out their capability. The only way for you to keep up with the Jone’s is to upgrade your platform. If you don’t believe that then try to install Vista and Office 2007 on a PIII PC. You might argue that MAC users keep their PCs longer than Windows based users do. This may be true but this is a different type of device. The iPhone will be a status symbol for the affluent. How many iterations of the iPod are in existence? 4 and 8GB might sound like a lot of space compared to a Treo 650 but when you are talking music and video content it is not that much. I know people that have a substantial percentage of a 30GB iPod filled with content. I can almost guarantee that Mr. Jobs is not going to let you pop off the back cover of your iPhone and stick in more memory. You will see future models of the iPhone with substantial more capacity than what is being revealed today. Those that can afford it will upgrade.


April 17, 2007 1:53 PM

Great, this is an attractive news to one & all. People who are interested to know more about what medical physicians around the world are saying about the effects of cell phones and electromagnetic frequencies.For more information


May 18, 2007 9:26 PM

People use touch screens daily around the globe at ATMs. Whose grandmother doesn't own a cell phone? We've gotten used to it. If those ATM interfaces had 1/2 the functionality of the iPhone it would be a welcome beneficial and aesthetic improvement in my life.

It will not benefit the blind.


July 29, 2007 12:37 PM

Regarding scratches and fingerprints . .

Everyone saying the iPhone is limited because of fingerprints and scratches.

2 Solutions:

1) The iPhone's Screen is unlike any other wireless device in that is Optical Glass and Scratch-free. Sure you may get a scratch somehow someway, but having worked in the cell industry I can tell you there is a difference I can attest to.

2) There are Great Cleaners out there for the iPhone. I don't know them all by name, but I found one called iKlenz that removes all those fingerprints and smudges you get on a daily basis. It even comes with stylish case, so you have no excuses.

All in all why would anyone not get an iPhone because of the reasons relating to the Screen issue. If you guys are just critics thats one thing, but if you really like it . . hey find the answers like some of us have already.

I'll bet $600 BigMacs on it :)

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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