June 28, 2019

Smartphone users are upgrading less frequently — will 5G help?

A new study out of NPD confirms what we already know about the state of the smartphone in 2019. People just aren’t upgrading as frequently. You can see the ramifications of this as companies like Apple and Google scramble to right the ship. Still, it’s nice to put some numbers to the abstract trend.

The analyst firm conducted a study of 3,650 U.S, based cellphone users earlier this year and found that a quarter held onto their previous device for more than three years. That represents an 18 percent increase from two years prior. Twenty-nine percent, meanwhile, have had their current device for two or more years.

Upgrade cycles have slowed, and you can thank higher prices, fewer exciting features and, frankly, better devices for that. In that last sense, at least, smartphone manufactures have kind of painted themselves into a corner on this one. Companies were surely aware that the whole thing was going to plateau and decline eventually, though many have been seemingly caught off-guard by how quickly and severely it has happened.

5G is a bright spot, of course. NPD says ~2/3rds of consumers are aware of the technology (a number that has almost certainly increased since the second half of last year, when the number was collected), and around one-third are “interested” in purchasing such a device. Promising, but I’m also “interested” in purchasing a major league baseball team, so maybe take that bit with a grain or two of salt.

We’re seeing the first few handsets trickle through from companies like Samsung, LG and Motorola, along with some spotty coverage around the U.S. Of course, that’s going to have to be much more ubiquitous before the technology becomes a tangible driver of new handset adoption.

5G is certainly destined to be the next major driving feature in the category — particularly with foldables currently in a somewhat depressing state of limbo. But if company are hoping it will turn around their fortunes entirely, I’ve got some of Trump’s 6G spectrum to sell them.


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