Apple iPhone Users Upgrade Handsets Sooner, Reversing Negative Trend

  • CIRP surveys US consumers to see how often they upgrade their iPhones.
  • Research firm’s data show a years-long negative trend has reversed recently. 
  • Survey findings are potentially good news for Apple as it seeks post-pandemic growth.

For almost half a decade, iPhone users have been holding onto their handsets for longer and longer, crimping Apple’s growth and worrying Wall Street analysts. That trend has begun to reverse recently, a potentially good sign for the world’s largest technology company. 

In the June 2021 quarter, 30% of iPhone buyers said they’d had their previous handset for three years or more. That was a marked improvement from the previous quarter, when 34% of buyers replaced iPhones that were at least three years old, according to survey data from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Before this period, the upgrade cycle had been steadily lengthening. In the fall of 2017, for instance, less than 20% of iPhone buyers had their previous device for three years or more, CIRP data show.  

“It looks like we have the start of an interesting trend,” said Michael Levin, cofounder of CIRP. “After about four years of keeping phones longer, consumers have started to upgrade newer phones. We haven’t seen a change of this magnitude in quite some time.”

In a conference call with analysts this week, Tim Cook highlighted “very strong upgraders,” and said Apple had “the best upgrade quarter for the June quarter that we’ve seen.” Wireless carriers are heavily promoting 5G smartphones, which has helped Apple upgrade more of its base with the new iPhone 12 range, Maurice Klaehne, a research analyst at Counterpoint, noted.

The broader smartphone market shows similar upgrade patterns, according to survey data CIRP shared with Insider this week. 

Back in the fall of 2016, just over 60% of US consumers replaced smartphones after two years or less, according to surveys by CIRP. By the second quarter of 2020, that figure had dropped to about 47%, meaning people were holding onto their devices longer. CIRP’s most recent data show this trend has begun to turn around, with more than half of consumers upgrading after two years or less. 

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