The iPhone 5c is pretty. The iPhone 5S is impressive, with bells and whistles like a more advanced camera and a fingerprint scanner. And you shouldn’t buy either of them.
I’m not saying this to be contrary, or to pick a fight with Apple fans. I’m saying this because, on a practical level, buying most phones, not just the iPhone, does not make sense anymore.
Stop and consider when the iPhone was first introduced, in 2007. There was nothing like it, and it revolutionized smartphones. But the iPhone’s main customer base was never you and me. It was the carriers.
Remember, when a phone is subsidized, it means the carrier has given Apple a massive wad of cash already, up to $500 a phone; recouping that money is their problem, not Apple’s. And boy, is it ever a problem. So, locking you into a two-year contract is no longer a matter of pure profit for wireless carriers; when you buy an iPhone, it is an absolute necessity.
The problem is that increasingly, the two year wireless contract is an endangered species. As technologies like ubiquitous WiFi and white-space broadband propagate courtesy of companies like Google, carrier networks will be less and less crucial to communications. It’s pretty likely that within ten years, we won’t be using carrier networks for data at all and possibly barely use them for voice communications.
And it makes even less sense if you want to stay on the cutting edge of technology whether you’re a geek who likes the toys or need the power for work: Every cell phone manufacturer updates their hardware every year, and it’s generally at least incrementally better.
I’m just using the iPhone as an example; realistically you can apply this to many other phones. So, essentially, at some point in this cycle, probably sooner rather than later, you will be locked into a contract you no longer need or want but have to keep paying for. And that’s not the only problem.
The second issue is pretty simple: Do you really need a 64-bit chip in your pocket? Don’t get me wrong: The A7 is really freaking cool. But, for example, if I’m not reviewing a unit I use my phone to read books on the go, check bus times, take calls and texts, and occasionally play simple games like Ruzzle or Dungeon Raid. Realistically speaking, you can find the chip that does the jobs I want it to do in a toaster.
And some people really do need that; some use the iPhone or equivalent Android smartphone as their primary computing tool, and for them dropping $650 or more on the phone is a no-brainer. But that’s not most people. Most of us use our phone as, you know, a phone, and the iPhone has sucked at that since the beginning.
Finally, the market has changed. Unlocked cell phones used to be difficult to find: Now Amazon has 186 pages of them just for Android phones. You can get a good phone for a better price and get on a month-to-month contract… and why wouldn’t you? Why lock yourself in to spending thousands of dollars over two years when you can pay what you want per month and have the ability to walk away whenever you feel like it?
There are other factors at work here, of course; an iPhone was and remains a status symbol. But the reality is, when you’re considering any phone, that you should just buy it up front, and avoid getting locked into a contract.