Pando

From riches to rags: How yesterday's luxury becomes tomorrow's low-cost iPhone

By Nathaniel Mott , written on June 6, 2013

From The News Desk

The iPhone goes out of style faster than any other product sold today. Apple releases a new version of the device every year, and as soon as Apple's top executives take the stage to talk about how much more "amazing" or "magical" the newest version is, the device resting in your pocket immediately loses a bit of its luster. People kept their platform shoes and parachute pants longer than they keep their iPhones.

Apple has become something of a luxury brand whose products are judged as much for their novelty and marketing as they are for their technological merit. Convincing you to purchase a new iPhone once every one or two years is just good business, and turning the iPhone into a status symbol facilitates that process. Now the company is said to be cashing in on the iPhone's artificially short lifespan by starting a trade-in program that would allow you to sell your old, outdated and unhip iPhone back to Apple, which would then refurbish the device and sell it in emerging markets at a discount.

This process could allow Apple to clamp its hand over the mouths of all the analysts and pundits crying for it to release a low-cost iPhone to better compete with bargain bin Android smartphones while also convincing existing customers to step into its ultra-profitable stores and upgrade to the newest iPhone instead of a competitor's device. Apple would essentially become the primary seller, purchaser, and reseller of new and old iPhones -- and all it would have to do is continue developing new devices and allow Brightstar, the company Apple is said to have partnered with for the program, to do much of the work.

Bloomberg cites executives from several resellers as saying that the category is growing, with one saying that “The iPhone is an iconic device that people around the world want to own" and compared it to a luxury car. "If they can’t afford a new Mercedes, they’ll get a used one." The only difference is that, if this program is real, Apple would be producing, selling, and reselling the devices, instead of simply refurbishing a product built by another company, like traditional resellers do.

Whether or not this bothers you depends largely on how you view the concept of planned obsolescence, which is the idea that device-makers create products they know will become outdated (usually rather quickly) in an attempt to get you to purchase a newer model a few years later. Conspiracy theorists will claim that Apple has been planning on doing this all along and that the company is evil for using its customers as perpetual sources of income. Rational people will point out that this is what most dictionaries would define as a "business," and that so-called "planned obsolescence" exists mostly in your head.

Your iPhone won't stop working when Apple announces the new model later this year. The same goes for your computer, which hasn't been obviated simply because Intel has released its new Haswell processors, or your tablet, which won't spontaneously combust if a newer version with a better screen is released. These devices, believe it or not, were built to last; we simply lust after the new models and their features -- longer battery life! better screen! thinner form factor! -- and convince ourselves that they're pants-shittingly better than the devices we already own.

Apple is simply taking advantage of that perception and giving the market what it wants. It's hardly the only company to do so: Resellers, such as Gazelle or Mobixa or even eBay, have been doing this for years. Apple, and probably every other manufacturer, builds devices that last. They just happen to sell those devices the same way clothing stores sell fashion items, except you probably won't hear an Apple employee tittering because the iPhone you're using is so last season. Not yet, anyway.

[Image Credit: Wikimedia]