Maybe It's Time to Get Out of the iPhone Upgrade Rat Race

A refurbished electronics seller is trolling Apple with a parody ad that argues that, if the Cupertino company said it was an amazing phone back in 2015 it still has to be amazing three years later — and they are making a very good point.

Credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

(Image credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

If you are one of those 500 million people thinking about upgrading their old phone — spending as much as $850 on an “entry level” iPhone XC or a grand on the iPhone XS — maybe you should take a few thousand deep breaths. Instead, if your phone is an iPhone 6 or lower, perhaps you should consider the alternative: get a low-cost refurbished iPhone 6S instead.

That’s what refurbishing electronics company Back Market believes you should do. Vianney Vaute, the company’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, told me over email that, if you really look at it, new iPhones have only brought little incremental increases over the years. The industrial design, for example, has stayed fundamentally the same until the iPhone X. Even now the phones look the same but without a home button and a screen that has a notch on it.

Of course, that’s what he’s going to say — he wants your money, after all. The fact is that, while they all look mostly the same, internally there’s a big gap in terms of hardware power between the 6S and this year’s iPhone models.

MORE: iPhone XC Could Start at Higher Price Than Expected

But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s quite a bit of truth in his words. Despite the iPhone X’s commercial success, plenty of people are getting increasingly tired of the yearly upgrade rat race and Apple’s ever-increasing prices for incremental feature upgrades that don’t seem to add a lot of real-world benefits -- with the notable exception of camera quality improvements.

As a result, many are looking for their next phone elsewhere. “Refurbished phones represent the fastest growing segment of the smartphone market,” Vaute claims, “Last year one in ten smartphones sold were not new and the growth rate of this segment is far outpacing that of new phones, which is essentially flat.”

According to research firm Counterpoint, he is right: sales of refurbished smartphones grew 13 percent year over year in 2017 globally for a total of 140 million units. On the other hand, the new phone market grew just 3 percent.

Trolling Apple with its own words

That’s why Back Market made an Apple-trolling marketing campaign mocking the usual hyperbolic copy of the Cupertino company’s iPhone commercials, which are basically the same year after year, featuring the next next NEXT big thing and the besterestest phone “we have ever made”:

The ad makes a good point: if the iPhone 6S was an amazing machine back just three years ago — equipped with a powerful A9 processor and fast graphics, 3D Touch (if you care about that), and nice cameras — why not get one to replace your aging iPhone 5s or iPhone 5c or whatever old iPhone you have?

Heck, Tom’s Guide gave the iPhone 6s a rating of 4.5 out of 5 back when it was released. Has it suddenly worsened to a 1 out of 5 because you can’t do Animoji like on the iPhone X? Not really. In fact, you can argue that, with the features and the speed boost provided by the incoming iOS 12, the iPhone 6s will be more useful than ever.

Sure, you can say that this iPhone doesn’t have all the features of the incoming iPhone XS and XC. You are completely right but, do you really need all those features? I would argue that, no, you don’t need a phone with a bunch of superfluous stuff you really never asked for. In fact, the only honest reason why I can recommend the latest iPhones is the much better camera. Or to play complex games on the go. If you love photography then yes, by all means, get an iPhone 8 or one of the 2018 models over a refurb iPhone 6s. And if you play lots of processor intensive games, go ahead and get a top of-the-line iPhone. Alternatively, if you are really serious about any of those two things, get a real camera or a Nintendo Switch. But I digress.

If you are just looking for a supported phone that will feel fast with the new iOS 12 upgrade, getting a refurbished iPhone seems like a great plan to me. The 6s or the 7. Whatever you can afford.

MORE: How Much Is Your iPhone 6/6s Worth Now?

The price and recycling factors

That’s the bigger factor here. The refurb solution starts sounding great when you look at the dramatically reduced price: you can get a fully refurbished 64GB iPhone 6S with a 6-month warranty for just $221. Or an iPhone 6S Plus 16GB for $265, if large phones are your thing.

Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Compare that to Apple’s cheapest iPhone at the moment: a new iPhone SE from Apple will cost you $349 for the 32GB version or $449 for the 128GB. This phone has the same guts and 12-megapixel camera as the iPhone 6S, but with a 4-inch screen instead of a 4.7-inch display.

Of course, you can also jump ship and get a very high quality Android phone for less than $250 like the Moto G6 or Honor 7x. That would be my recommendation, in fact, unless you must have an iPhone and you want to save planet Earth: the recycling factor is an important point.

If you really need an iPhone to replace one that is falling apart, why spend extra planetary resources when you can get a refurbished phone that is going to be fast and functional? It doesn’t make sense. In these two cases, and unless you have money to burn, a refurb iPhone seems like the way to go.

Jesus Diaz

Jesus Diaz founded the new Sploid for Gawker Media after seven years working at Gizmodo, where he helmed the lost-in-a-bar iPhone 4 story and wrote old angry man rants, among other things. He's a creative director, screenwriter, and producer at The Magic Sauce, and currently writes for Fast Company and Tom's Guide.