Apple and the other major smartphone makers release shiny new versions of their devices every year. But, despite what marketing might tell you, you certainly don’t need to upgrade each cycle.
On Wednesday, executives at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino unveiled three new phones: an iPhone XS—a speedier version of the X released last year, with the same screen size; the XS Max, a bigger version of the same; and a somewhat more budget-friendly phone called the XR. That last model, not on sale until October, still has Face ID like its more expensive cousins, but sports an aluminum body and LCD screen, instead of stainless steel and an OLED display, like on the XS models.
But beyond just having a shiny new phone, there are compelling, practical reasons to consider upgrading to a new iPhone—if you’re not already loyal to Android options, like the Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy. There are also some compelling reasons to wait. First, these are the reasons to go for it.
You’re sick of Touch ID
Apple has included a fingerprint sensor in its phones since the iPhone 5s, and it works most of the time—although some people discover that if their finger is damp from sweat or working in the kitchen, it fails and the phone requires a passcode. Ditto, if you’re wearing gloves in the winter. The next version of biometric security on these phones is the Face ID, and it’s been around since last year with the iPhone X. Apple says it is more secure than Touch ID by a wide margin—a one-in-a-million false-unlock rate compared to 1 in 50,000—and it’ll work in most circumstances, even if your fingers are damp, and as long as your face isn’t covered. If you’re using an iPhone 7 or 8, upgrading now gives you that option.
You want wireless charging
Sure, Android phones have had wireless charging for a while, and Apple’s iPhone X and 8 series first gained that feature last year. But if you’re using any iPhone before the 2017 offerings, you have to plug it in to charge it (which is faster, by the way, than charging wirelessly). If you’d like to be able to place your phone on a charging mat from the likes of Belkin or Mophie, then the iPhone 8 or any of the handsets Apple just announced will do the trick. (Meanwhile, Apple’s own wireless charging pad, AirPower, is noticeably still not on sale.)
You have small hands, but want a bigger, nicer screen
The now-discontinued iPhone SE had a great form factor—just 4.87 inches tall—for those who don’t want to hold a tablet-sized device in their diminutive hands. But with the iPhone X last year, Apple aficionados had a smallish device (just 5.85 inches tall) but with a screen 5.8 inches on the diagonal; that’s bigger than the screen on the larger iPhone 8 Plus. All of which means that if you’re using an iPhone that’s not the X from last year, you could consider the iPhone Xs announced yesterday, which has a faster processor than the previous generation. It is 5.65 inches in size and the OLED screen (known for a higher contrast ratio and more accurate vibrant colors thanks to HDR) measures 5.8 inches on the diagonal, like the X before it.
You want more storage on your device
If whatever device you’re using is filled to the brim with photos, apps, and downloaded movies taking up precious space, you might be interested in getting a new device with oodles of free space. Two of the three iPhones announced yesterday, the XS and the XS Max, come with a 512 GB of storage option. That’s a lot. Of course, the XS Max with that storage choice costs $1,449, and you can always manage your storage on your existing device by deleting unused apps and selecting “Optimize iPhone Storage” in the Photos section of the Settings on your phone; that means your device will keep smaller images onboard and the full-sized ones in the cloud.
You want a faster phone
The iPhone 8 and X announced last year had a faster chip than the year before it—what Apple calls the A11 Bionic, versus the A10 Fusion. This year, the newest phones, predictably, have a faster processor once again. They’ve branded it the A12 Bionic. If you’re currently using an iPhone 7 or earlier, then upgrading now will get you a chip that’s two generations ahead of what you have. (Of course, it’s likely the 2019 phones will be faster still.) And for the most part, you’ll only notice these speed increases if you’re doing tasks that require a great deal of processing, like using AR.
You want a (slightly) longer-lasting battery
If you’re already using a 2017 Apple phone, the latest versions are advertised as having a longer battery life—the iPhone XS has a lithium-ion battery that’s supposed to last “up to 30 minutes longer than iPhone X” and the larger, newer one, the XS Max is intended to carry on for “up to” 1.5 hours more than the X. The new XR promises an extra 90 minutes tacked onto the already-formidable battery life from the 8 Plus.
Reasons you shouldn’t upgrade
Of course, if your phone is generally working fine, there’s no reason to shell out money now. It’s easy to find incentive to wait.
The newest operating system will likely work on your phone
Just as it unveils new devices each year, Apple also annually releases a new, free operating system update. The latest, called iOS 12, drops on September 17. Apple is touting this version of the operating system as “faster” and “more responsive,” meaning that the focus this year is not on adding a slew of bells and whistles, but instead, making it perform better. For more information on what’s coming, visit this page, but the good news is that it will work on devices as old as the iPhone 5s and SE, which go all the way back to 2013. If you’re on the fence about upgrading, just wait four days, install the newest OS, and see how you feel.
Next year will be better
Apple generally follows a tick-tock pattern to its iPhone releases: refreshing the form in a more dramatic way one year, then making it speedier and more refined the next. This year was the latter. It was an “S” year, meaning they tacked an “S” after the names to signify that’s it’s an upgraded version of its predecessor, but still similar to last year’s model. (Apple doesn’t always follow this scheme: there was no iPhone 7s—instead we got the iPhone 8 models and the X last year.)
Regardless, you can almost certainly count on newer devices next year, and if they stay with the tick-tock pattern in general, then you can expect gadgets with a new form (and probably a faster processor once again) next year. Will it be called the iPhone 11? Who knows. A smart strategy is to alternate years you upgrade, and make a phone work for at least two trips around the sun.
Phones are built to last
Smartphones like the iPhone are built from materials like stainless steel and aluminum. The newest devices, for example, include a glass that is “the most durable glass ever in a smartphone,” Apple says. If your phone is not horribly cracked and it’s running just fine, think of it like a reliable car. Just keep driving it until you really, truly need another.
Finally, consider what choice works best financially for you, too. Apple has its own upgrade program designed for people who feel they must have the latest device annually. For example, the company charges $49.91 monthly for the iPhone XS, but after you’ve carried it around for a year, you’ll be able to get the next gadget if you’ve been making your payments. You can also trade in a phone directly to the company for some money off the sticker price of another one. Additionally, individual carriers offer their own payment schemes: For instance, AT&T hawks options called Next and Next Every Year; the first option divides the cost of the phone into 30 payments. After you’ve paid off 80%, you can upgrade, or keep paying to keep it.
But if you already own your phone free and clear, and upgrading represents an additional hit to your wallet, you may be best served to wait until next year if you’re happy with what you have.