iPhone 13 comes available in five colors, including pink. Photo: Apple/Courtesy

iPhone 13 is here, and we're finally buying cell phones like we buy a refrigerator

There have never been so many incentives and reasons to hold the same cell phone for as long as possible

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The annual iPhone launch ritual follows some predictable movements: the wake of rumors for months on end; Apple‘s invitation sent to the press in early September; the new model presentation event in mid-September; the North American reviews that come out a week later; and the beginning of sales at the end of the month. It’s boring, and that’s great news for us consumers.

The iPhone 13, unveiled on the 14th, is almost indistinguishable from the iPhone 12, released a year earlier. Not that it hasn’t brought changes and improvements. The battery is bigger, and the cameras, says Apple, are all new. It’s just that they matter less now, a natural outcome of the category’s maturity, I think. After all, it’s not like the iPhone 12’s cameras are bad; far from it.

BRL 6,599 to BRL 15,499

It is the price range of the iPhone 13 in Brazil, somewhere between $1,250 and $2,936

I’ve been doling my curiosity about the new iPhone with my expectations around the analysis by Brian X. Chen of The New York Times. From the avalanche of stories and videos that put the tangential improvements touted by Apple under a magnifying glass, Brian’s opinions often stand out. For him, the new iPhone is amazing, but not much more than the previous one. And what came before that, and before that… He only advises switching if your iPhone is from three generations ago. In 2021, he was resolute: “Apple iPhone 13 Review: The Most Incremental Upgrade Ever”.

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Maybe this is the new normal. There have never been so many incentives and reasons to hold the same cell phone for as long as possible.

On Monday (20), for example, iOS 15 reached all iPhones launched in the last six years, up to the distant iPhone 6S of 2015. It is the same system that runs on the brand new iPhone 13, minus some tangential resources that demand developed technologies in that interval.

In the Android universe, little by little, the 3+4 standard, that is, three big Android updates and four years of security updates starts to be established. Samsung and Xiaomi, brands that lead the global sales ranking, already offer several devices with this predictability level.

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It’s not by chance. On the one hand, the aforementioned maturity of the devices allows them to withstand new software developments longer. The evolution of chips is hitting physical limits or too expensive costs to cross. On the other hand, pressures from consumers and governments for more sustainable attitudes from the industry need to be addressed. Extending the life of devices is the best we could hope for — it’s good for our pockets and great for the environment. In the midst of all this, crises like the one with chips slow down the pace of the market even further.

In an almost paradoxical attitude, the technological plateau and the commitment to long-term software updates have led manufacturers to diversify strategies to keep sales graphs pointing upwards, less focused on the products themselves.

From China, for example, came the strategy of flooding the market with several launches in the same fiscal year, something very characteristic of brands like Xiaomi, Motorola (a Lenovo brand), and the South Korean Samsung. Another strategy adopted by Apple and Samsung (in their top-of-the-line models) is to sell themselves as “lifestyle” brands, with advertising campaigns in which models and famous people share space with their latest and most expensive releases. It’s as if they say: “If your phone doesn’t fold in half or has the cameras diagonally instead of vertically aligned, sorry, you’re out.”

It’s nothing much different from other consolidated industries, such as the automotive industry. The last thing that car ads mention are features of the cars they are trying to sell. Instead, they sell freedom, power, and fiction like driving in a traffic-free São Paulo.

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This strategy of the cell phone industry comes at a very curious time. On one hand, the Internet of Things is trying to turn everything – even cars – into gadgets, with constant, incremental updates released in ever shorter periods of time, annually. At the same time, the maturity of cell phones has taken much of the complexity out of the shopping experience that was common until a few years ago. Today, someone can go to a store, get the model that fits their budget, and only think about another device when it breaks. The string of incremental new versions of the iPhone (and other brands and models) “means you can enjoy the one you have for years to come without missing out on anything major,” sums up NYT‘s Brian.

In other words, and despite the industry’s efforts to squeeze resources that seem more critical in commercials than they actually are in practice, today we’re buying cell phones like we buy a refrigerator. Have you ever been stressed out comparing refrigerator specs? Yeah, neither do I.