Branding Impacts Device Lifecycle More Than Components: Study

In short: The branding stamped on a smartphone can directly impact the overall lifespan of the device more than internal hardware or repairability, according to a recent study led by Yale University doctoral student Tamar Makov. Focusing on the two top brands in mobile, Apple and Samsung, the research began as an examination of environmental sustainability issues stemming from the fact that consumers replace their devices well before they stop functioning properly. More directly, researchers looked to the burgeoning used-handset market to try and gain insight into which devices are bought second-hand and how long different devices remain in use after being sold by the original owner. In total, the study involved an analysis of approximately 500,000 eBay listings for top devices from those manufacturers. The researchers conclude that branding alone can contribute to retention of value and the number of sales, in addition to the length of time a handset remains in use after being bought second-hand. Samsung devices, for example, have an “economic” lifecycle of just over 4.5 years while Apple’s stronger brand seems to correlate with an even longer lifecycle of around 5.5 years.

Background: For the most part, smartphone manufacturers have effectively been complicit with regard to concerns about the rate at which users upgrade to new devices. The current release cycle for nearly every flagship Android device falls right around a rate of one new device per year. For those users who want the latest and greatest mobile device, the upgrade cycle itself and the amount of hype typically stirred up around announcements provides ample reason to abandon an older model for a new one. Simultaneously, the upgrade cycle for mobile service providers generally falls somewhere between one-and-a-half years to two years depending on the carrier’s lease or financing agreement. Some providers, like T-Mobile, also offer options to upgrade at any time. In most cases, the new devices do bring substantial improvements to the table but those don’t tend to make much difference to the average user.

Compounding that issue, meanwhile, is the fact that firmware updates and security patches are not consistently pushed out over more than the first year by OEMs. However, that’s also one area where at least a few manufacturers are looking to change things. For starters, Google’s own hardware – most recently with the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL – is shipped with a promise that software updates will continue to be pushed to each device for a minimum of three years from its announcement. OnePlus has made similar promises but with a minimum of two years promised.

Impact: Setting aside the underlying issues associated with the longevity of smartphones, it appears as though the brand of a handset is at least as important to buyers as internal specifications. That’s not unexpected given the number of manufacturers that have been brought low by a lack of brand awareness or relevance compared to top OEMs such as Samsung.

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