Smartphone growth might eventually level off, but 2013 won’t be the year it happens. At least one report forecasts over 800 million units shipped in 2013, after over 600 million shipments in 2012. Manufacturers will realize this growth from two places: new consumers upgrading for the first time, and existing users looking for the newest and greatest devices. Given the typical lifespan of a smartphone, less than two years, the latter could drive industry growth for years to come.
There is a good chance that you will purchase a new smartphone at some point this year, wether it’s your first or your fifth. Given the plethora of choices currently on the market, combined with the shiny new devices we’ll get from Apple and Samsung, among others, later this year, the choice might seem daunting. Like any decision, the key to picking a smartphone is to break it down into manageable parts.
If you’re shopping around for a smartphone, consider these five factors before making any decision. Accounting for them will make your choice significantly easier.
1. Choose a carrier
In the U.S., you typically purchase a smartphone through a carrier. That carrier offers a steep discount for the phone, in exchange for you sining a two-year agreement. The penalties are pretty steep for canceling your contract, and even if you do you can’t unlock your phone and take it to a different carrier, without the original carrier’s permission. Since carriers control the process, consumers have to pick a carrier before picking a phone.
Each carrier will offer different phones, and even different prices on the same phone. For instance the Galaxy Note 2 on T-Mobile costs $370, whereas it costs $400 at other carriers. Some carriers might run a promotion and offer it for $300 or less. But that won’t matter if you chose a different carrier. The overall point: choose the carrier that best fits your needs, and then choose from their smartphone selection. The last thing you want is a high-end phone on a sub-par network.
2. Set a deadline
It seems every few months we get a new, top of the line phone. It won’t be long before Samsung releases the Galaxy S IV. HTC has a new high-end phone in the pipeline. It appears that Motorola is going for a state of the art Android handset, and with Google’s backing it could be a big winner. And then there’s the next iPhone. With so many options, how will you know when the time is right?
When choosing a new phone, set a deadline and make a decision then, based on what you know. If you keep waiting for the next big thing, you’ll end up waiting forever. Once you hit your deadline check the tech blogs and see prevailing rumors. If there’s something set for release in the near future, waiting is fine. But if there’s nothing rumored, pick the best of what’s available. It will likely last you until your next upgrade.
3. Look at software over specs
One reason iPhone models last a long time: Apple always provides software updates. You can buy an iPhone 4 and still get it with iOS 6, the latest version of the software. That makes a bigger difference than the processor speed or screen resolution. Similarly, the latest version of Android will provide you with more usable features, while greater specs will just makes those features run a bit more efficiently.
Many popular Android models have become obsolete in the recent past, because they haven’t received the latest software upgrades. There are year-old handsets that are still stuck on 2.3 Gingerbread, which looks ancient compared to 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and 4.1 Jellybean. The flagship models are the ones that will get assured upgrades. Going with them, despite potentially higher spec models on the market, is a better long-term strategy.
4. Consider your friends
When you were younger your mom might have said, “If your friends all jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do it too?” Copying you friends just to fit in is a bad idea. But picking a smartphone because your friends have the same one is actually a quality strategy. Smartphones are, in large part, about sharing. The more friends you have on the same platform, the more you can share.
Yes, there are many apps that work cross-platform. But if you have a dozen friends with an iPhone and you go with Android, you won’t be able to share apps, recommendations, and other networked items. So while you might not follow your friends into the East River, you might want to follow their smartphone choices. It will make the experience better for everyone.
5. Think in terms of 18 months
Buying a smartphone is not like buying a computer. When you buy a computer you are in it for the long haul. Chances are you will not buy another one for a number of years. But when you’re buying a smartphone, essentially a mini computer, you’re looking at a much shorter timespan. It could be as short as 18 months.
When you’re looking for a new phone, plan on upgrading in that 18 to 20 month span. Thinking along these lines will make your decision much easier. Sure, you a great phone might come out a month or two after you buy yours. But at least you know you’ll be eligible to upgrade again soon enough.