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Fast and furious: Smartphone prices fall rapidly over time

The value of smartphone drops dramatically after each sale, but some models fall more sharply than others. Where does your device sit?

Image: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AFP/Getty Images
Image: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AFP/Getty Images

Most items that are purchased decrease in ‘value’. There are exceptions with collectable items, from antiques to NFTs, but the majority of tangible assets lose ‘value’ (this is not value from the point of true value, as with labour value and materials, but in terms of what another person is willing to pay should the item be put up for sale).

The relative cost that can be charged for a used item applies to smartphones. However, different smartphones have different rates of depreciation. These are not static, which makes an annual review useful. This benchmarking has been performed by the cell phone trade-in site BankMyCell, who are in the business of predicting the likely sale price of a used mobile device.

Driving this process is commodification and the dynamic for smartphone manufacturers to regularly produce new devices in order to persuade more wealthy people to trade in their devices for new ones, and for the traded in devices to be sold to people on lower incomes. The cycle of capital is particularly short for cellular devices as manufacturers invite new forms of personalisation and ubiquitous connectivity to persuade consumers to ‘upgrade’ to a new device. Typically, the production cost is half of the initial retail price.

There are signs, however, of some consumers standing still and not upgrading, making stands against conspicuous consumption or in response to the environmental damage created through the process of purchase and discard. There is, nonetheless, a thriving market in used smartphones.

Through 2021-2022, BankMyCell tracked 500 smartphone resale values from multiple vendors. Data was collected hourly, enabling real-time metrics to be gathered. This analysis provides an insight into which phones have the highest sale price. The data can be categorised by the operating system, brand, and device.

No discussion about smartphones can be entered into without the Apple or Android pertaining system debate becoming pivotal. It would seem that the historic primacy of Apple remains unshaken. In 0-36 months, flagship Android devices drop in price twice as fast as iPhones.

With the period of time selected, running up to 36 months provides a sufficient window within which consumer trends can be discerned given that consumers upgrade devices every 24.7 months, in terms of the mean.

With specific models, Samsung’s Galaxy S21/S20 range’s resale value dropped double the rate of the comparable iPhone 12/11 range. However, not all types of iPhone are buoyant. For example, the iPhone SE 5G (2022) lost 38.32 percent from its retail price in the first eight months of 2020, and then fell a further 48.74 percent in 2021, creating a typical loss of 81 percent.

With the current fad of foldable phones, a range that includes the Galaxy Z Fold3, these devices lost up to half their value just five months from launch. However, in terms of the speediest falls in price, Google Pixel and OnePlus trade-in values tend to drop by almost half of their retail price in 30 days. In addition, budget Android devices lose an average of -41.82 percent in one year. By the time 4 years have elapsed, the devices are effectively worthless.

The data has been normalised to avoid outlier fluctuations caused by limited-time brand and network trade-in/upgrade campaigns. These have been removed from the data sets in order to show more accurate declines.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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