Gizmodo reports from an article in the Journal of Marketing Research that

People Trash Their Phones When an Upgrade is Close

The report describes the study further, noting that thee effect is probably not conscious:

They noticed what they called an “upgrade effect”, defined in the study as a phenomenon in which “careless tendencies are intended to promote the acquisition of upgrade products by helping consumers justify the new purchase.” It’s not just a lapse in judgment; people are unconsciously, but to a certain degree, deliberately, losing and breaking their phones.

“When we ask people if this is something you would normally do, the vast majority say no,” Ackerman says over the phone of casually leaving phones behind or dropping them. “Which suggests that people just don’t realise that this behaviour is going on.”

Given that phones can be expensive and damaging one can be frustrating, does this report have any scientific credibility (and how can we differentiate between conscious and unconscious effects)?


1 Answer 1


Tech Digest Seems to disagree.

The research also revealed that 41% of those with a broken mobile admit they have not bothered fixing it because they are still able to make and receive phone calls, while over a quarter (27%) said they are worried about how much they will have to fork out to fix their mobile. Another 31% are waiting out their contract (even though the average person with a broken phone has six months left on their contract), and 28% of Brits think repairing their smartphone is a slow process which takes 7-10 days

A 2013 PC Advisor Article indicates that people are more likely to break their smartphones within 10 weeks of purchase. *Note that the study referenced by this article is not accessible.

All respondents were asked: “How long had you owned your iPhone before it incurred damage?”

The average answer came out at 10.4 weeks. The picture is much worse for newer models of the Apple smartphone, such as the iPhone 5.

It appears that it’s easier to break a new iPhone than one of the older models. Respondents who had broken an iPhone 3/3GS reported owning their phones significantly longer than those who had damaged their iPhone 4/4S/5 – with an average of 14.9 weeks and 5.9 weeks respectively.

Intuitively, I would argue that people are less likely to break their phones when the contract is up. In order to keep the phone for the required 1-2 years, one would have to develop some good practices concerning phone care. Those users that held out that long are probably just a little more careful. But that's all opinion.

  • That second link has a broken link to the survey, and the headline is completely broken. The poll did not conclude that the average iPhone user breaks their phone within 10.4 weeks of purchase as implied by the headline. The poll apparently concluded that of the iPhone users who have reported having broken, dented, or scratched their iPhones, they did so within 10.4 weeks of purchase. This is perhaps dubious because a cellphone with a short hairline scratch does not compare with one with a completely cracked screen or one that has been dropped in the toilet. Dec 21, 2016 at 15:26
  • @DavidHammen There is probably a wide spectrum of what one could consider damage to a phone. However, I interpreted the question to be about the user carelessness that leads to damage. From that frame of reference, a drop which rendered a phone unusable is equivalent to a drop that only scuffed the corners.
    – TsSkTo
    Dec 21, 2016 at 15:51
  • There are some obvious problems with the sources here. First, iPhone owners are only a subset of all cell phone owners, and at least in the popular stereotype, more concerned with upgrading to the latest fashionable model than others. Second, per this cnet.com/news/… only 20% of phones (in the US) are linked to contracts. About a third are purchased outright.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 21, 2016 at 18:32
  • @jamesqf We probably associate "Upgrades" with carrier plans, however, installment plans can also be considered to operate under the same method. Imagine that when your phone is completely paid off or you are nearing your last installment, you are "due" for an upgrade. Or rather, you can afford to start another installment plan.
    – TsSkTo
    Dec 21, 2016 at 19:24
  • @TsSkTo: I have a hard time imagining that, since I bought my first cell phone years ago, for cash (and I can't imagine NOT paying cash for one), and only bought my second this year, because the carrier is phasing out its 2g network. (BTW, neither one cost more than about $30.) My point is that to look at a subset of phone owners - iPhone owners, people on contracts, whatever - is not an accurate way to determine the behavior of all users.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 22, 2016 at 4:14

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