Study: We're holding on to our cell phones longer

A new study reveals that we're not purchasing new phones as often as we have in the past. Here are just a few reasons why.

If you're sick of buying a brand new cell phone every other year, you're certainly not alone. Consumers are holding on to their phones for longer than ever these days, according to the latest survey from J.D. Power and Associates.

We're now keeping our cell phones for an average of 20.5 months, which is 17 per cent longer than we were holding onto our phones last year, J.D. Power's 2010 U.S. Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study finds. In fact, 20.5 months is the longest we've held onto our phones since J.D. Power began the study, which was back in 1999.

The survey cites economics as the primary reason we're holding on to older phones -- and I don't doubt that saving money plays a big part in the decision to hold off purchasing a new phone. But J.D. Power found that the price of new phones is actually coming down. According to the study, "the average price of a traditional wireless mobile phone has declined to $76 in 2010 from an average of $81 at the beginning of 2009. The decline is primarily due to discounts given by handset providers and wireless service carriers to incentivize sales. Currently, 42 per cent of customers report having received a free mobile phone when subscribing to a wireless service."

So I don't think money is the only thing holding many of us back from buying a new phone. Here are a few reasons why I think people are holding on to those old handsets longer than ever.

Today's Phones Are Cooler Than Ever

We've seen plenty of cool new phones debut in recent years -- and especially in recent months. This summer alone, Samsung's Galaxy S line of Android phones hit all of the big nationwide carriers in the U.S., Apple launched the iPhone 4, Sprint and HTC launched the first 4G phone, the EVO 4G, and Motorola launched not one, but two Droid phones, the Droid X and the Droid 2.

Are these phones that much better than the crop of phones -- such as the iPhone 3GS and the Motorola Droid -- that launched last year? In some ways, sure. The new phones are the latest and greatest models. But last year's phones are still pretty darn cool, and pretty darn capable. If you own last year's Motorola Droid, you don't need to upgrade to a newer model. And if you own last year's iPhone 3GS, well, you may be pretty happy you didn't upgrade to the new iPhone 4, given all of its problems.

All of these new phones may be causing shoppers to pause before making a purchase, too. After all, Sprint launched the 4G-capable HTC EVO 4G in June, only to follow it up with the superior (in my opinion) 4G-capable Samsung Epic 4G just two months later. What if I'd purchased the EVO 4G, only to find out weeks later that I should have held out for the Epic 4G? The same goes for Verizon Wireless and Motorola, which launched the Droid X and the Droid 2 in quick succession. Maybe phone shoppers are afraid of committing to a new handset for fear that an even better handset is right around the corner.

Painful Carrier Contracts

Speaking of commitment, another thing that's likely holding customers back is those painful carrier contracts. A shiny new Droid X may seem less appealing when you learn that, in order to get the subsidized price on the handset, you need to commit to two more years of service with the carrier. Even if you're happy with your carrier, you may not like the idea of being tied down to them for another 24 months -- especially when you consider the stiff fees you're likely to incur if you try to back out of the contract. You know, when you try to back out of the contract because another carrier has just launched a brand-new phone that's so much cooler than the one we own now.

We're All Waiting for the iPhone to Come to Verizon

Or maybe we're all willing to commit - to the right phone and the right carrier. Maybe we're all just waiting for the long-rumored Verizon iPhone to become reality. (Though, based on today's comments from Verizon's CEO, we're going to be waiting a while longer.)

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Liane Cassavoy

PC World (US online)
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