Are old iPhones worth anything? Dependent on software, C-band frequency

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Some smartphones seem immune to the wave of inflation sweeping the economy, and Apple is now cutting the trade-in deals it offers to people who buy a new device.

Last week, as noted by MacRumors, Apple’s published trade-in estimates fell by $70 to $5 depending on the age and features of the iPhone in question.

The iPhone 11 received the largest relative discount, a 23% drop in trade-in value from $300 to $230.

That shouldn’t have been a shocking plot twist considering Apple has a history of shutting down trade-in values.

“All of these devices are older than a year ago, so from that perspective it makes sense,” Jeffrey Moore, director at Wave7 Research, emailed USA TODAY.

But it should be a reminder that smartphones don’t age evenly, even considering Apple’s history of supporting older iPhone models with new system software updates for years after they’ve stopped selling.

For example, the current iOS 15 works on phones back to the iPhone 6s from 2015.

So is your old iPhone worth anything?

The upcoming iOS 16 will require a 2017-era iPhone 8 or later via its preview version, according to Apple’s page.

Potential buyers of old phones, as well as those looking to trade them in, should be aware of the likely impending depreciation.

“I don’t typically advise people to buy phones that are more than two or three generations old,” said analyst Mark Vena, founder of SmartTech Research. Devices that are older may become software stranded in a few years.

“It could work quite well as a mobile phone, but it might not be upgradeable to the latest operating system,” Vena said.

An executive at a company that refurbishes and resells devices said customer demand closely aligns with Apple’s support lifecycles.

Lauren Benton, US general manager of Back Market, said in an email that iPhone 7 sales this year declined in a similar way to iPhone 6 sales last year.

How to Make Your Old iPhone Run Faster?

Just a tip for rejuvenating your phone: Noting that smartphone batteries typically wear out first, Benton said that replacing a battery on an iPhone can also bring performance benefits.

“iPhones specifically manage their power consumption and performance based on the health of the battery. So when a phone is running slow, sometimes replacing the battery will speed it up,” Benton said

The update situation is even worse for Android phones, which rarely receive system updates after two years. As Moore wrote, “Used iPhones hold their value better than Android phones do.”

Is your network holding back your smartphone?

The evolution of wireless networks offers another chapter breaking in the aging of smartphones.

Only the iPhone 12 and newer models launched in 2020 support both 5G and the faster “mid-band” versions of it available from AT&T and Verizon. These two use a range of frequencies called “C-Band,” as does T-Mobile.

Devices that aren’t capable of this faster connectivity might feel relatively slow now, but will certainly feel slower in two years’ time. That doesn’t make them suitable for recycling into their metal components, but it does require a sense of realism about who might be using an older phone and for what purposes.

Vena’s advice is to pass on the phone you have now when you’re ready to trade in.

“A phone that’s two or three years old would make a great gift for a child or a relative,” Vena said.

Rob Pegoraro is a technical writer based in Washington, DC To submit a technical question, email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/robpegoraro.

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