Recently, there has been a great deal of drama surrounding Apple’s stock prices, the most recent being the swing caused by a decline in iPhone sales in Greater China. While much of what Apple has done up to this point has been negative for investors, it has been positive for consumers.
Apple has always had a strong commitment to quality as one of its greatest advantages. There are a few instances where something goes awry, but overall, the quality is unparalleled. Having a product that people love and can rely on drives sales, which is advantageous for investors.
Additionally, it gives these devices long lifespans. Apple could make great products with cheaper materials, but they would be less durable, recyclable, and environmentally friendly. This is in direct opposition to what investors ultimately desire at the moment, which is a rapid iPhone upgrade cycle.
When a device lasts longer than the approximately three years that the majority of consumers use a device today, and instead lasts five or more years through aftermarket sales, consumers benefit. They receive a durable device that continues to provide value over an extended period. The secondary purchaser receives a device that is less expensive than Apple’s prices for a new iPhone, and the original owner receives a substantial sum of money for the old iPhone.
On the secondary market, a four-year-old iPhone 6 Plus routinely sells for around $250, a great subsidy towards a new phone.
The battery, which has always been a consumable, must often be replaced as a phone age. Apple offered affordable and high-quality battery replacements for $29 until the end of 2018, which was a significant benefit for consumers at the expense of investors. The program has ended, but the steep price reduction helped spread awareness that Apple was exchanging batteries.
So, while the price of battery replacement may have increased at the start of the new year, more people are aware that Apple can perform the service and will likely take advantage of it when the time comes to extend the life of a device.
In addition to the physical quality of a phone, Apple has made substantial investments in its software platform. Apple released iOS 12 in 2018, with an emphasis on usability and stability. We counted over 150 new features, but none of them were the massive overhauls many had anticipated. This enables the newest software, minus a few features, to run on older devices. This extends the lifespan of these devices beyond the hardware alone.
The smartphone market has reached near saturation in recent years. There are no new geographic markets where Apple does not have a presence, either through authorized dealers or Apple Retail. To combat this, Cook and the company have been emphasizing services where the number of new phones is less important than the install base for over two years.
Analysts are on the verge of understanding this, with some analysts ahead of the pack. Neither have investors nor Wall Street as a whole.
Given this not-new premise, Apple benefits more the more devices there are in the hands of people willing to spend money on services and apps. Processors and cameras that are a few years old are still quite capable, so incremental improvements are not as desirable as they once were.
A user who purchases an iPhone 6 Plus for $250 was never likely to purchase one of the newest iPhones. However, because the devices last so long, they can use this four-year-old device to access the Apple ecosystem and pay for apps and other Apple services.
To rely on the used and refurbished market in this manner, however, the devices must be durable. And the public must understand that they will.
There is a significant difference between designing products that are intended to be disposable and creating products that outlive the average lifespan of a consumer electronics device by several years. Apple has chosen the latter option throughout both the second coming of Steve Jobs and Tim Cook’s reign, and it continues to be beneficial for consumers.
Short-term, this strategy is not optimal for unit sales-focused investors. On the other hand, it will pay off in the long run.