Deep in the dark, dusty reaches of your junk drawer lies a lifeless smartphone. Other than being a paper weight since you upgraded to that hot phone released last month, it slowly wastes away until its battery drains and it loses all consciousness—Slipping into smartphone “death.” Like people, your smartphone has a life cycle. It’s “born.” It “lives.” It “dies.” According to a 2011 study done by Recon Analytics, the average lifespan for a handset in the United States is about 21.7 months. Knowing that, how many old phones do you have tucked away?
If you bought a smartphone within the last year, you probably already have noticed that your one time must-have super device is feeling a bit dated—And you’re not alone. About seven years ago Motorola debuted its legendary RAZR phone, which remained the hottest selling mobile device on the market for five straight years until the introduction of Apple’s first iPhone. Now, how archaic does the RAZR seem? And how hard is it today to imagine one particular phone model remaining the best seller for five consecutive years? That would be like a smartphone released now still being on top in 2017. Preposterous!
So, how do we find ourselves in the midst of such a frantic pace? Introducing “Android’s Law.” Android’s Law describes rapidly changing smartphone technology. An article on CNNMoney.com depicted the phenomenon as so:
“You picked up the Motorola (MMI) Droid when it went on sale in November 2009, you had the best Android device on the market. But then the twice-as-fast Nexus One went on sale in January 2010. Then the HTC Droid Incredible hit the market in April. Then in June, the Evo 4G put the Droid Incredible to shame. The Samsung Galaxy S came out later that month. Then the Nexus S … You get the point.”
Over the last half-decade, developers have been working faster than ever to deliver products that will satisfy a growing list of consumer demands—And technology is speeding forward at such a fast pace that consumers are having trouble keeping up. Now think about this head-spinning thought: the Ministry of Environment found that on average between 60 and 70 new smartphones are introduced every year. Sixty-to-seventy! Unsurprisingly, each one promises to be faster, snazzier and packed with more features, while claiming the smartphones released before them are now obsolete.
Not long ago, smart device manufacturer HTC estimated the average shelf life of a smartphone to be three years. Now, they figure it’s only six to nine months. I’ve had a jar of jelly in my refrigerator for longer than that. If you don’t know, a “shelf life” is the amount of time items are given before they are considered unsuitable for sale, use, or consumption. For a smartphone, this happens when the device has passed its peak of profitability.
Most experts seem to agree that this absurd cycle will calm down in the near future, meaning the lifespan of a smartphone will stop shortening either because customers are unable to absorb all the new products as quickly as before and/or the market will reach its saturation level, telling manufacturers that cranking them out at the current breakneck pace is no longer as profitable for them.
However, it’s safe to assume we have a good bit of time before reaching the “Great Slowdown.” According to a March 2012 study by Nielsen, a global measurement and information company, a majority (50.4%) of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones, up from 47.8 percent in December 2011. So until we reach saturation, more and more devices will continue to be put away in drawers across the nation.
The good news is that a growing list of options are becoming available to give your device a new lease on life, such as recycling! The Environmental Protection Agency created Plug-In To eCycling, a partnership program between the EPA and leading consumer electronics manufacturers, retailers, and mobile service providers that gives individuals opportunities to donate or recycle their electronics. The mission of the program is to help conserve natural resources, protect the environment from common electronic byproducts such as lead and mercury, and assist consumers in need of inexpensive, second-hand devices.
Many big name brands, including AT&T, Best Buy, LG Electronics, Motorola, Nokia, Office Depot, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Sprint, Staples, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, particpate in the EPA’s program. This enables consumers to recycle their old cell phones, batteries, chargers and other accessories. Some of the mobile carriers, like Sprint, often given store credit to their customers who use their buyback program.
There are also third party options such as e-Cycle, which buys back old handsets and recycle the materials to keep hazardous waste out of landfills, and myPhoneMD, which refurbishes the devices to provide inexpensive options for all consumers.
Not sure if recycling is worth it? According to the EPA, recycling one million cell phones saves enough energy to power more than 185 U.S. households with electricity for one year. So dust off your old paperweight and bring it back from the dead. It’s got some life left in it yet!