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Apple’s new phones are impressive. But I’ll stick with my iPhone 6S

The best way to be a responsible consumer of electronics is to just use what you have—and older Apple products work so well that it isn’t even a burden.

Apple’s new phones are impressive. But I’ll stick with my iPhone 6S
[Photo: Noah Silliman/Unsplash]

Apple doesn’t want you to believe that sometimes older is better.

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At today’s annual launch event, the company’s executives extolled all the specs and features of the next generation of iPhones, emphasizing how much faster and more powerful the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro are. But while the new phones are impressive, there wasn’t a single feature or upgrade that convinced me to give up my trusty iPhone 6S, which was announced four years (and one day) ago. For all the marketing hoopla on display at an event like this, the company’s products make it easy to decide to keep what you already have.

I’ve had my iPhone 6S for more than three years, upgrading only after my previously beloved iPhone 4 met its end when I accidentally doused it with water. Instead of ditching the 6S when the battery started to flag last year, I simply replaced the battery, and so the phone feels almost good as new.

[Photo: FASTILY/Wikimedia Commons]
I’m not alone in wanting to keep my old phone. Data from research firm Kantar Worldpanel indicates that Americans are waiting longer before upgrading, with the average time someone uses a phone increasing by about two months from 2014 to 2016. Other estimates place the average lifespan of a phone in the market at about four years.

Like many people who tend to hold onto their phones longer, I don’t need the bells and whistles of the latest device for my daily activities: texts, calls, checking my email and the weather, scrolling through social media, listening to music, and recording interviews during the workday. While the new A13 Bionic processor inside the new iPhones packs vastly more computational muscle—and AI smarts—than the A9 chip in my 6S, I still find that my phone is adequately fast. Apple’s new software, iOS 13, is compatible with iPhone 6Ss as well, so I’ll still be able to enjoy the next big software update even with the same hardware.

Some of Apple’s newer features, such as Face ID, introduced with the iPhone X in 2017, just aren’t exciting enough to prompt me to upgrade. And certain older features of my iPhone 6S even make it superior to the new phones. The biggest one? The headphone jack. The iPhone 6 series, which was first launched in 2015, is the last one Apple made with the standard 3.5 mm audio jack that lets you use standard wired headphones without an adapter. Wireless headphones, ranging from the low end to the high end, are mired with issues, though Apple’s AirPods have solved that problem for people who want to spend $159 on headphones (though people lose them so much that in New York City, the subway might make a PSA). Can you blame me for wanting to hold onto my headphone jack, especially when some who have given it up still long for it?

[Photo: Flickr user Kārlis Dambrāns]
Beyond the utility of the headphone jack, the most important practical reason to keep my old phone is cost. Apple’s newest models are pricey, starting at $699 for an iPhone 11, $999 for an iPhone 11 Pro, and $1099 for an iPhone 11 Pro Max. Even though the iPhone 11 starts at $50 less than last year’s iPhone XR, these are still hard numbers to swallow, especially given that I’ve already paid off the cost of my current phone. To keep my phone costs down, I have a strong incentive to keep using my 6S as long as it continues to work—especially since my phone is so old that it will only get me $100 from Apple’s Trade In program, where you can get a discount on a new phone when you trade in an older model.

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Fix it, don’t replace it

For me, holding onto my iPhone 6S isn’t just a practical decision: There are philosophical reasons too.

Keeping my 6S for as long as possible is part of my goal to be a responsible consumer of electronics. Smartphones should be built so that it’s easy to repair them, extending their lives and crucially keeping them out of landfills, where e-waste is accumulating at a rate of approximately 50 million tons per year.

When my 6S’s battery started to die, I wanted to think first of ways to fix it, rather than simply ditching the phone for something new. I took advantage of Apple’s $29 battery repair, which the company began offering after it admitted to intentionally slowing down older phones like mine. (Apple explained that it did so because the batteries in older iPhones can struggle to keep up with newer software, though the fact it didn’t disclose this all along played into skeptics’ belief that the company was rigging older products so they’d need replacing).

Apple has long faced criticism for sacrificing easy repairs for the sake of thin designs. In its drive to squeeze in components as tightly as possible, for instance, it will sometimes glue things instead of screwing them in. The company also has actively lobbied against Right to Repair laws, which aim to make it easier for third parties to repair electronics. There is some evidence that Apple is starting to change its ways: Recently, it started a new program to sell parts and tools to independent repair shops.

The overall repairability of Apple’s phones isn’t terrible: iFixit rates the 6S with a seven out of 10 repairability rating, though later models get worse scores. Google’s Pixel 4 (with a four out of 10 rating from iFixit) and Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note (with a three out of 10 rating from iFixit) fare worse. There’s always more to be done, though: In contrast, the European startup Fairphone designs phones that are completely modular, so it’s easy to swap out new parts and extend the life of your phone, with a 10 out of 10 repairability rating from iFixit.

Paranoia about planned obsolescence aside, Apple knows that most consumers like to hold onto their devices, and that doing so is more eco-friendly than reflexively upgrading. A year ago, at the company’s previous iPhone event, its head of sustainability, Lisa Jackson, even made that point onstage. “Because they last longer, you can keep using them,” she said of Apple’s products. “And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”

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There is only one thing that could make me waver on my commitment to holding onto my 6S for as long as possible: the cameras. For years, I’ve watched as friends and family upgraded to newer models with better cameras, and admittedly I’ve been jealous of their images. So far, I haven’t cared deeply enough about photo quality to ditch my 6S for a phone with a better camera, but Apple did make a compelling case today. Apple’s new iPhone 11 Pro has three 12-megapixel cameras on its back, including a telephoto lens, a wide-angle lens, and a new super-wide-angle lens, which will enable wider shots and increase image quality in dim lighting (the new iPhone 11 only has the wide-angle and the super-wide-angle). The three cameras work together: to get a single shot, the phone will take nine different images, and then Apple’s algorithms optimize each pixel to make the photo look as good as it possibly can.

As much as I relish the chance to take better photos, I will postpone it until my iPhone 6S just stops working. It remains a great phone. And if you need further evidence that it’s not a dinosaur, consider this: Despite the fact that Apple long ago stopped talking about the 6S, you can still buy a brand new one at more than 3,400 Walmart stores across the country.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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