The world we live in today is becoming increasingly dependent on subscription services. Most of the digital media and product we consume is a subscription service of some type- from Microsoft Office to Adobe Creative Suite to Netflix. But these services are software based, and can be regulated and controlled via the internet. Can the same concept of regular service and constant upgrade be implemented in the case of a hardware?

A few days ago, Samsung quietly launched their smartphone subscription service- ‘Samsung Access.’ The users will have to pay monthly to upgrade their Galaxy flagships every 9 months, or spend an extra 100$ if they want an earlier upgrade or a cancellation. The subscription comes with its own perks- a terabyte of free cloud storage, extended warranty through Premium Care and free Office 365 subscription.

Apple has been improvising almost the same concept for quite a few years now, although they do not directly refer to it as a subscription service. They call it the ‘iPhone Upgrade Program’. The idea is to pay about 30$ monthly for 24 months to own an iPhone, or get a new iPhone after 12 months of payment if you wish for an upgrade.

Apple and Samsung’s take on this subscription-based service is a response to a rather new problem- Flagship Smartphone sales growth has recently stunted. People are keeping their phones for a longer than they did a few years ago, but at the same time the companies need the consumers to keep upgrading their current smartphones. According to data from research firm Kantar Worldpanel, an average US citizen in 2018 is likely to keep their smartphone for about two years, while a user from a European country is believed to keep his phone for even longer. From 2016 to 2018, people’s average usage of smartphones increased by three months, from 23 months to 26 months.

The Smartphone manufacturers are almost standing on a double-edged sword- they have to deliver on the quality and durability and the promise of a decent software support. But at the same time, they cannot afford for their sales figures to tank. To this problem, the subscription service might seem like a perfect plan, but it does come with some caveats.

Smartphone innovation in general has come to a standstill. Every passing year we see a slightly faster chipset, a larger battery, a slightly better camera, and/or a screen with a higher refresh rate. The upgrades are nothing revolutionary, but rather incremental per se. Every now and then, we see a dual screen smartphone, or a hefty foldable smartphone that can convert into a tablet or a bigger phone, or a smartphone with a fancy pop up camera, but smartphones mostly remain the same glass sandwiches. This means, if you buy a smartphone today, the smartphone market will not have gone through a radical change by the time your smartphone comes of age.

Moreover, smartphones are personal possessions where people store a lot of data locally over the course of time. Hence, transferring personal data to an entirely new device is a daunting task for many despite the availability of cloud services. Adding to all these, there are some humane factors to consider. The device can be lost, stolen, or accidentally broken beyond repair. While Samsung is yet to address these issues, which are beyond their Premium Care Service, Apple does provide their AppleCare+ with Theft and Loss protection, which, again, are sold separately and add to the cost for the subscriber.

While software subscription services can be ‘One size fits all’ as they can simply function off a cloud service, various factors come into play when we talk about applying the same for a smartphone. To say the least, our smartphones aren’t just there yet- they aren’t as fluid as a software can be, and the transition from one smartphone to another isn’t as seamless as it is required to be. As to the question who would avail to the subscription- Someone who really needs to live on the cutting edge of technology and probably has cash burning through his pockets, that too constantly.