iPhone and iPad Tech News

People Break Their iPhones to Justify Upgrades

Dave Parrack 20-12-2016

A new study suggests that people might be breaking or losing their iPhones accidentally on purpose in order to justify upgrading to the next version. At the very least, people stop taking so much care over their beloved smartphones as upgrade time inches closer.


These are the findings of a new study called “Be Careless with That!” [PDF link] with the more scientifically sounding tagline, “Availability of Product Upgrades Increases Cavalier Behavior Toward Possessions”. The authors of the study call this phenomenon the “upgrade effect”.

The study, as discovered by Mashable, was written by Silvia Bellezza, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Columbia Business School, Joshua M. Ackerman, Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Michigan, and Francesca Gino, Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

The study is summed up with the following passage from the abstract:

“The authors propose that consumers act more recklessly with their current products when in the presence of appealing, though not yet attained, product upgrades. Carelessness and neglect toward currently owned products stem from a desire to justify the attainment of upgrades without appearing wasteful.”

Studying the Upgrade Effect

To prove their theory, the trio of professors pulled together various studies and datasets. One dataset provided by the IMEI Detective Company shows how the number of lost iPhones being reported peaks just before the release of a new model.



The authors of the study also conducted a survey of 602 smartphone owners. The answers given suggest that “the availability of the new desired phone on the market and the interest in upgrading lead to product neglect even when controlling for a series of other relevant factors, such as price paid, acquisition method, and depreciation”.

Lastly, the authors conducted an experiment whereby they gifted volunteers a mug. Some were offered an upgrade to a better mug, while others were not. Then they played a game of Jenga with their mugs perched atop the blocks. The people with an upgrade available to them were found to be more likely to take risks when pulling out blocks.

Citing Happy Accidents

The authors of this study aren’t alone in noticing this trend. Not only do they cite previous studies into the idea, they mention this Virgin Mobile TV ad called Happy Accidents in which “phone owners are all intent on ‘accidentally’ destroying or losing their devices, thus necessitating an upgrade purchase.

If marketers have already noticed this phenomenon then there’s clearly something in it. Apple and others know it, which is why they release new phones on an annual basis. If they didn’t, we’d probably be more than happy to keep our current phones, and take damn good care of them The Cheapest Way to Protect Your Phone Without a Case If you don't have a case on your phone, you're leaving it open to risk and damage. Here's what you can do to protect it at least somewhat. Read More .

Do you believe there’s some truth in the “upgrade effect”? Have you ever knowingly damaged or lost a phone in order to justify an upgrade? Can you even consider the possibility that you have done this subconsciously? Please let us know in the comments below!

Image Credit: Lars Plougmann via Flickr

Related topics: Apple, iPhone.

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  1. Jamie
    December 20, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Wasn't there a similar article about the breakage/purchase of new TVs just before the World Cup started?