I bit at the tasty Apple

I hate to admit it, but I finally succumbed to the allure of an iPhone upgrade, proving myself to be an influenceable lemming, susceptible to the tricks of marketers, and easily sucked-in by financial incentives that I arguably shouldn’t be. But alas, here I am. New iPhone XS Max in-hand.

Do I have regrets?

The tech press has been rife with coverage of Apple’s price increases on iPhones, along with its trials and tribulations in getting people to upgrade the way they used to. They’ve missed financial targets, and people are starting to wonder if the storied company has lost its way. I’ll leave the analysis of that stuff to the experts.

But it seems clear that lackluster response to the iPhone XR and XS series is forcing Apple’s hand, as evidenced by the fact that trade-in incentives have been in-place for close to three months now. This is something I’ve actually not seen the tech press cover, which is surprising, because it’s a thinly veiled price decrease under another name.

While my primary iPhone was an iPhone 7 Plus, what I was willing to trade-in was an older iPhone 6s Plus. Trade-in service Gazelle, which offers cash for used gear, was willing to pay me just $105 for the old 6s Plus — which barely moves the needle on the outrageously priced iPhone XS Max with 256 Gig of RAM, which retails for $1,250.

Back in December, Apple rolled-out a trade-in incentive program to try and bait iPhone users to upgrade. They put it front-and-center on apple.com:

When I was initially considering an upgrade, I assumed that “limited time” actually meant limited time, and assumed it was primarily for the holidays. Not that associates on the sales floor of an Apple Store are an authoritative source of such information, but in December, they too seemed to suggest that these incentives were going to vanish “any day now.”

It’s now February 20, and the screen shot you see above shows a web site that looks basically the same as it did back in early December, proving that “limited time” can be as limited (or not) as anyone chooses.

In any case, going through the quoting tool on the web site suggested in December, and again a couple of weeks ago, that they were willing to give me $250 for the old iPhone 6s Plus — nearly 250% more than Gazelle, and about 20% off the total purchase price of my new iPhone of choice, making the iPhone XS Max roughly $1,000 rather than $1,250.

My reaction? Now we’re talking. Or we’re at least opening a dialog…

Again, the phone being traded-in and the phone being upgraded in day-to-day use were two different things, so the ultimate decision to move from an iPhone 7 Plus to an iPhone XS Max came down to how big an upgrade it was or wasn’t, and the data wasn’t in Apple’s favor. In short, there just isn’t that much of an improvement:

  • Somewhat faster processor
  • Somewhat better camera
  • OLED vs. LCD display
  • Face ID

After actually biting at Apple’s upgrade offer, and using the iPhone XS Max for a bit, my feelings about it are mixed, and here’s a short roundup:

Processor speed. I simply don’t notice the big improvements in speed and performance. The 7 Plus was a decent phone with a decent processor. It still is. So is the XS Max. Apple truly oversells this.

Display. Yes, the XS Max’s OLED screen is lovely. It’s bigger. It has a notch. Is the difference night and day vs. the 7 Plus? I have to say: No. I just don’t really notice the improvements in quality, nor do I really feel that the larger display itself provides much in the way of tangible benefit doing the stuff I do on my phone. I can see what, one more e-mail message in my in-box? A few more lines of text on a web site? Some marginal additional amount of a photo? It’s a shoulder shrug that just doesn’t make a big difference in daily use.

Camera. Here’s where it starts to get interesting. I’m not as much of a smartphone photo guy as some, but the XS Max takes some outlandishly good pictures. Where I notice the difference with the 7 Plus is with graininess and detail — the XS Max simply takes better pictures, despite having a 12 megapixel sensor, just like the 7 Plus. Low-light pictures are noticeably less noisy and grainy, and even just basic landscape photos show more detail and less muddying, blobbing or smearing of pixels when you zoom in on the resulting photo. In short, you get the same number of pixels as before — but the way those pixels are assembled to create an image is a marked improvement.

Face ID. OK, now we’re homing-in on the one major thing I love about my new iPhone XS Max — not having to deal with that stupid, unreliable, inconvenient, and annoying fingerprint sensor. I hate it. I always hated it. I still hate it. It works about half the time on a good day. So, eliminating it was OK by me.

Face ID is nowhere near as annoying as I expected it to be. Yes, my phone wakes-up when I move it, and generally it’s reading my face and unlocking when I don’t want it to. But I was already used to pressing the power button to make my 7 Plus go back to sleep anyway, so there you go.

The benefit that Face ID provides — not having to screw around with the fingerprint sensor, or nearly dropping my phone trying to get the right finger in the right place the right way — was the biggest improvement day-to-day for me.

The one thing I feared the most about the upgrade was getting used to the new gestures. The guy at the Apple Store spent a couple of minutes showing me what I needed to know, and that was literally all I needed. Everything has felt completely natural, and much to my surprise, I have no issues whatsoever in using older devices that still have a home button.

So, was it worth it? No, not especially. Spending $1,000 to get Face ID and marginally better photos was… Let’s just call it what it is: stupid.

Rampant consumerism gone wild. Wasteful. Environmentally insensitive. Expensive. But mostly just stupid.

That said, the old iPhone 7 Plus is now my work phone, and it’s a big improvement over the 6s Plus, and I am enjoying the XS Max as my personal phone. Hopefully the guts of my old 6s Plus are finding new value repairing someone else’s old phone — someone who, unlike me, is smart enough not to fall for Apple’s marketing ploys, and keeps using perfectly functional tech until it truly wears out.