Over a year ago, I wrote a blog where I detailed that just the mere thought of upgrading my dated iPhone 6 to a newer-gen model was causing me major separation anxiety. I was too afraid of how the switch might impact my data plan, my contract, and my wallet. So as I mentioned at the time, I ultimately decided that I wasn’t ready to make the leap just yet, and that I’d hang onto my trusty ol’ 6 until I just couldn’t take it anymore. Well, several months later it finally happened. I caved. One sunny winter afternoon (they have those here in San Diego), I took a deep breath, walked into my local AT&T store, and purchased the latest-gen iPhone XS on an installment-based payment plan. And you know what? It wasn’t nearly as painful as I had imagined it would be! Great success!
But then a few more months passed, and I started thinking to myself “did I make a mistake?” Now by mistake, I’m not referring to the model I chose whatsoever. I’m more than happy with my selection. However, I did come to the realization that I didn’t shop around for a better price at all; I simply walked into a carrier store and agreed to the price they gave me, no questions asked.
In hindsight, I think I fell into the same trap that a lot of consumers do when it comes to buying a latest-gen smartphone. I just assumed that the price would be the same no matter where and when I bought, until a newer model was released the following year and prices on previous families naturally got reduced. But I work at gap intelligence, for Pete’s sake! I should know better! By being immersed in smartphones data on a weekly basis, I know firsthand how much prices can fluctuate on even the latest and greatest smartphones during their first year on the market.
So that got me thinking. During the first 52 weeks of a new iPhone’s release, is there actually a specific week when pricing is the best it will be all year? And if so, is there also any commonality between different iPhone families on which week that is? So with that, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the topic of this blog! Please read ahead for my findings…
But First, a Few Ground Rules…
Before we jump into the results, I just want to break down the different variables that went into this analysis so that we’re all on the same (web)page:
- All pricing data was based on 24-month installment prices for AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon models. Installment prices fluctuate more frequently than outright prices (which makes for far more interesting findings), and the 24-month option is the one installment type that all three carriers share in common. This ensures we’re comparing Apples to Apples, pun fully intended.
- Pricing data was collected from BestBuy.com only. I’ve found that carrier stores themselves do not adjust installment pricing nearly as regularly as other merchants. BestBuy.com in particular seems pretty erratic in this regard, so there was a good opportunity for mixed results there. Plus, BestBuy.com already sells smartphones for all three of the carriers listed above, so two birds, meet my one stone.
- Data was based on new line or account pricing, not upgrades for existing customers. Pretty straightforward.
- iPhone families included in the analysis were the five most recent, the iPhone 7, iPhone 8, iPhone X, iPhone XR, and iPhone XS. Results were based on regular-sized configurations of each family (sorry, no Pluses or Maxes here), as well as the lowest-sized storage capacities available for each at the time of launch.
- All data was limited to just the first 52 weeks that each respective iPhone family was on the market. This makes sure to capture any pricing variations for these models while they were still the newest ones out there. Since I already knew that Apple launches new iPhones at basically the same time each year, I wanted to make sure I was only including reductions that were unrelated to new releases. Especially since, with each of these new launches comes price reductions on previous iPhone families. That said, I’m aware that the iPhone XR and XS families haven’t even had their first birthdays yet, so I included pricing for them through the end of June (when I had to put together my data set for the purpose of writing this blog ?).
That just about covers it! So let’s see what we came up with, shall we?
When looking at contract pricing over the iPhone 7’s first year, one thing that is immediately noticeable is that all three mobile carriers introduced the new model with 24-month pricing at roughly $27/month, where it held firm for its first 22 weeks before dipping into the $25/month range. From that point forward, things got significantly less stable. Interestingly, AT&T and Verizon both priced their 24-month plans virtually identical to one another over the iPhone 7’s first 52 weeks, with the exception of a slight deviation by AT&T in week 45. Meanwhile, Sprint was the most aggressive with discounts, offering lower prices to date than either AT&T or Verizon had yet to come close to on four separate occasions (weeks 30, 31, 36, and 40). In fact, even when AT&T and Verizon hit their 52-week low of roughly $18 in week 43, the Sprint plan was still lower that same week, coming in with sub-$17 pricing. And to round-out the year, it’s obvious that Sprint was still the better carrier option in terms of price, holding steady at $18.74 over the final 6 weeks for savings of between roughly $6.25-$8.25 per month over AT&T and Verizon.
- AT&T – $17.99, week 43
- Sprint – $14.99, weeks 36 & 40
- Verizon – $17.99, week 43
With the launch of the iPhone 8, we saw several similarities to the trends recorded for the iPhone 7, but with some significant differences as well. Once again, AT&T’s and Verizon’s pricing were virtually neck-and-neck throughout the full 52-week period and deviated primarily between only two price points ($27.08-$29.17 & $27.04-$29.13, respectively), while Sprint pricing was once again most consistently lower among the carriers. However, Sprint didn’t wait until after the 20-week mark to introduce such low pricing to consumers this time around, hitting them with discounts nearly right out of the gate starting in weeks 7-17. Interestingly though, Sprint could not claim the title of the lowest overall price for the iPhone 8, as AT&T offered by far the lowest pricing of the year ($14.58) in weeks 34 and 35 before rejoining and mimicking Verizon’s consistently higher pricing for the remainder of the 52-week period.
- AT&T – $14.58, weeks 34 & 35
- Sprint – $18.74, week 24
- Verizon – $27.04, weeks 12, 22, 26, 28, 30, 36, 37, 39, 41, 42, 45, 49, & 51
No, you’re not seeing double, although at first glance the iPhone X chart looks awfully similar to the iPhone 8’s, don’t ya think? Well that actually makes sense considering the fact that both models were released at the same time (mid-September 2017), but I still found the comparison between the two to be super interesting. Although the prices are significantly higher across the board for the iPhone X (as would be expected), the patterns themselves are virtually identical. One of the only main differences, however, was that AT&T and Verizon did not stagger their pricing at all during the first 29 weeks following the iPhone X’s release, opting to hold off until week 30 to reduce the price by a couple bucks and then fluctuating mostly between two price points for the remainder of the year. Additionally, Sprint itself held off on any early and lengthy price reductions this time around, waiting until weeks 16-17 to offer its first discount before promptly increasing the price again in week 18. However, Sprint was once again the carrier with the most consistently lower pricing beginning in week 24, although AT&T again hoisted the crown for overall lowest prices of the year, once again in weeks 34 and 35, at $24.99 and $27.08, respectively.
- AT&T – $24.99, week 34
- Sprint – $31.24, week 24
- Verizon – $39.54, weeks 30, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 42, 46, 48, 49, & 51
One of the aforementioned iPhone models (along with the iPhone XS) that hasn’t even been on the market for a full year yet, the pricing trend for the iPhone XR is predictably different than the others we’ve seen before it, namely because it cuts off at 37 weeks. However, once you look past that all that blank space on the right of the chart, you can see that there’s some interesting stuff going on here. While Sprint was the first to bring down prices for each of the three previous iPhone families we already covered, in the case of the iPhone XR it was actually Verizon that looked to entice early adopters by offering price cuts from to $31.25 to $27.08 in weeks 6-11, saving consumers a cool $100 over the length of their contracts in the process. After that 6-week stint, however, Verizon’s price rejoined both AT&T’s and Sprint’s back at $31.25. That is, until Sprint completely flipped the script with a whopping price reduction to $15 in week 21, where it has remained since for an overall savings of $390 over the life of the contract, while AT&T and Verizon showed moderate fluctuation activity from weeks 26-37.
- AT&T – $24.99, week 32
- Sprint – $15, weeks 21-37
- Verizon – $27.08, weeks 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, & 32
Finally, let’s take a look at Apple’s current flagship model, the iPhone XS. Again, we don’t have a complete 52-week data set to work with since the XS hasn’t been out that long yet, but since it was released several weeks before the iPhone XR, we do have a solid 42-week trend, and there’s a lot going on. As we saw with the iPhone XR, Verizon was once again the first carrier to offer a reduction from its introductory price, dropping from $41.67 to $37.49 between weeks 11-16. Interestingly enough though, AT&T was actually the second carrier to reduce its price, making the XS the first iPhone family of the previous five where Sprint was the last carrier to lower its 24-month price. In fact, aside from a 6-week period in weeks 30-35, Sprint did not deviate whatsoever from its $41.67 price point. Additionally, another departure from what we saw with previous families was that AT&T and Verizon didn’t seem almost entirely joined at the hip anymore, particularly starting in week 27 when both carriers proceeded to offer several pronounced discounts of different values through the end of the 42-week period. One could perhaps make the argument that since the iPhone XS is a premium, high-end model, both AT&T and Verizon were more aggressive with their price reductions in an effort to entice consumers with deeper pockets and lock them into new carrier adoption in the process. But the iPhone X was considered the latest and greatest iPhone at one point in time too and, as we saw, both carriers seemed pretty blasé about that model, so you tell me.
- AT&T – $35.21, weeks 31 & 32
- Sprint – $35.41, weeks 30-35
- Verizon – $37.49, weeks 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 35, & 36
So Did We Actually Learn Anything?
Based on the pricing trends above, we can probably come to a few informal conclusions. Generally speaking, we saw that Sprint was the most consistent mobile carrier in terms of lower prices, but that AT&T has previously offered the lowest overall price for the year in short spurts for some iPhones. And despite offering some exclusive discounts early on, particularly with the most recent iPhone releases, Verizon’s reductions have never exceeded those of the other two carriers, nor have they occurred as frequently, for any of the previous five iPhone families’ first 52 weeks.
However, in terms of finding a distinct pattern between the pricing trends for the last five iPhones, it doesn’t seem as though there’s any magic bullet formula that can be used to predict when the lowest prices for first-year iPhones can be expected. With the exception of the iPhone 8 and X families, whose trends were eerily similar but almost surely because they came out at the same time, there’s just too much variation across families and carriers.
So just for kicks, I decided to crunch a couple more numbers to get the average 24-month prices across all three carriers for the five iPhone families, just to see if any interesting trends appeared when I plotted it all out. This is what I found:
At first glance it may not look like much. As expected, the iPhone X and XS and their higher-tier monthly pricing occupy the upper portion of the chart while the remaining three families duke it out in the bottom section. There’s seemingly a lot of overlap within each of the two distinct clusters, with price differences rarely exceeding roughly $5 per month between iPhone families in any given week number. But look closer, and remember that the purpose of this chart was to plot the average monthly prices for all five iPhones across all three carriers, and the purpose of this entire blog was to identify which weeks pricing is the lowest for new iPhone releases. So that said, wouldn’t it make sense for us to look at which weeks each of these iPhone families had their lowest overall average prices? The results are pretty interesting!
52-Week Lows (Average Monthly Price Across Carriers):
- iPhone 7 – week 43
- iPhone 8 – week 34
- iPhone X – week 34
- iPhone XS – weeks 31 & 32
- iPhone XR – week 32
Why is this interesting? Well first take into account that this list of iPhone families is arranged chronologically from least recent to most recent release dates, and also remember that the iPhone 8 and X came out at the same time, while the respective releases of the XS and XR were separated by only a matter of weeks. So if you look at this trend just based on the calendar year of each release (iPhone 7 in 2016, iPhones 8 and X in 2017, and iPhones XS and XR in 2018), you’ll notice that the week number that the lowest average price across carriers has been occurring over the last three years of iPhone releases has been steadily shrinking. From 43 weeks, to 34, to 32-ish, oh my! So while it may still be difficult to pinpoint exactly when a newly-released iPhone will hit its absolute lowest price during its first year, the trends certainly seem to be telling us that buyers may not have to wait as long for it to happen as they used to.
All in all, the answer to the mystery of whether there’s a best time to buy a new iPhone may very well be that there is no clear answer, at least not yet. The best we can probably do as consumers is just keep a close eye on prices until we feel it’s the right time to strike, and then strike fast. And if we’re feeling super ambitious, we can trend that data out over time to see if any patterns take shape in the future. One thing’s for sure though, the next time I’m in the market for a new smartphone I will definitely be relying on gap intelligence’s data to help me figure out when the right time to buy is. And if this is the type of information that would help you with your own decision-making processes, perhaps you should do the same!
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