Post-Retirement: Why the IPhone 3GS Is Built to Last

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When the iPhone 3GS emerged onto the smartphone market in 2009, many labeled it the fastest smartphone in the world. The “3G” stands for third global positioning system (the phone came with GPS tracking), and the “S” in “3GS” simply stands for “speed.” The 3GS was made to be faster and yield a better performance than the iPhone 3G. Apple has always had a desire to make its products thinner and faster, so the 3GS was inevitable.


In 2009, the iPhone 3GS was a success, even though its design was extremely similar to that of its predecessor, the iPhone 3G. Today, three years later, the iPhone 3GS has been placed on the “things to forget” list and abandoned. If you think I’m joking, perform an “iPhone 3GS” search at Google. Sadly, there is not much to find on the search engine and very little (if anything) written on the phone for the last three years—that is, until now.


The iPhone 5 is rumored to arrive in stores this Fall, around the same timeas Apple plans to release its new, 7-inch mini iPad to rival Amazon’s hot-selling, web-browsing tablet, the Kindle Fire. None of the new arrivals were announced at the Worldwide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) in the Moscone Center in San Francisco on June 11, 2012. With the iPhone 5 on the horizon and the hearts of iOS users turned towards the mysterious iPhone, the iPhone 3GS has taken a back seat. There was a time when the 3GS model would cost you $300 or more. Today, you can get a 3GS for free if you have a two-year data plan and contract agreement with AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon Wireless. Apple has established a pattern whereby consumers can sense the arrival of a new product: when a new model device is soon to hit stores, Apple lowers the prices of the products that are already on the market. Apple confirmed this when it slashed its prices on the iPhone 4 and 4s this month down to $49.99 (8GB) for the iPhone 4 and $149.99 (16GB) for the 4s, respectively.

While slashed prices show that the current products on the market are older than what is to come, slashed prices also show that the company does not forget its older iPhones; that is, Apple does not plan to dismiss older models and move forward with new ones. The new models take center stage, but older phones still continue to sell just as good (if not better) than newer ones. A study from the Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) demonstrates that forty-nine percent of all iPhones are passed down to new owners once former owners purchase a newer iPhone model—regardless of whether they are given as a gift or a simple hand me down. Eighteen percent of older iPhone models were resold, while Android and BlackBerry models are not as popular in the hand-me-down category.

In the spirit of the Consumer Research, high school students hold iPhones to be the new toy to own.  According to a study from the Piper Jaffray firm, high school student use of iPhones is climbing by the day. Current statistics show that 33% of all high school students own an iPhone because of the reduced iPhone 3GS price: “We believe the meaningful uptick in iPhone ownership among teens may be driven by the cheaper $49 iPhone 3GS (in some cases free).” The 3GS cannot be abandoned because it is one of the most popular iPhones on the market currently. Would you throw away an iPhone and eliminate it from market sales because it is the oldest market model—when it is the phone that brings in the most sales each year? Probably not.


Over Christmas 2011, the number of iPhone sales jumped eleven percent (from 23% to 34%), and the increased purchases came about due to holiday sales. The holidays are a perfect time for consumers to invest financially in items they have wanted all year without paying the price that lives on the price tag all year. When you combine a decreased price tag for the 3GS model (free with a two-year contract) along with further price rollbacks for holiday sales, you have an appealing offer that gets consumers out of their homes and on the streets to “cash in” on the latest savings. Parents will purchase 3GS model iPhones for their children in order to maintain contact with their children while their children are at school, on a field trip, at an out-of-state competition, and so on. In an economy such as this, consumers can never save too much money. Parents see the iPhone 3GS as a way to maintain contact with their children and maintain their own peace of mind about their child’s safety when he or she is away from home. To pay $49 (or nothing) for peace of mind is not a bad trade at all.

You may agree with me that the iPhone 3GS is a popular phone “now,” but what about later? Surely, there will come a time when the 3GS loses its appeal here, correct? Well, sure. As long as Apple lives, newer iPhone models will emerge, and older ones will die out. Right now, the market is such that the 3GS is still an accepted iPhone in the US smartphone market; what will happen, however, when Apple emerges with a seventh-generation iPhone and the iPhone 4 becomes the most affordable iPhone to date in production? The answer to this question involves thinking beyond American borders to other countries. While 3GS demand may die here, it will not have died in other countries, places where so many would love to own what Ed Sutherland calls the low-end iPhone or the $0 iPhone that iOS users would purchase for free with a two-year contract.

You must remember that there is both 1) an American market and 2) a world market to which Apple must appeal. The world is no longer as “local” and “homegrown” as it once was. Apple is waking up to this truth, one of the many reasons why the company announced at WWDC two weeks ago that the new iOS6 platform would create a Siri who can “speak Mandarin and Chinese,” that developers need to “prepare to go to China” this year. While the American love for the 3GS may wane in favor of faster and newer iPhone models, many in the world have yet to experience the iPhone altogether. It is to this neglected group that Apple now appeals with its iPhone 3GS.

The Cupertino, California company intends to sell the 3GS as a prepaid iPhone, allowing consumers to purchase the phone at full price while having access to data, text, and call plans for small monthly fees. The 3GS once sold for more in its early life but now costs around $375-$400, of which the entire sum would be required up-front when enrolling in a prepaid phone plan. Apple plans to lower the cost of the 3GS to around $200 or $250, a move that many in the world would see as putting them closer to owning their “iDream.”

There is not much we can know about Apple’s plans, seeing that the company shrouds so much information in the cloud of mystery; however, we can know that Apple has teamed up with a company that can help it sell the iPhone as a prepaid device. No name of the assisting company has been provided, but as always, we know that Apple is up to something. Once you purchase the 3GS, an iPhone 3GS jailbreak is in order.

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