Ask Techland: Replace a Lost iPhone Now or Wait?

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Question from Tim: My brother just lost his iPhone and is debating whether or not he can muddle through with a disposable until September or October or whenever the new iPhone comes out. This ALWAYS happens with the new Apple products, right? There’s a period where everybody debates whether to get the current model or wait however long for the next sight-unseen model comes out. So… any advice for my brother?

Answer: This does always happen with new Apple products, Tim. I call it the “Apple Pickle”—mostly because both words are food and also mostly because I don’t expect the term to catch any traction, so I didn’t work all that hard on it to begin with.

As with just about any technology product, if you wait to see what’s around the bend, you’ll find yourself in a perpetual state of waiting. I use “you” loosely, as you’re writing on behalf of your brother for some reason. Does he not have e-mail? No wonder he lost his phone, am I right?! Anyway, like the mail, technology never stops—so the longer you wait, the longer you wait.

(MORE: How an ‘Apple Wireless’ Provider Could Sell You More Hardware)

Apple generally releases products on a yearly cycle, so if you’re looking at a new MacBook, for instance, check when the last ones came out and if you’re coming up on a year, maybe wait. If they just came out a few months ago, go ahead and take the plunge.

The problem with the iPhone—and most phones sold in the U.S., for that matter—is that while the devices are generally on a one-year cycle, you as a consumer are always on a two-year cycle because of how the carrier subsidies shake out. So if you buy the iPhone 4 now, all things considered, you have to spend two years with it, even though the thing came out almost a year and a half ago. The exception, of course, is to get the iPhone 4 now and then pay full price for the new iPhone when it comes out, which will likely cost around $700 without subsidies.

That’s how they “get you”—people lose their $200 phones and then wonder why they can’t replace them for $200. That’s why we’re all in two-year contracts: so we can get those $200 phones.

On the one hand, the iPhone 4 is a fine device and will likely serve your needs for another two years. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t wait until the new one comes out. That being said, we’re so close to the new one coming out that I’ve been recommending everyone to wait.

(MORE: Report: The iPhone 5 Might Actually Arrive in October)

Will the new one be light years beyond the old one? Maybe, maybe not. But Apple bucked its one-year cycle this time to move the new iPhone announcement to the fall—the latest money is on a September 7th announcement—so we’ll actually see well over a year’s worth of upgrades between the new one and the old once the new one comes out. There’s not much that couldn’t be better about the new one, basically.

It’s like you’re going to an all-you-can-eat buffet that’s only open between 10am and 2pm: You want to show up right when it opens so you can really get your money’s worth. Buying the iPhone 4 now would be like showing up at 1:55. And yes, eating buffet food for four hours straight is, of course, downright disturbing—but you get the general idea.

So the bigger question: What can you use to hold you over until the new phone comes out? If you’re a Verizon customer, it’s hard to beat Amazon’s $40 Palm Pixi Plus ($35 at Newegg.com for an open-box model). The deal isn’t quite as good if you’re an AT&T customer, but you can get your hands on the Palm Pixi Plus for around $93. Neither option requires extending your contract—just buy the phone and get it set up with your provider.

MORE: Why Wait for the iPhone 5? The ‘HiPhone 5′ Is Already Here!

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