Trading in your old smartphones at the wrong time could cost you thousands

iPhone 12
(Image credit: TechRadar)

Apple devices are the best at retaining their value after purchase, according to research from MusicMapgie which suggests the average decline among all smartphones is £95 over a 16-month period.

The rising cost of smartphones, along with the fact that many consumers are happier with their devices for longer periods of time, has driven the market for trade-ins and refurbished handsets.

This trend benefits operators and manufacturers who can sell more devices and tie customers into longer contracts, and consumers who save money when buying new technology.

Smartphone sustainability

“Our data shows that trading in old devices ahead of new phone launches is the way to get the best price for them. The money you made can then be used to help fund an upgrade,” said MusicMagpie CEO Steve Oliver. “By regularly holding on to unused devices, people are losing out on the value they hold, which adds up to a considerable sum over time.” 

The launch of a new iPhone each Autumn usually acts as a catalyst for trade-ins, however the value of older models falls dramatically after launch. MusicMagpie says the decline is 10% in the first month and then 23% over three months after release. If this trend is repeated after the launch of the iPhone 13, then iPhone Pro 12 owners could lose £140 through a late trade-in.

But despite this sudden decline, the value of an iPhone lasts much longer over its lifetime than competitors. After 12 months, the value of an Apple phone is only estimated to have fallen by 41% and then 60% over the course of a two-year contract.

The next best performer is Samsung, whose devices lose an average of 64% of their value over 12 months and 77% over 24 months. An important caveat, however, is that Samsung has many more devices at mid-range and entry-level price points and its premium handsets will likely fare better.

Aside from the financial benefits, recycling old devices has a positive impact on the environment. Every new device manufactured generates carbon emissions across the supply chain and requires the mining of precious metals. If older handsets aren’t resold, recycled, or are disposed of irresponsibly, then emissions will rise, waste will increase, and hazardous materials could be released into the environment.

This is increasingly recognised by consumers, 63% of which said they would be more interested in trade-in programmes if it helped the environment.

Several operators, manufacturers and retailers have launched initiatives designed to reduce the environmental impact of the mobile industry. These include not just recycling and trade-in programmes, but also renewable energy use, the right to repair, and not shipping devices with a charger by default.

MusicMagpie itself sells refurbished devices, benefiting from this shift. 

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.