You may or may not be aware that the latest iPhone is now available. If you are, the thing you're most likely to know about it is that the charging port has now switched to USB-C to bring it in line with chargers for all modern Android phones. This isn't Apple's decision, but one forced on them by the EU to reduce waste.
This does nicely highlight that we're now at the point a fairly technical change that makes absolutely no difference to what the phone can actually do is the main point of difference between this year's phone and last year's. Older readers may remember queues snaking out of Apple stores when each new iPhone was released in the early days. Those days are very much over, it seems.
We should point out here that this is by no means an Apple-only phenomenon. Android phone manufacturers suffer exactly the same problem. There just isn't a compelling reason to buy a new phone now unless your old one has had it. There's a few innovations that indicate significant tangible changes to come like foldable devices. But for the most part, the only difference between this year's phone and last year's is a slightly better camera and a slightly faster processor. Even then, it could be suggested that the cameras are very much at the limit of what the average person could ever possibly need now, and the processors are already way beyond what's needed for 95% of what people actually use their phones for. It could very easily be argued that anyone spending over £500 now is probably wasting their money in pure bang-for-buck terms.
This is partly assisted by the phone developers being "nudged" into making their phones more sustainable, both on the hardware and software side. Battery technology has seen improvements, with lithium-ion batteries becoming more efficient and lasting through more charge cycles. This reduces the issue of battery degradation over time, a common reason people need to upgrade their phones. On the software side, manufacturers are guaranteeing updates for longer than they used to. Apple have always been pretty good in this regard, and manufacturers of Android phones are slowly following suit.
Interestingly, this is happening in reverse proportion to the amount of importance smartphones have in our day-to-day lives. They're quickly becoming entirely non-optional, even for people that have been trying to keep the creep of progress at arm's length. Increasingly, they're being used essentially as identification - proof that you are who you say you are. Whether that's being used to authenticate your login to a system, or for virtual tickets for a show that are bound to your online account. For many people, losing their phone would be far more disastrous than losing their laptop now, because they won't be able to access anything on their laptop without their phone to authenticate anyway.
Somewhat ironically, this is likely to cause people to further postpone their phone upgrades. As we see with people's laptops and desktops all the time, when people are using a device constantly and it contains years of history, there's never a good time to go through the hassle of switching to a new one, even when it's clear that it's needed.
Consequently, it's no coincidence that we're now bombarded with prompts to sign up to various online services with an ever increasing monthly charge. If we're not buying new hardware as often, the money needs to be made somewhere else. It will be interesting to see how the manufacturers continue to respond to this change in consumer behaviour as our phone purchases become even fewer and further between.