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A year living social trends: September, time to upgrade?

We mentioned in our previous blog post that September is a big month for upgrades, and that’s partly because this month is traditionally the time when Apple brings out its new iPhone. Typically, iPhones are now searched for on Google 1.7x more in September than they are in March (with Samsung phones searched for 1.2x more). Phone contracts are also searched for more in September than in any other month (1.22x more in 2016). Apple have definitely taken the lead in sending the internet mad with their release of not one but two new iPhones, but there’s been a good amount of momentum building around the phone upgrade conversation after Samsung’s release of the Galaxy S8 back in July.

But if – like myself and a sizeable, outraged section of the internet – you’re not keen on the idea of spending £1000 on a new phone, is there anything to be gained by hopping on the September-upgrade bandwagon?

There’s no denying that that new phone releases massively drive interest in the possibility of upgrading. On the graph above depicting Google searches for ‘upgrade’ in 2016, you can see clear spikes in interest for the Samsung and Apple releases; in terms of search volume, they’re head and shoulders above the rest, as shown in the second graph below.

Look a little closer at the data, though, and you’ll see much of the hype isn’t actually generated by phone companies themselves but by telecommunication and media companies. EE, Vodafone, O2, Sky, Virgin and Carphone Warehouse were all amongst the top 10 related queries for ‘upgrade’ – not even ‘phone upgrade’ or ‘smartphone upgrade’ – showing that these companies benefit greatly from the traffic surrounding the release of a new model from a major brand. Interestingly, our previous hypothesis that phone upgrading is part of a larger trend of renewal would seem to be backed up by Google Correlations – searches for ‘upgrade’ correlates with searches for television packages, new computer software and even house-hunting.

Moving over to social networks, it’s obvious that the September chatter surrounding upgrades has permeated beyond smartphones. From fashion to lifestyle, motivational speaking and beyond, upgrade (and anti-upgrade) Twitter buzz has well and truly taken off. That said, discussion of handsets still dominates the conversation – if I’m still on the lookout for a new phone, what should I pick?

If Apple dominated on Google, it’s even more ubiquitous on Twitter. UK discussion of ‘iPhone’ in the past 90 days is almost 10x higher than discussion of ‘Samsung’, their next highest competitor. The iPhone’s status as a driver of smartphone innovation and a luxury item makes it a popular topic amongst ordinary users and tech enthusiasts alike, and its yearly September launch was nothing short of a social media storm, with mentions on Twitter soaring to almost 3x their usual volume. In comparison, brands with a smaller UK market share such as LG, Huawei, HTC, OnePlus, Sony, Motorola and  BlackBerry generated nowhere near as much chatter. Even the brands with the highest number of mentions in the last 90 days – Sony and OnePlus – were performing approximately 3x worse than Samsung. Most brands experienced a significant boost in mentions around their most recent product launch – from tech bloggers in the lead-up, and then from prospective and new buyers in the immediate aftermath – but interestingly, many brands other than Apple (Motorola, BlackBerry, LG and Huawei) also saw slightly above-average Twitter chatter during the period surrounding the iPhone launch, as users compared and contrasted the new iPhone with existing brands. Many ordinary buyers bemoaned the price of new top-end phones, whilst others used language associated with loyalty and a continuing relationship with their brand of choice: words like ‘tempt’, ‘betrayal’, ‘loyalist’ and ‘sticking with’ featured regularly in tweets. Both familiarity and financial gain probably play a part in this trend, as customers often get discounts for trading in their older handsets when a new model comes out.    

So, should I  follow the trends and upgrade in September? Well, perhaps yes – there’s a lot of good new phones out there, and if I’m trading in an old one, it might not even break the bank. But if I decide on a new iPhone, I might need to get ready to live on baked beans and toast ‘til Christmas.


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