Why Apple and Samsung Release Phones Every Year

The barrage of new phone releases can be exhausting. Here's what companies hope to get out of it, and how to know if it's time to upgrade.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
Expertise Abrar has spent her career at CNET analyzing tech trends while also writing news, reviews and commentaries across mobile, streaming and online culture. Credentials
  • Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has three times been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Abrar Al-Heeti
2 min read

The phone life cycle has become kind of predictable. You spend hundreds of dollars on a new device, enjoy all the flashy specs and features, and then within a year, a new model comes out and makes yours feel outdated. Within two years, you may feel like it's time to upgrade or risk falling behind.

It's an exhausting and costly exercise. But it's one that seems to work well for companies like Apple and Samsung, which roll out a new iPhone and Galaxy phones, respectively, each year. They know at any point customers could be in the market for a new device, and they want to have something to tempt them with.

"You might be fine with your phone today, but you are just one person," Eli Blumenthal, a CNET mobile reporter, says in the video    above. "There are plenty of people who bought a phone a year earlier than you, or maybe were walking around and dropped their phone on the pavement or in a toilet and need a new device, or a kid got ahold of it. They might want a new phone, and this could be the right time for them. These companies want to make sure they have a product out there so when that person is looking for their new phone, they have an option."

Even if there's no real need to upgrade your phone, it can be easy to feel like you want to, just to enjoy that improved camera or bigger screen. 

But because phones just keep getting more expensive -- most flagship phones cost anywhere from $700 to $1,200 -- people are holding on to their devices longer. In 2018, US smartphone owners used their phones for an average of about 24 months before upgrading, up from around 22 months in 2016, according to a CNBC report. But that still hasn't stopped phone makers from continuing with the annual release cycle.

Check out the video above for more on why companies release phones each year and how to know whether it's time to upgrade. Also, if you want the best phone right now, take a look at our roundup. If you're particular to the best iPhone or best Samsung phone, we have roundups for those as well.