The iPhone upgrade game

The launch of a new iPhone is still the most significant event in the wireless year. When consumers prepare to get their next iPhone, they are also undertaking a major financial decision and are often using that opportunity to evaluate new mobile service provider options. The different wireless carriers are engaging in different strategies for retaining and attracting customers who are getting a new iPhone. AT&T is offering the same deals for new and existing customers with almost every plan. T-Mobile requires customers to either add a line, upgrade their plan or be on their most expensive plan. Verizon is targeting only their best customers and new customers with the best offers.

The results are telling: AT&T’s John Stankey said during AT&T’s Q3 earnings call that AT&T “saw the strongest iPhone preorders we’ve had in many years.” Meanwhile, Verizon’s Hans Vestberg said during Verizon’s Q3 earnings call that “we continue to see muted upgrade levels.” T-Mobile’s Mike Sievert said customers don’t feel they need to take advantage of the device upgrades.

We can see in near real time how the respective carrier strategies materialize in the marketplace. We collected around 30,000 respondents between the iPhone 15 launch and last weekend, giving us faster and more in-depth data on what is happening than anyone else. Based on our data ending, 10/22/23 AT&T has the most iPhone 15 upgrades of any carrier despite being the smallest of the nationwide mobile network operators (MNO). Followed by T-Mobile, who had the lowest upgrade rate in the industry but it’s iPhone sales were buoyed by the highest net adds. They were trailed by Verizon, who is the largest MNO, with the second lowest upgrade rate and the lowest net adds. As one would expect, Xfinity and Spectrum are trailing the MNOs as they are offering significantly less generous device promotions.

iPhone Model Distribution by Carrier
Mobile Make ModelAT&TT-MobileVerizonXfinity / ComcastSpectrum / CharterOtherTotal
iPhone 153%4%6%<1%1%1%16%
iPhone 15 Plus3%1%3%<1%<1%<1%8%
iPhone 15 Pro11%10%8%2%<1%1%33%
iPhone 15 Pro Max15%14%10%1%1%2%43%
Source: Recon Analytics Device Pulse   

The premium iPhone is becoming a super-premium product. We can see this with the heavy skew towards the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, Apple’s most premium products. More than three quarters of all iPhone 15s are the two premium versions of the iPhone, with the Pro Max outselling the Pro. This shows the pricing power that Apple possesses as the cheapest iPhone 15 Pro Max was $100 more expensive than the iPhone 14 Pro Max but received a storage upgrade.