This time last year I was using a smartphone that would later become famous for exploding. You know the one. Neat little feature, huh?
It was a great phone actually. I really wanted to keep it, but the darn things just kept exploding. Not mine of course—that would never happen to me—but it happened to enough customers that the manufacturer issued a recall.
I’ve used a different, but perfectly good phone ever since.
So why would I trade it in? It’s only a year old. The battery still holds a charge, the screen isn’t cracked, and it never exploded. Not even a little.
Well, I got a thing in the mail from my carrier (“You’re Upgrade Eligible!”), personally inviting me to come maximize my device’s return value before planned obsolescence set in.
No dress code or cover charge. Just had to bring my warm, casual self, and that heinously outdated contraption called my current phone. Oh…and a desire to be amazed, bring that too.
I headed almost involuntarily to the carrier store to redeem my upgrade.
I parked at 8:55am. The store’s opening keyholder pulled up in the adjacent spot. She unlocked and held the door open for me with one hand, clutching an energy drink in the other. I was the only guest.
The inside was hardly a concert hall but had enough open floor space to let your mind wander, which mine did, past the VR goggles, around the Bluetooth speakers, and straight to the same (exploding) model from last year—version 2.0. This was the phone I wanted. Behold the power of marketing.
The master of ceremonies, dressed in all black, was happy to oblige, unlocking the phone from its security cage. His troupe needs the door to keep revolving, downcycling yesterday’s hardware to establish a predictability model that manufacturers can rely on when allocating their newest iconic devices.
That’s why carriers ditched the two-year contract system: They know most people won’t keep their device that long. Now we just “lease” the phones.
And by standing first in line Saturday morning to swap mine out, I was exhibit A in that market shift.
I had the invitation; I knew the phone I wanted; the stage was set. The manager led me to a barstool high enough that my feet didn’t touch the ground, but low enough that I still looked up to him. I was ready to leave the second I sat down. “Please just give me the new exploding phone,” I said in so many words.
But it wasn’t that simple. You can’t just skip the ballet. Not with this many third parties involved.
The manager pirouetted through the Terms & Conditions, and I couldn’t say no. It was so impressive I signed a 30-page agreement without reading a word:
I checked the boxes;
I signed it with my finger;
All part of the show.
While my contacts transferred, he ushered me to the accessories section to look at some phone cases. Only the finest polycarbonate would do. How much did these cases cost to manufacture?
I don’t know, but I paid a premium for that plastic and baked the cost right into my new lease. What’s a few more bucks per month, right?
“How about a wireless charger?” he asked, performing a plié. “Already got one,” I told him. “Very well. The only other thing I’d recommend,” he said, “is a screen protector.”
“But won’t that make the glass…less sensitive?” I asked. “No, I use mine every day, see?” he assured me by waving around his phone like it was capable of illustrating that point. I still said okay. What’s a few more bucks per month, right?
He was wrong, by the way. Four days later, that single piece of curved glass lay on my hardwood floor, having popped off on its own. I was going to return it anyway.
I thought we were wrapping up, but the ballet wasn’t over. “Sarah…” he said in the direction of the service window. “It’s tendered…” (the transaction had finalized).
A young lady approached us from behind the glass. She had long, dark hair, and her allergies were flaring up. She sneezed then said: “Next thing I’m gonna have you do is download....*sniff*....this cool app.” She wiped her nose with a crinkled tissue and tucked it in her sleeve.
Knowing I didn’t have to download anything, I responded: “Okaaaay? And what app is that?” She took a deep breath and recited a script about the features and benefits of some “security app” involving remote access and I’m sure a slew of other resource-hogging functions that serve to drive down helpdesk calls.
With the first-time soloist whirring about in front of me, the manager watched intensely as she spoke, ready to jump in if she forgot any talking points.
He never had to. She did just fine, and I said okay again. We all let out a collective relief and the manager smiled, looking admirably at his pupil. Score another tally on the backroom whiteboard.
I left the store the same way I entered: Uncomfortably sitting between feeling above the influence and squarely susceptible to it. We were all just doing what somebody else asked.
That security app? I immediately uninstalled it, but how long should I wait to return the screen protector? What if I see the same manager there? Will it be awkward? It’s nothing personal.
This new phone uses USB Type-C, so what happens to all my “old” micro USB cables? Do they just go to the “forgotten cabinet” with the old telephone, RCA, and S-video cables? Everything winds up there eventually I suppose.
When that ballet comes back to town next year, will I have the courage to decline the invitation? The crewmembers are counting on my discontent to keep the show in production.
Yeah, think I’d better hold off. This should do me good for a while.
Unless they offer something compelling. Like, say, an exploding phone.
Then I’m all in.
Jack Johnson is a product content specialist at Mouser Electronics. On another timeline, he’s writing music for videogames and playing them with his cat Omar.
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