Survey: Less than 10% of Users Very or Extremely Likely to Upgrade to iPhone 7

Photograph by Bloomberg via Getty Images

A new survey and analysis from Quartz should have Apple and its investors worried. Of 525 U.S. iPhone users, only 9.3% said they were “Extremely likely” or “Very likely” to upgrade their phones if the iPhone isn’t redesigned this year – which essentially describes what is expected to happen.

There’s some wiggle room in what any particular respondent considers a ‘redesign,’ but there’s broad belief that the iPhone 7, expected to launch later this year, will offer only minor changes over the phone’s current generation. Our Apple guru Don Reisinger thinks that leaked body images show “subtle” design changes, and other anticipated moves amount to small tweaks and updates (though it’s important to point out this is largely a matter of rumors and leaks).

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That combination of cooling consumer excitement and limited innovation is scary enough for Apple (APPL) investors, with the company already facing declining phone sales. But there’s also a brewing controversy over the elimination of the iPhone’s headphone jack. Apple hasn’t confirmed the move, but it could actively alienate consumers, who would be expected to upgrade that many more accessories in exchange for modest upgrades to the core device.

While Apple would surely love to sell as many phones as possible, it seems a low-key iPhone 7 is a conscious move by the company to shift the upgrade schedule. Normally, new-numbered iPhones indicate major biannual revamps, with “S”-tagged models minor upgrades for off years. But strong signs now point to the iPhone 8 dropping in 2017—the 10th anniversary of the iPhone—and featuring a major redesign including an all-glass body and edge-to-edge display.

For more on the iPhone life cycle, watch our video:

The shifted schedule may simply be a one-time move to honor that 10-year anniversary. But it might also be a more long-term shift to a 3-year upgrade cycle as innovation in smartphone technology slows. Quartz’s survey also found that a total of 70% of iPhone users were extremely, very, or somewhat likely to slow their own upgrade cycle to every 3 years if major redesigns started coming less frequently. That could lead to a serious downshift in Apple’s overall revenue, most of which comes from iPhone purchases.

Now, one important caveat here—Quartz’s numbers come from an online survey of 525 respondents. That’s much smaller than a survey of more than 1,000 users earlier this month that found about half of iPhone users would upgrade to the iPhone 7. It may turn out that major new features aren’t a must-have when you’ve been lugging around an increasingly scratched, dented, weak-batteried unit for two years or more.

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