The iPhone 3GS is the best purchase I’ve ever made

I’ve owned five phones in my life, but the iPhone 3GS was my first smart-phone. Four years later: I’m still using it and I’m convinced it’s the best purchase I’ve ever made. Not just the best phone, or best technology, but the best item of any category.

The 3GS had the same look as the 3G before it, but it was a significant upgrade in terms of its camera and processor. It had the five main features I wanted: GPS, music, camera, photo syncing, and web/email. I dislike phone contracts, so I bought one outright for $1,040 in September of 2009.

My iPhone 3GS

Value for money is highly subjective, and I’m sure some would scoff at the idea of spending so much on a phone, even a smart-phone. But to me, my iPhone represents outstanding value for six reasons.

1. Longevity

Before the 3GS, my phones lasted on average two years. My iPhone is over four years old, and still going strong.

It might be related to my stage in life, but there are very few things I own and still use that are older than the 3GS. Really. Clothes, furniture, car, computers, they’ve all been replaced in the last four years. The list is so short, I can present it here:

  • Bike helmet (six years)
  • A TV bench and a bed frame (six years)
  • Microwave (seven years)
  • Running shorts (eight years)
  • Assorted crockery (eight years)

What’s so astounding to me is that the 3GS has lasted so long, it’s begun to compete with non-technology items I would expect to own and use for an extended time, like a microwave or furniture.

2. Free upgrades

The 3GS shipped with iOS 3, which means I’ve had three software upgrades for free since I bought it. iOS 7 has brought and end to that, but each upgrade makes it feel like I have a new phone, and reminds me of the experience of adding RAM or a new graphics card to a computer. There is something rewarding about a fresh start. It’s easy to remain happy with a product that keeps improving with age.

It should be noted that iOS is not the only operating system to work in the way. With the recent release of OS X Mavericks (a free upgrade), the battery life on my Macbook Air has increased by up to 30%. That’s going to contribute to my value perception of that product very favourably.

3. No good reason to update

When a new iPhone is released, I’m forced to look at, compare, and often defend my little 3GS to its newer model. The 4 and the 4S are great phones, and their cameras, screens, and speed are big improvements, but I prefer the shape of the 3GS, and the 4 and 4S are much to fragile compared to my so-far unbreakable 3GS. The 5, 5S, 5C just extend on this. Faster, better cameras, bigger screens. These are all things that are nice, but I wouldn’t pay for these unless I had to.

Unlike going from a dumb- to smart-phone, the new models at their core don’t do anything my 3GS won’t do: GPS, music, camera, photo syncing, and web/email; I can do all these things already. Battery life could be better, but with my usage, I always get a full day out of the battery, which is my minimum requirement. And, unlike with a laptop or desktop device, speed is rarely a concern, because if I’m on my phone it means I’m killing time already, so I don’t feel the need to kill time more efficiently (taking photos is the exception here).

4. Ubiquity

Unlike almost any other product, the amount of time a consumer spends with their smart-phone is huge. The only other products that come closes are jewellery or clothing, but because of the passive nature of these products, it’s easy to forget about them. Every time I pick up my iPhone, it has the chance to remind me of its value.

5. Paying in full

Paying up front for something increases my chances of perceiving something as good value. It’s confirmation bias at work: I want the product to be good value because I’ve invested in it, and it would be costly to change products. A contract changes that perception: you know that in two years time you can upgrade to a new phone for "free".

6. Luck

Maybe my iPhone wasn’t supposed to last this long, and I just got lucky. I haven’t used a case since I bought it, and it’s survived a few falls. The ring/silent switch broke several years ago, but I just use do-not-disturb mode instead. Had my first phone been the 4, I may have broken it or given up on it sooner. Or, if I’d bought the 3GS just before the 4 came out, I may have resented how quickly it became outdated. There is always an element of risk to buying something, and I think I’ve done pretty well with the 3GS.

How long will it last?

I can only see two reasons for moving away from the 3GS:

  1. A hardware failure.
  2. An app that I need is no longer supported, and there are no good alternatives.

Ultimately the day will come when I have to retire my iPhone, but I hope the next phone I buy will provide as much value as the 3GS has.

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