Why the used phone market is bad for iPhone 15 but great for Apple

iPhone stack
(Image credit: Future)

It's no surprise to anyone that people like to buy iPhones. They've been doing it for years. With the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro now just around the corner, you'd likely expect that selling a ton of them is a given. Except, it might not be.

That isn't because there's a hot new competitor in town. And as good as they are, it isn't because of the latest Samsung Galaxy S23 model or even what might come next. Amazingly, it isn't even the plethora of foldable devices that are flooding the market including the upcoming Pixel Fold.

Nope. The biggest threat to iPhone 15 sales, it seems, is the iPhone.

Refurbished iPhones everywhere

See, a new report by CounterPoint Research claims that people are now buying more refurbished iPhones than ever before. Apple doesn't yet sell its own refurbished iPhone 14 models, but that will change once the iPhone 15 is here. And there are plenty of retailers willing to sell you a used iPhone of just about any denomination — including the current best iPhone on the market, the iPhone 14 Pro.

There are of course other refurbished iPhones available, but no matter which people choose, they're choosing a lot of them. A massive 49% of all the refurbished smartphones sold in 2022 had an Apple logo on the back, we're told. That was a 16% increase on the previous year.

People are buying used iPhones hand over fist. And that's bad for Apple. But also pretty good as well.

Any iPhone is better than no iPhone

Apple Music on iPhone beside HomePod mini

(Image credit: Future)

People buying used iPhones is obviously bad for Apple's hot new thing. While you can argue whether people buying a used iPhone 12 were ever going to buy a new iPhone 15, the fact is that they definitely won't if they have that iPhone 12 in their hand. And Apple's iPhone sales are suffering the same sales plateau as the rest of the smartphone market.

But does Apple really care which iPhone you're using? I'd suggest not. And here's why — services.

Apple likes to sell iPhones, of course it does. It likes to sell iPads and Macs and Apple Watches and Apple TV 4Ks as well. But much like it lets you stream Apple TV Plus on just about anything, it doesn't care what you use those services on.

Through that lens, it's important to remember that so long as you're using something with an Apple logo on, it's winning.

It's winning because it's getting 30% of your App Store purchases. It can more easily sell you Apple Music and AirPods and accessories and whatever else you need or want.

Have you ever wondered why iOS 16 — and likely iOS 17 — supports such old models? It's because Apple wants to make sure people keep using iPhones. It doesn't matter which one it is, so long as you're using it and subscribing to Apple's services along the way.

Apple makes a lot of its money from services. A lot of it. And anyone buying any iPhone is good for business.

The iPhone 15 will be just fine

iPhone 14 Pro Dynamic Island

(Image credit: iMore)

All of that being said, don't worry about the iPhone 15. It'll sell like crazy because the hottest new iPhone on the block always will. Sure, it's going to be expensive. But the iPhone 15 is expected to get the Dynamic Island, which is a big upgrade. And the iPhone 15 Pro Max could get a periscope camera and upgraded zoom. And that's before the switch to USB-C.

People will buy the iPhone 15 no matter what. And if some people choose a refurbished iPhone 14 instead, so be it. Apple will probably be happy no matter what.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.