That New Phone Feeling

By now, chances are high that you've encountered Telstra's latest marketing inspiration, which is to convince existing and potential mobile customers that there's no sensation quite as rapturous as that of obtaining a new mobile handset. I've never seen more euphoric people than those adorning Telstra's new leaflets, posters and ads.

Telstra has dubbed this promotion the 'New Phone Feeling' (NPF), with the word 'feeling' hopefully steering consumers away from any concern that this is merely a cynical marketing exercise. This is something primal and urgent, they suggest: not slick and superficial. Our biggest telco has finally tapped into that primordial human need to update one's 4G hardware on an annual basis. There's nothing, they insist, quite like that 'feeling of opening a new box and getting a new piece of exciting technology'. 

Sadly, Telstra provides little detail about how this feeling actually works; presumably it's different for everyone. Indeed, their leaflets and ads are suspiciously light on referencing, which leads one to suspect that the 'new phone feeling' might not be an actual medically-diagnosed condition at all.

Anyway, the details are thus: customers signing up to an eligible 24 month mobile contract now have the opportunity to pay an additional $10 per month, and in return they will be permitted to trade in their new phone after twelve months for one that will be even newer, and thus even more desirable. Whereas before customers were obliged to toil aimlessly through the grey spiritual hinterland of old-phone ownership for a full two years, now twelve months is the longest anyone is forced to endure this soul-crushing ennui.

There is, naturally, fine print, although thanks to the ACMA this print is larger and more prominent than it used to be. The most notable caveat is that the device you return must be 'undamaged and in good working condition'. 'Good working condition' is a fairly vague term, and cynical readers will feel that this leaves Telstra with plenty of room to get out of giving you a new phone, and thus prohibiting you from sharing the ecstasy of the people in the posters.

This brings us to the first problem. What if, after paying your $10 each month for the first year, you drop your old phone and break it. Telstra, as per their warning, won't take it back. In lieu of a 'new phone feeling', you now have an enhanced version of that 'broken-phone feeling', which is similar to the normal 'broken phone feeling', with the added thrill of being an extra $120 out of pocket.

But let's say you don't drop your phone, and that you've kept it sufficiently unsoiled to satisfy Telstra. You hand in your phone, get a new one, and leap around grinning for a while, as per the marketing. What happens to your old phone? Presumably Telstra profitably disposes of it. You'll never see it again. You have just payed $120 plus whatever the handset repayments were as part of your plan for nothing more than the right to use that phone for 12 months. You have, in essence, rented a phone for a year. 12 months later you'll be in the same position.

The fact is that many customers use their phones for longer than two years. Even if you do get a new one every time your 24 month contract is up for renewal, you still get to own your old phone. You may keep it as a spare. You can sell it on eBay. You can even give it to a loved one, thus providing them with a diluted version of the 'new phone feeling', namely the 'new used phone feeling'.

Telstra's new promotion is, frankly, ridiculous. There is no such thing as a 'new phone feeling', although there is plenty of peer-reviewed literature about the chimerical benefits of retail therapy. For most people, there is simply no need to get a new mobile phone every 12 months, especially in the current post-revolution era of incremental smartphone improvement. In 12 months the new phones will be slightly faster and slightly larger iterations on the new phones that are available now. It's really not worth getting excited about.