Apple Wednesday warned buyers that its income for the final three months of 2018 wouldn’t stay as much as earlier estimates, and even come notably shut. The important perpetrator seems to be China, the place the commerce conflict and a broader financial slowdown contributed to plummeting iPhone gross sales. But CEO Tim Cook’s letter to buyers pointed to a secondary thread as effectively, one which Apple clients, environmentalists, and even the corporate itself ought to view not as a legal responsibility however an asset: People are holding onto their iPhones longer.

That’s not simply in China. Cook famous that iPhone upgrades have been “not as strong as we thought they would be” in developed markets as effectively, citing “macroeconomic conditions,” a shift in how carriers value smartphones, a robust US greenback, and briefly discounted battery replacements. He uncared for to say the easy indisputable fact that an iPhone can carry out capably for years—and shoppers are lastly getting smart.

As not too long ago as 2015, smartphone customers on common upgraded their smartphones roughly each 24 months, says Cliff Maldonado, founding father of BayStreet Research, which tracks the cellular business. As of the fourth quarter of final yr, that had jumped to at the least 35 months. “You’re looking at people holding onto their devices an extra year,” says Maldonado. “It’s been considerable.”

Just a few components contribute to the pattern, chief amongst them the shift from shopping for telephones on a two-year contract—closely backed by the carriers—to installment plans in which the client pays full freight. T-Mobile launched the follow in the US in 2014, and by 2015 it had change into the norm. The full results, although, have solely kicked in extra not too long ago. People nonetheless usually pay for his or her smartphone over two years of installments; as soon as they’re paid off, although, their month-to-month invoice immediately drops by, say, $25.

The shift has additionally brought about a pointy drop-off in provider incentives. They end up to not be value it. “They’re actually encouraging that dynamic of holding your smartphone longer. It’s in their best interest,” says Maldonado. “It actually costs them to get you into a new phone, to do those promotions, to run the transaction and put it on their books and finance it.”

Bottom line: If your service is dependable and your iPhone nonetheless works positive, why undergo the effort?

“There’s not as many subsidies as there used to be from a carrier point of view,” Cook advised CNBC Wednesday. “And where that didn’t all happen yesterday, if you’ve been out of the market for two or three years and you come back, it looks like that to you.”

Meanwhile, older iPhones work higher, for longer, because of Apple itself. When Apple vp Craig Federighi launched iOS 12 in June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, he emphasised how a lot it improved the efficiency of older gadgets. Among the numbers he cited: The 2014 iPhone 6 Plus opens apps 40 p.c sooner with iOS 12 than it had with iOS 11, and its keyboard seems as much as 50 p.c sooner than earlier than. And whereas Apple’s battery scandal of a yr in the past was a black mark for the corporate, it at the least reminded Apple homeowners that they didn’t essentially want a brand new iPhone. Eligible iPhone homeowners discovered {that a} $29 battery substitute—it usually prices $79—made their iPhone 6 really feel one thing near new.

“There definitely has been a major shift in customer perception, after all the controversy,” says Kyle Wiens, founding father of on-line restore neighborhood iFixit. “What it really did more than anything else was remind you that the battery on your phone really can be replaced. Apple successfully brainwashing the public into thinking the battery was something they never needed to think about led people to prematurely buy these devices.”

Combine all of that with the truth that new mannequin iPhones—and Android telephones for that matter—have lacked a killer characteristic, a lot much less one that might encourage somebody to spend $1,000 or extra in the event that they didn’t completely should. “Phones used to be toys, and shiny objects,” says Maldonado. “Now they’re utilities. You’ve got to have it, and the joy of getting a new one is pretty minor. Facebook and email looks the same; the camera’s still great.”

In the close to time period, these dynamics aren’t excellent for Apple; its inventory dropped over 7 p.c on Wednesday’s information. But it’s terrific information for shoppers, who’ve apparently realized {that a} smartphone doesn’t have two-year expiration date. That saves cash in the long term. And pulling the throttle again on iPhone gross sales might grow to be equally welcome information for the planet.

According to Apple’s most up-to-date sustainability report, the manufacture of every Apple gadget generates on common 90 kilos of carbon emissions. Wiens means that the creation of every iPhone requires lots of of kilos of uncooked supplies.

Manufacturing electronics is environmentally intense, says Wiens. “We can’t live in a world where we’re making 3 billion new smartphones a year. We don’t have the resources for it. We have to reduce how many overall devices we’re making. There’s lots of ways to do it, but it gets down to demand, and how many we’re buying. That’s not what Apple wants, but it’s what the environment needs.”

Which raises a query: Why does Apple hassle extending the lives of older iPhones? The altruistic reply comes from Lisa Jackson, who oversees the corporate’s environmental efforts.

“We also make sure to design and build durable products that last as long as possible,” Jackson mentioned at Apple’s September {hardware} occasion. “Because they last longer, you can keep using them. And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”

Given an extended sufficient horizon, Apple may even see a monetary profit from much less frequent upgrades as effectively. An iPhone that lasts longer retains clients in the iOS ecosystem longer. That turns into much more necessary as the corporate locations larger emphasis not on {hardware}, however on companies like Apple Music. It additionally presents an necessary level of differentiation from Android, whose fragmented ecosystem means even flagship gadgets not often get totally supported past two years.

“In reality, the big picture is still very good for Apple,” says BayStreet’s Maldonado. Compared with Android, “Apple’s in a better spot, because the phones last longer.”

That’s chilly consolation in the present day, and doesn’t assist a whit with China. But information that persons are holding onto their iPhones longer ought to be taken for what it truly is: An indication of progress, and a win for everybody. Even Apple.

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