Phones, phones, everywhere! LTE, WiMAX, HSPA+, 4G, 3G...with all that's going on in wireless these days, it can be challenging to bite the bullet and sign an agreement.
A family member approached me this weekend and asked me if it was a good time to purchase a new device, given the increasing popularity of 4G technology. After taking into consideration his location (small town outside of a mid-sized city) and the fact that his phone is just under two years old, I told him that now would be the best time to buy. Given his carrier's estimated 4G rollout timeframe, he'll be in a perfect position to jump on the 4G bandwagon when his contract ends in 2012.
For many, now is a great time to purchase a new device, and here's why.
(Disagree with me? Be sure to check out Noah's article, "5 reasons NOT to buy a cell phone right now")
4G technology is coming, but it's the timing that really matters. Don't expect 4G service to light up overnight.
Verizon is finishing up LTE tests in Boston and Seattle, and plans to cover 100 million people by the end of 2010. That said, their footprint won't be completely covered until 2013. AT&T, on the other hand, is on record saying that their LTE rollout won't begin until 2011. Expect to see Big Blue's 4G rollouts continuing well into 2014.
Sprint's WiMAX rollouts are progressing nicely, and for those that are in anticipated 4G areas, you have two 4G-enabled devices to choose from (Epic 4G and EVO 4G). Purchase one, and you're covered in both 3G and 4G markets. T-Mobile decided to postpone 4G development in favor of pursuing a faster 3G technology called HSPA+, and in early testing, the numbers are positive. The carrier is expected to launch an HSPA+-capable device later this month.
For Verizon and AT&T customers, the decision whether to wait or purchase is entirely dependent on your location. If you're in one of the aforementioned Verizon test cities, it's worth waiting. For those in small or mid-sized cities, Verizon and AT&T's LTE rollouts are unlikely to affect you for at least a year. Historically speaking, carriers announce new markets days prior to launch, not months or years. Waiting to see when your home in Fargo, North Dakota will be blanketed with Verizon's LTE coverage will result in endless frustration (ask those in San Francisco and NYC, two cities that are still 4G-less). What's more, that two-year-old phone you're looking at replacing will probably break between now and then, forcing you into a two-year contract at an inopportune time.
I like Black Friday as much as the other person, but showing up in line at 10 PM to battle hundreds of frenzied shopaholics to save $50? I'll pass. Cyber Monday is a better option, but in most cases, online retailers like Amazon, Let's Talk, and Wirefly offer cheaper pricing than retail stores year-round. Generally speaking, phones are a depriciating asset, so the device you're carrying (or considering) will drop in value as it ages. In most cases, those "save an extra $100 on the Motorola DROID!"-type advertisements are a sign of something newer coming along.
Tablets are the next big thing, and they're coming in full force. By the end of the year, expect to see four or five tablet options on the nationwide carriers. That said, I see tablets as complimentary to a smartphone, not supplementary. Tablet computers are an excellent laptop alternative for those times in the coffee shop, on the couch, or while in an airplane. They're NOT ideal for browsing at a restaurant, checking the news while in a meeting, or sticking in your pocket while running an errand. Given their size, I don't see them being adopted en masse like a pocketable smartphone.
At CTIA in March, a PR colleague of mine made a great comment (which I'm paraphrasing):
"Doing what I do makes it exceptionally hard to buy a phone, especially when I'm always able to see what's coming in three or six months."
He hit the nail on the head - there's always something newer, bigger, and better in the works. Always. That EVO 4G you're considering will be replaced or supplemented by a better device in six months. Unless there's a specific device you've seen and are holding off for, you'll be waiting forever. At some point, a decision has to be made.
Taking the time to buy a gift for someone you love is a wonderful feeling. It's also nice to treat yourself every now and again. Why not do both?