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How Apple could convince Canadians to upgrade their iPhones

Ashleigh Patterson
Fin - Dashboard - CA
A woman tries the silver colored version of the new iPhone 5S after Apple Inc's media event in Cupertino, California September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/Files

He’s one of those people that will almost always have the latest Apple iPhone, but Tim Mitra doesn’t have much of a choice.

As the CEO of iT Guy Technologies in Toronto, Mitra is both an Apple consultant as well as an iOS developer, so staying current is important -- and expensive.

“I’m spending $400 and breaking contacts all the time, but it’s the cost of doing business,” he says. “The average consumer can’t do that.”

There may be a remedy for that: This week Apple brought its iPhone recycling program to Canada. It means that if you’re using an old iPhone and want to get rid of it, you can bring it to an Apple store and be given a credit towards a newer model. Perhaps predictably, Apple is keeping the way credits are determined vague, but the maximum is $275. That’s probably a lot better than mailing an old iPhone back to Apple for recycling, which has been the current option up until now.

Besides the obvious environmental benefits of sustainably doing away with old technologies, the iPhone recycling program might be an interesting experiment in whether consumers will begin to move more quickly to current technology platforms. For example, Apple and other manufacturers come out with new models almost every year, and spend countless money and R&D time on features and functionally that will compel users to switch things up. Even with fingerprint readers, revamped user interface designs and more, however, it takes a lot to get make someone an early adopter.

“Most people keep them for at least two generations,” Mitra said. “They’ll be using iPhone 4Ses even though we’re now at the iPhone 5s.”

If a credit worth hundreds of dollars gets even a few more people trying out the most recent iPhones, however, it could have a ripple effect on corporations that try to support an increasing range of devices, as well as developers who sometimes put off revising their app. But Mitra, who doesn’t sell iPhones, thinks a massive change in iPhone refreshes is unlikely.

“First of all, most of the people I deal with look at the price at the Apple Store as high,” he said. “Most of the people go through the carrier and get the incentive with the contract. If they did something with the carriers, that might be different.”

What most users may not realize, meanwhile, is that Apple’s recycling program is encouraging iPhone upgrades at a time when the company is working harder to make sure they get the most of the money they spend on one. On Tuesday the company was granted a patent that would allow Apple to change the way an iPhone works based on how old it is or the climate in which it’s being used. If Apple was able to collect data about iPhone use that showed its circuits will run down during certain conditions, for instance, it could issue updates that change the way the device works.

Among the conditions Apple’s patent addresses include "how many charging cycles the battery has been through, the degree of depletion of the battery, the amount of power the battery is still able to supply, etc." according to the patent document.

This approach could ultimately prove more effective for speeding up technology refresh cycles than some money in return for recycling a worn-out or malfunctioning device. If Apple can help improve the experience and lifespan of its latest iPhones, consumers may decide the cost of keeping current is worth every penny.