Yesterday, AT&T (NYSE: T ) CEO Randall Stephenson suggested that smartphone subsidies can't be sustainable with where the smartphone market is heading, which has some potential implications for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) . Stephenson acknowledged that the industry is attempting to shift toward a financing model instead of the subsidy model. The executive noted that subsidies were useful during the adoption phase of smartphone growth, but now smartphones are shifting to "maintenance" mode and that carriers "can't afford" to continue subsidizing at current levels.
Apple has made big moves in the past at the hint that subsidies are going away, yet shares didn't react much today. The important part is that AT&T and other carriers aren't removing subsidies altogether, and would replace them with financing plans that have the same net effect of reducing upfront costs by spreading them out. Financing is just a more transparent model. In fact, Apple could benefit if the result is that upgrade cycles shorten, since new upgrade programs allow users to upgrade very 12 to 18 months instead of waiting a full two years. Those programs may not be the best deal, but it's still too early to tell how the shift will affect upgrade cycles. For now, Apple will be just fine.
In this segment of Tech Teardown, Erin Kennedy discusses the future of mobile with Evan Niu, CFA, our tech and telecom bureau chief.
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