The two-year itch is kicking in for Apple junkies.
With the new iPhone 5 expected to be unveiled Wednesday, an unprecedented wave of iPhone owners is looking to sell or trade their devices - a vast majority of them no older than 24 months - to get their hands on the latest replacement.
The fever pitch has been fanned largely by rumors that Apple will dramatically change the iPhone's appearance and functions, featuring a larger screen and thinner frame that will make current models look dowdy in comparison.
Many iPhone 4 users opted against upgrading to the 4S model, introduced last October, because of the perceived lack of differences. And that has also generated pent-up demand for upgrading to the iPhone 5, says Jeff Trachsel, chief marketing officer of NextWorth, a company that offers quotes for and buys back used gadgets.
NextWorth sees an uptick in requests for quotes before the Apple event is even announced - "when it's all rumors and speculation," Trachsel says. "This year, it happened a lot sooner than in years past, and happened in greater scale."
The number of quotes requested for old iPhones on NextWorth.com from Aug. 17 to Sept. 6 rose 610% compared with the same three-week period prior to the iPhone 4S event in 2011.
About half of the phones submitted for quotes at NextWorth are iPhone 4, the model released in 2010. IPhone 4S makes up about 20%, while the older iPhone 3G and 3GS models make up the rest. "A lot of people thought it wasn't worth breaking their contract going from 4 to 4S," Trachsel says.
Gazelle, a rival of NextWorth, also reports a sharp hike in demand from iPhone owners looking to sell. "It's the biggest iPhone launch ever," says Anthony Scarsella, Gazelle's chief gadget officer. "The new body style is definitely influencing consumer behavior."
Not surprisingly, the buyback companies urge consumers to lock in quotes early as prices depreciate closer to the new model launch. Currently, used iPhone prices range from about $315 for the top-end model (an AT&T iPhone 4S with 64 gigabytes) to about $35 for low-end devices (iPhone 3G with 8GB, introduced in 2008). AT&T phones are slightly more expensive in the used-phone market because they use the same technology standard used in many other countries.
Those savvy and patient enough to handle eBay or Craigslist transactions will likely get higher prices for their phones. Consumers can also sell back their phones at large retailers, such as Best Buy and Target. Apple will also accept working used phones by mail and send back a gift card reflecting their calculated value.