A preamble: Given the current uncompetitive US cellular climate and relatively atrocious level of service provided by all of the major players, a major goal of mine remains minimizing the total dollars given to my cell provider. If this is a shared goal, the optimal time for cell phone replacement, on contract, at subsidized rates, is the first moment possible.
To clarify: Apple sells unlocked iPhones for $650. AT&T sells locked iPhones for $200. That means AT&T purchases iPhones at some rate slightly lower than $650 and subsidizes some amount less than $450 to each customer to entice them into a 2-year contract with a total value somewhere north of $2,000.
This means for every iPhone sold, AT&T pays Apple up front, and earns it back over time. When the subsidy has been recovered, usually between 18 and 24 months, AT&T begins offering its customers new phones at fully subsidized rates in exchange for signing a new contract.
Because the user’s monthly bill does not decline once their subsidy is paid off, AT&T’s profit increases immediately for every customer who continues to use their old phone after it is paid off.
Thus, to avoid paying AT&T any extra money, AT&T customers should upgrade immediately upon being able to receive a full subsidy again.
Hence, 16 months after standing in line for an iPhone 4 at launch day, I have an iPhone 4S.
Two or three days a week he reads the paper out of doors, no matter the weather. Perched at one of the tables overlooking the water, he drinks coffee out of a battered plastic mug. With a duct-taped handle, it is big enough to have come from a gas station, years before. Sometimes he acknowledges other customers, hustling in and out of the cafe’s warmth. Other days he is engrossed in tiny print, the paper held close in front of his eyes.
Wide brimmed hat and overalls on, he is always dressed for warmth. Sometimes he wears a puffy jacket, the kind that goes past the waist. Sometimes only a sweater, though with layers beneath.
The cafe owners know everyone’s story, from the office workers to the dock hands. They know the sheriff whose skiff has a special motorized lift, the lawyer whose wife took the house in the divorce and who now lives on his boat. They must know the story of this man, in his layers reading the newspaper, strangely cordial with the dentist and men in suits that also occupy these tables in warmer weather.
His beard is white and big, bristly and a little wavy. Not thick and curly, broom like, each fiber having a visible strength. Beneath the hat and above the beard his cheeks are weathered, eyes hard to read. A lot of time out of doors, they say.
“My home doesn’t have a motor,” he tells a passer by one day, indicating one of the boats in the marina in front of him. “I just cast off and sit back, pretty soon I’m on my way somewhere.”
Some weeks he’s not there. Adrift somewhere down river, I imagine, on the long windy course to the bay.