July 13, 2022
JAKARTA – At around Rp 13 million (US$865) a pop, owning the latest iPhone can burn a hole in your pocket, so renting is the way to go for some people keen to get their hands on one – for whatever reason.
The concept of renting items that are too expensive to purchase is as old as Ancient Rome, when commoners rented living spaces from wealthy landowners.
In modern times, gamers rent consoles by the hour, and Apple iPhones have recently joined the rental trend.
One of the most advanced, fashionable and expensive smartphone brands, there are many reasons why someone might rent an iPhone. These can include trying to appear to be from a high social class and simply having access to what many believe is the best smartphone camera.
Edgar Bayu Refansyah, 23, a sociology postgraduate student at the University of Indonesia and a tutor, pointed out that there were two sides to the iPhone rental phenomenon.
“The iPhone can be seen as a tool to boost the quality and productivity of certain tasks, knowing the brand’s capability to facilitate such things,” said Edgar.
“Moreover, the iPhone is known for its quality camera. The iPhone rental business can be an alternative for photographers or content creators to produce quality visual content at an affordable price.”
He also conceded, “we know a lot of people in our society who believe that owning an iPhone equals having an opulent lifestyle”.
“Some use the gadget for the sake of social acknowledgment, and those who rent an iPhone for a mere lifestyle [look] are usually looking for pseudo-satisfaction that will not last long.”
While it might be true that some people might rent an iPhone for appearances’, others do so for more practical reasons. Other than affordability, renting is preferred when the device is needed only for a limited period. Take Mila Harlind, for example. The 23-year-old East Jakarta resident rents an iPhone to use the device to help out with her studies. “When I was in university, I needed an iPhone XR to help me with data transfers and backups,” Mila said, adding that iPhone rental services helped her access a device she didn’t own. “I don’t need to buy it, because I can just rent it,” she said. Found out about iPhone rental services in 2021 when she stumbled upon a business named Byebeli. Started in 2016 and run by founder-owner Jeffry, who gave only his nickname for privacy reasons, most of Byebeli’s customers were university students or recent graduates who needed an iPhone for a variety of reasons. “Some of them rent an iPhone as a backup phone because their phone is broken or being repaired. Others even rent an iPhone for a [streaming] mobile game tournament for which they need a compatible device to play,” said Jeffry.
From GoPro to go-to business
Jeffry started his device rental business when he purchased a GoPro to capture some moments while surfing and snorkeling in Bali. “However, because I work on weekdays, I was unable to use the GoPro much. That’s when the idea of renting the GoPro came to me,” he said. From his first GoPro, Jeffry expanded his business to offer a broader range of devices for rent, including iPhones. Today, Byebeli provides a variety of iPhone models to rent at daily rates ranging from Rp 100,000 (US$6.74) to Rp 400,000. “I realized that it could benefit others, too, where a lot of people can still experience the product that they need, but at more affordable prices,” Jeffry said. When asked if potential customers sought to rent Android smartphones, Jeffry replied that most typically looked to rent an iPhone. Byebeli also offers promotional discounts to attract more customers and is available in many major cities outside of Bali, including Jabodetabek (Greater Jakarta), Bandung, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Malang. Its promotions has been successful in drawing new customers as well as keeping existing customers, regardless of their need or purpose. Mila, for example, has a promotional offer to rent an iPhone for one month at just 10 times the daily rate. “The iPhone is also guaranteed to be genuine and functional,” she added.
A word of caution
Initially seen as one solution for communication problems, iPhone rentals are more common in big cities. However, it could be just a matter of time before the trend reaches smaller towns and even rural areas.
“On the bright side, iPhone rentals can help those who need to boost their productivity at an affordable price,” said Edgar.
However, he also cautioned that the iPhone was considered a luxury item, and so the device came with the impression that an Apple product was proof that its owner was affluent.
This was where things could go wrong in terms of symbolic interactionism, especially affecting “certain groups in the community that prioritizes lifestyle rather than staple needs”, Edgar said.
“If iPhone use is not addressed properly and wisely [in the sociological context]the phenomenon could be a potential hazard for society, as it will increase hedonism,” he said.