Vodafone U.K. Launches Tariff For Perpetual Early Adopters: Rent The Latest Smartphone For A Year Then Switch To The Next Big Thing

Another bit of news to add to the ‘tech is now mainstream‘ pile: U.K. carrier Vodafone has launched a mobile tariff aimed at perpetual early adopters — which enables gadget lovers to own the latest high-end smartphone without actually owning it at all. That’s right: you’re renting network access and the actual hardware with this plan. The only commitment on the hardware side is to 12 months of handset rental before you switch to a younger, shinier model.

And this year’s most desirable smartphones according to Vodafone are: the Apple iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy SIII and the Galaxy Note II.

Announcing the new tariff, which is called Red Hot, Vodafone underlines the problem posed by early adopters for carriers: they are both excellent customers, because they spend a lot, but also problematic customers because they are the ones most likely to complain loudly and bitterly about carrier lock-ins preventing them from getting their hands on the next big thing.

Here’s how Vodafone explains its thinking

Red Hot is our way of acknowledging that everyone’s mobile needs have evolved. “For some people, being up to date with the latest new tech is a big part of who they are,” says Vodafone’s Mark Howe, “and that’s certainly the case where new smartphones are concerned. But the tech comes with quite a large price tag attached to it and many people take 24-month price plans to spread their expenditure out.”

“On the flip side, the speed of development in the smartphone space – let’s not forget it’s only three and a half years since Vodafone launched the HTC Magic, our first Android device – is such that some people feel their phone is effectively old tech with a large chunk of their contract still remaining.”

Of course there are some catches with this plan — aren’t there always? Specifically Red Hot is pretty expensive: the monthly toll costs between £47 ($74) and £69 ($109), depending on handset. And despite all the fanfare about not committing to buy handset hardware there are some upfront fees to pay for certain handsets — of up to £50 ($79) (for a 64GB iPhone 5). Other handsets are indeed unfront-fee-less though.

Commenting on the Red Hot prices, CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood noted in a tweet: “Vodafone Red Hot looks pricey to me. From £47 to £69 /month. Big price to have latest smartphone. Some will pay though!”

Data on these plans is also capped at 2GB (with some extra Wi-Fi data caps). And oddly enough the Red Hot tariff is only available in Vodafone stores — because early adopter types are obviously happiest trudging around the high street, rather than buying online (not). Presumably Vodafone wants these big spenders in store where it can upsell other gizmos and services.

Here’s the full breakdown of this year’s tariffs