In the midst of the excitement over the iPhone 7, Apple made some quiet changes to its AppleCare+ program. AppleCare has long been on our list of things you should think carefully about before purchasing from Apple. That’s because the economics of the program haven’t always worked out in consumers’ favor when a device does need to be repaired or replaced.
Every iPhone, whether it’s sold by Apple or purchased from another retailer, comes with a one-year limited warranty called AppleCare. That coverage is free and is automatically activated when you buy your iPhone. It offers a year of protection against defects and 90 days of free phone support. AppleCare doesn’t protect you against any kind of accidental damage. If you’re prone to breaking your phones, then you might consider purchasing AppleCare+, which costs an extra $129 and has to be purchased within 60 days of buying your iPhone. An AppleCare+ plan extends the one-year warranty to two years and gives you some protection against accidental damage.
Thanks to Apple’s recent changes to AppleCare+, you can now get a broken iPhone screen repaired for $29. That’s much lower than the $79 that Apple used to charge. But does that make AppleCare worth it? Here’s what you need to know about whether or not the plan is worth it to protect your brand-new iPhone.
1. You have to pay a hefty enrollment fee for AppleCare+
As Bryan Menegus reports for Gizmodo, the first and most obvious “catch” related to AppleCare+ is the enrollment fee. Signing up for AppleCare+ costs $129, which includes two repairs due to “accidental damage from handling.” That means that, technically speaking, your first screen repair will cost $158 total — which is a lot more than would be ideal. But the next one will cost only $29.
The plus side is that an AppleCare+ plan also extends your iPhone’s warranty to two years. All iPhones get a year of Apple’s limited warranty for free, but that warranty only provides protection from defects. The warranty doesn’t cover anything related to accidents, including drops or water damage, or the slow degrading of components like batteries. It does, however, give you two incidents after which, for a $99 fee, you can exchange a broken iPhone for a replacement. But there are some other important catches to consider before you enroll in AppleCare+.
2. After two incidents, the utility of AppleCare+ is gone
Menegus reports that there are several other catches that should factor in to whether or not you buy an AppleCare+ plan for your iPhone. Apple can replace a cracked screen for $29, but those repairs fall into the same category as more labor-intensive repairs, which cost $99. The problem is that AppleCare+ covers only two of either variety. So in Menegus’s words, “you’re screwed if something more serious breaks down in the device and you’ve already used two ADH claims to repair cracked screens.”
He notes that not all that much has changed. And at the very least, screen repairs will be cheaper than they used to be. (Which is good news if you can’t own an iPhone without cracking the screen at some point.) But you should still carefully weigh your options before you shell out for an AppleCare+ plan.
3. Repairing your iPhone yourself is still cheaper
If you’re moderately handy and don’t mind voiding the warranty on your smartphone, that option will still be cheaper than buying and using an AppleCare+ plan. Gizmodo notes that a DIY iPhone screen replacement kit will cost between $40 and $60, “which works out to three or four screen repairs for the price of Apple’s two.” By contrast, buying AppleCare+ and paying for two repairs will cost you between $187 and $327, depending on whether the repairs cost $29 or $99.
Another money-saving option is to take your phone to a non-certified repair shop. The catch is that replacing the screen yourself, or putting the repair in the hands of someone who isn’t certified, may result in damage to your phone. Repairing your phone yourself is the cheapest route, but also the riskiest. Menegus advises that if you don’t trust yourself to replace a cracked screen, signing up for AppleCare+ can make sense. And AppleCare+ will be cheaper and easier than going to a sketchy third-party repair company.
4. AppleCare+ still only lasts two years
Sean Keach reports for Trusted Reviews that while AppleCare+ does offer some good benefits, another catch with the program is that its benefits only last two years from the original iPhone purchase date. If you’re a longtime iPhone owners, you’ve probably realized that there’s no good time to buy a new iPhone. So even if you’ve had your iPhone for a couple of years, you may find yourself waiting longer in order to avoid buying the current iPhone right before a new one is released.
The point is that it’s entirely plausible that you’ll want to keep your iPhone for longer than two years. Modern smartphones, including iPhones, have such high-end components that they last longer than the smartphones we were all buying (and upgrading like clockwork) years ago. And since carrier subsidies have largely gone the way of two-year contracts, smartphones are more expensive than ever. If you plan on keeping your iPhone for more than two years, AppleCare+ likely won’t cover it for the entire period of ownership.
5. AppleCare+ is only useful if you live near an Apple store
iMore’s Rene Ritchie points out that to get the most value out of an AppleCare+ plan, it helps if you live close to an Apple store. If not, you’ll have to mail your iPhone to Apple in order to get it serviced — which is not an ideal solution thanks to how much we all depend on our phones. As Ritchie notes, “Unless you have a backup phone laying around, going without for a prolonged period could be problematic for many.”
People who live in major cities likely have an Apple store nearby, which means that they’ll at least be able to get a broken iPhone taken care of quickly (assuming that they can get an appointment on a convenient day and time). But if you live 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or even hours away from an Apple store, an AppleCare+ plan probably won’t be a practical way to get a broken iPhone repaired on a timely basis.
6. There are other ways to get the same protection
Ritchie also reports that many consumers have access to loyalty programs and even credit card offers that can provide at least some of the coverage afforded by AppleCare+, but for less. For instance, some credit cards offer warranty extensions, plus programs that protect against breakage and theft. The requirements and benefits vary but often require that your account is in good standing and that you paid for your iPhone with the card in question. Premium cards often offer additional benefits.
Another good option is SquareTrade, which offers warranties similar to AppleCare+ but isn’t affiliated with or licensed by Apple. A SquareTrade warranty will cover drops, spills, and malfunctions. The company doesn’t have retail outlets, but does offer free two-way shipping. One-year, two-year, and three-year plans cost $89, $149, and $179. They automatically renew for $89 a year. There’s a $99 deductible on claims. In addition to accident coverage, SquareTrade will reimburse you for Genius Bar appointments. It offers next-day replacements, and covers same-day repairs through local shops (which can make it an attractive choice for people who don’t live near an Apple Store).