Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: The End of the AppleCare Road

We are all familiar with AppleCare. When we buy a new Apple product, we are presented with the option to extend the product’s one-year limited warranty to either last longer, or in the case of AppleCare+, include hardware damage as well.

There is debate to be had whether or not these extended warranties are worth it. I purchase AppleCare on my 27-inch 5K iMac because I know if it ever needs a repair, it can be pricey. Of course, I also know people — ahem, Jason — who never buy AppleCare and think I’m silly for doing so.

What most people aren’t as familiar with is what happens at the tail-end of a product’s life when it comes to being serviced by Apple.

My iMac is under AppleCare until October 11, 2019. Until that date, any in-warranty hardware repair will cost me $0.

If my machine experiences a failure after that date, it’d be up to me to pay for any parts and labor needed to repair it. Eventually, however, Apple will stop offering repair services for it.

Outlined in this support document, the normal cut-off point for hardware support is roughly five years:

Owners of iPhone, iPad, iPod, or Mac products may obtain service and parts from Apple or Apple service providers for 5 years after the product is no longer manufactured — or longer where required by law. Apple has discontinued support for certain technologically obsolete and vintage products.

It’s important to note that the five-year mark isn’t a hard line in time. Apple generally updates its list a couple of times a year, but once a machine is listed as “vintage,” Apple Stores can no longer repair them.

Third-party providers who buy their parts from Apple can no longer get parts at this point, but often will replace standard parts like hard drives or optical drives with third-party options.

If a vintage machine needs an expensive repair like a logic board or screen, I would consider it the end of the road unless a service provider has the part on hand already. Even then, the expense may not be worth it.

There are a few exceptions to the vintage rule, as Apple points out. Owners of vintage Mac products in Turkey, France and the state of California may obtain service and parts from Apple service providers within those regions.

After seven years, an Apple product is considered obsolete:

Apple has discontinued all hardware service for obsolete products with no exceptions. Service providers cannot order parts for obsolete products.

In short, after five years, you may be able to have a device repaired, but after seven, it’s time to replace it if something goes wrong with the hardware.

While I’m a fan of old Apple hardware, I have no real issue with Apple’s decisions here. Five years seems reasonable to me.

However, there’s a hiccup when it comes to what machines macOS will support. Very often, the OS’ support goes back in time further than the five year mark. Currently, these vintage machines are supported by macOS Sierra:

  • MacBook Pro (Mid 2010 and Early 2011)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2010)
  • MacBook (Late 2009)
  • Mac Mini (Mid 2010)
  • iMac (Late 2009 and Mid 2010)

For example, if the owner of a Mid 2010 iMac experienced a hard drive failure while upgrading to Sierra, the Genius Bar would have to turn them away. I don’t know how many users fall into this land-between-the-lists, but I have to believe that leads to some awkward and potentially confusing customer service interactions.

I’m glad that macOS has such a long support tail, though, so I’m generally okay with this overlap. But it’s something to be aware of if you are running the newest software on an older machine.

(As a quick aside, no iOS device falls into this bucket currently. All vintage iOS hardware is far too old to run the newest version of iOS.)

Mac hardware can last a long time if it’s properly cared for, but failures eventually strike every machine. It’s important to know your options when that day comes.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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