By Dan Moren
June 30, 2020 9:00 AM PT
Service Station: iPhone Upgrade Program
After years of spending every fall hemming and hawing over whether or not I was going to buy a new iPhone, I decided in 2015 to sign up for Apple’s newly unveiled iPhone Upgrade Program. First offered alongside the iPhone 6s, the Upgrade Program allows you to pay for your phone on a month-by-month basis over the course of two years. While that might not save you on the cost of the phone outright, it helped avoid having to plop down several thousand dollars in a single go.
But, of course, the kicker is that after twelve months of payments, iPhone Upgrade Program members are eligible to send back their current phone and upgrade to a new phone—and, conveniently enough, that’s usually how long Apple goes between new iPhone models. (What a coincidence.) The Upgrade Program also bundles in AppleCare+, though you don’t get a discounted price: again, it’s just the full cost of the AppleCare+ service plan, divided by twenty-four.
Five years later, I’ve remained a happy Upgrade Program subscriber. Not only has it removed having to worry about whether or not I’ll get a new phone each year, but Apple has greatly improved how the program works. In 2016, when I first attempted to upgrade to a new phone, I had to go into the Apple Store and sit there while we transferred everything and walked through the process of updating my loan. But for the next few years after that, the procedure improved markedly each go-round. Nowadays, Apple’s perfectly happy to let you pick up the phone in a store, or get it delivered straight to your house, and then send back your new phone whenever you’ve completed the transfer at your leisure. (Which, given the current environment of “who knows when all Apple Stores will be open again,” is a significant benefit.)
So, yes, I’m effectively paying to lease a phone on a year-by-year basis. That said, since the amounts have remained pretty much constant for the models of phone that I’ve been buying (with the exception of making the jump from the iPhone 7 tier to the iPhone X tier), it allows me to budget more proactively every month. Plus, when I switched last year to paying my iPhone Upgrade Program bill on my Apple Card, it meant I actually got a little bit of money back every month.
All of which makes me wonder whether I’d consider a similar program for other Apple hardware. I don’t tend to turn over either my iPad or my Macs on as a regular basis, but if the timeframe were different—say, update my iPad every two or three years—that could be a pretty attractive proposition as well.
The Apple Watch is another device that I might be willing to pay a monthly cost for if it would let me upgrade every year or two. I’ve currently got a Series 4, but I won’t lie: I’ve coveted the Series 5’s always-on display. We’ll see what the Series 6 brings.
Certainly nobody will argue that the iPhone Upgrade Program is a bad thing for Apple: the company makes recurring revenue from subscribers and more or less guarantees itself that members will upgrade their phones and stay in the ecosystem. (You can, of course, choose not to upgrade and pay the loan until the end of the term, or to pay it off early if you want to, say, pass it down to a family member or sell it yourself.)
But on top of being good for Apple, it’s a good thing for lots of customers too, whether they don’t want to worry about spending all the money in one lump sum, trying to figure out the best deal with their carrier, or simply like the peace of mind from having AppleCare thrown in. It doesn’t fit everybody’s needs, that’s true, but it’s great to have it as an option, especially for those of us who are committed to the iPhone upgrade treadmill.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]