The AppleCare gamble

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The release of the $1,000 iPhone X has renewed a tech nerd debate: is AppleCare+, Apple’s extended warranty and accident protection service, worth the price?

The iPhone X’s sky-high repair costs change the calculus somewhat. Shatter the screen of your X (sans AppleCare), and you’re out $279. Break anything else, and Apple will charge you $549(!) to replace the phone entirely. That sticker-shock price may scare some consumers into dropping another $199 for AppleCare.

Numbers that high make me nervous, too. Still, I’ve never sprung for AppleCare+. Here are some reasons I’ve been stingy:

  • I’ve never broken a phone. In seven years of iPhone ownership across five different devices (iPhone 4, 5, 6, 7, and X), I’ve never actually damaged a phone (beyond a scratch or two). My screens haven’t shattered, and the phones with glass backs haven’t busted. That perfect track record makes me cocky.
  • I’m obsessive about cocooning my devices. When I order a new phone, I order a sturdy case and a screen protector to go with it. My iPhones literally go straight from their original packaging into a case, and they don’t come out unless I’m cleaning the device or preparing to sell it. Of course, cases can’t prevent all damage, but so far I’ve been lucky. Even some significant drops haven’t noticeably damaged my ensconced handsets.
  • Those AppleCare coverage charges add up over the years. If I had bought AppleCare for each iPhone I’ve owned, I would have spent something like $555 in about seven years—with no actual benefit beyond peace of mind. Given this savings, I feel pretty comfortable “self-insuring” my devices; I’ll keep doing it as long as my out-of-pocket repair costs (currently $0) remain lower than than what I would pay adding AppleCare.
  • My credit card makes AppleCare somewhat redundant. My Chase Freedom card offers an extra year of extended warranty protection for anything I buy. That perk eliminates one clear benefit of the AppleCare plan and further diminishes its potential value.
  • Annual iPhone upgraders enjoy perpetual warranty coverage, anyways. By the time the iPhone X’s one-year warranty expires, there’s a good chance I will have sold it and upgraded to a newer device (with its own year-long warranty). So AppleCare’s extended warranty offers no real benefit.
  • AppleCare is less attractive for those who live far from an Apple retail outlet. For many Apple customers, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a bleached-wood-and-frosted-glass palace nearby—a place to have your busted phone serviced, often in a single day. But those who live in the sticks (like me) face a week-long wait, a back-and-forth with Apple via the package couriers. In other words, phone repairs are a pain, whether I buy AppleCare or not.

In the end, I’m betting on my own ability to prevent iPhone catastrophes. As long as I don’t bust my phone more than once every few years, that gamble will continue to pay off. ■