Rethinking AppleCare


If you search the web for opinions on AppleCare and other extended warranty service programs, you’ll find no shortage. I tend not to buy extended warranties or other types of protection plans for most products. As someone who previously worked in retail, I know sales associates are pushed to sell them because they were practically pure profit for the business. I figured if it was such a good deal for the business, how could it be that great a deal for me as a consumer? It’s been a very rare occasion where I’ve spent money on an extended warranty that I’ve actually used.

AppleCare has always been the exception, something I bought on all my machines and most of my iOS devices. But the more I think about it, it’s no longer an “instant buy” and now must be evaluated more carefully based on the individual’s needs and lifestyle. AppleCare comes in two flavors, the standard AppleCare that can be purchased for Macs and displays and extends complementary phone support and coverage for manufacturer defects and failed components for a total of three years. (Apple’s standard phone support is 90 days while the standard warranty is one year.) Apple has also introduced AppleCare+, available for iOS devices, which extends protection to also include accidental damage (drops, water damage, etc.) with a deductible that varies by device. Notably, AppleCare for iOS devices have only a two year warranty rather than the three offered for computers.

I personally have never found much value in the phone support. As a tech-savvy consumer, I’ve never had a technical issue that I couldn’t resolve myself and had to turn to AppleCare. Typically by the time I call AppleCare, I’ve diagnosed the problem myself and I know I have a hardware failure. Certainly, there are people who will find the extended phone support valuable, I’m just not one of them.

Extending the manufacturer’s warranty another one or two years beyond the standard warranty is where I look for value. I’ve mostly bought AppleCare for my Macs more as an insurance policy than anything else. When I was in college and just starting out in my career, I didn’t necessarily have the expendable income in my budget to pay for a repair or replacement. AppleCare was the insurance that meant if a hardware failure occurred in year two or three, my Mac would be repaired or replaced. It’s been argued in an age of fewer moving components in our computers, failures during years two and three of a product’s lifespan may be less common. Most computers in Apple’s product line now feature solid state hard drives, no optical drive, and embedded RAM. However, Apple’s move towards thinner designs means less user-serviceable parts and limited third party repair options which makes repairing or replacing a damaged component more difficult and more expensive.

The last hardware repair of a Mac I can recall was 4–5 years ago in a 2nd generation MacBook Air. The SSD and motherboard failed and the cost to repair would have exceeded the value of the machine. However, in this case I had AppleCare and the failure occurred within the first 3 months of ownership, a period that would already be covered by the standard warranty. I never had another bit of trouble nor has the new owner reported any with the now out of warranty machine. The last two Macs I’ve purchased have performed flawlessly.

On the other hand, just this summer, I had an occasion to use AppleCare for a blown motherboard on my Apple Cinema Display with only 16 days left in my three years of AppleCare coverage. (Talk about great timing!) In that instance, the $99 I spent on AppleCare saved me from having to go out and unexpectedly spend spending several hundred dollars. (I likely would have bought a refurbished Cinema Display for $799.) Now, my 24" Cinema Display has been repaired and will hopefully last me another 3–4 years when I will replace the display on my terms.

AppleCare for iOS devices becomes even more of a gray area. On one had, you can argue because we take these devices with us everywhere we go they are subjected to more abuse and risk than our computers. On the other, depending on the model purchased and under what circumstances (subsidized or unsubsidized) AppleCare can make up a much larger percentage of the overall purchase. AppleCare for iOS has the benefit of covering up to two incidents of accidental damage with a deductible, which can be very important if you’re accident prone or the device is used by children. But it also only extends the warranty on the device for an additional one year, rather than two years with computers.

I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never had an iOS device broken due to accidental damage and I don’t use a case with my iPhone. Additionally, all the members of my immediate family have iPhones and only one had to replace an iPhone due to an unfortunate run-in with the washing machine. It’s important to know yourself and you habits, but accidents can happen to anyone. I have used AppleCare+ on a number of occasions to replace iPhone batteries between years one and two. One of the main reasons I keep AppleCare+ on my iPhone is peace of mind. I don’t have an Apple Store nearby and I’ve found having AppleCare+ usually means I can get a new iPhone sent to me by overnight service when something goes wrong with my phone.

However, from a pure cost/benefit analysis AppleCare+ on an iPhone make sense unless you regularly file claims due to accidental damage. According to Apple’s website out of warranty service on an iPhone 5, 5s, or 5c is $269 regardless of configuration. The price drops to $199 for an iPhone 4S and $149 for older models. This means if you didn’t have coverage on your phone, your worst-case is $269. If you had AppleCare+, you would have paid $99 for the service, plus a $79 service fee, so your total savings would only be $91 for a single incident. Out of warranty battery replacement for an iOS device is a flat fee of $99 while some repairs, such as cracked glass, may cost less than the full service amount. Don’t forget, there are also third party repair options or you could do it yourself, just make sure you’re getting quality service and parts.

Apple offers a similar out of warranty replacement service for iPads. According toApple’s support site, an iPad Air, or a 3rd or 4th generation iPad will cost $299 to service, while a retina iPad mini or an iPad 2 costs $249, and the iPad mini costs $219. Again, when compared with the $99 fee for AppleCare+ and a $49 deductible, the potential savings for a single incident is $151. Battery replacement service is offered for a $99 flat fee and some repairs may be less expensive than the full rate.

After all this rethinking of my AppleCare strategy, where do I stand? Well, it depends. I decided not to buy AppleCare+ for my new iPad mini with retina display. I’m going to keep a close eye on the battery and have it evaluated near month 10 or 11 and see if a replacement is necessary when it’s at the end of the warranty period. I’m pretty careful with my devices and of the two, I think the iPad is probably less likely to be the victim of an accident. But if it is, I accept that I’ll have to spend $250 for an out of warranty replacement.

The iPhone is a harder call for me. Although I’ve never needed accidental coverage it’s a possibility with the iPhone and the peace of mind AppleCare offers is reassuring. Especially since I don’t use a case with my iPhone I can apply that cost towards purchase of AppleCare+. This is what MacSparky calls the $100 Invisible iPhone Case. AppleCare+ is more expensive with an accidental damage claim for the iPhone, but I’m probably 60/40 in favor of AppleCare+ on my next iPhone purchase.

As for my next Mac, I’m really up in the air. I’ve had very good luck with my last few Macs and if I added up the money I’ve spent on AppleCare that I haven’t used over the years it would probably be enough to buy my next Mac. AppleCare does add to the resale value of a Mac, and I usually sell around the 24–30 month mark when my Mac still has AppleCare left, which is a big bonus for me not to have to deal with potential problems after a sale. Still, I’m probably 60/40 against AppleCare on my next Mac purchase.

Of course, to each their own. You need to evaluate your device lifestyle, ability to pay for an unexpected repair or replacement, and tolerance for risk. If I had kids who used my iPad or iPhone, AppleCare+ would be a no-brainer. You should also evaluate the availability of an out of warranty repair as the options I quoted above are only for the United States and are subject to change. The takeaway for me is that AppleCare was a decision I needed to give more thought rather than just automatically adding it on to my Mac or iOS purchase, and I think it’s good for everyone to evaluate these things from time-to-time.

This article first appeared in the December 2013 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at