The Pros and Cons of Buying an iPhone Directly From Apple

Debating whether to buy an iPhone from Apple or your cell phone carrier? Here's what you need to know.

person holding an iphone13 Box Photo: Getty Images

Eager to get your hands on the latest iPhone? You can buy one from just about any major electronics retailer, but because most stores offer the same models at roughly the same prices, it’s often simpler and more convenient to buy an iPhone directly from Apple or your carrier.

But shopping for a phone involves more than convenience and price. You also have to consider things like extended warranties, the cost and ease of screen replacement and other repairs, and the long-term commitments woven into some deals offered by carriers.

How do you decide which route is best? Here are some things to consider.

The Pros of Buying an iPhone From Apple

Frequent upgrades. If you like having the latest iPhone in your pocket the week it’s launched, take a look at Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program. It helps you get that new phone every year by trading in your current model and making 12 months’ worth of payments to cover the balance in price.

More on Smartphones

Tech support: Baked into the iPhone Upgrade Program is AppleCare+, which is one of the few extended-warranty programs recommended by Consumer Reports for certain consumers. That means if your phone gets damaged, you can take it straight to Apple to have it fixed or replaced as part of your plan. 

The iPhone Upgrade Program starts at $35 per month, depending on the phone model you select. If you buy an iPhone 13 with 128GB of storage, for example, it costs $40 per month. If you use Apple’s no-interest financing for 24 months, the same phone costs $33 per month without AppleCare+. That $7 a month difference in price may be worth it to you if you want a new phone every year, plus the benefits of extended coverage.

Low insurance cost: Although you have the option to purchase cell phone insurance through your service provider, those plans usually have a higher price than AppleCare+ and offer fewer benefits, says Marsha Barnes, a financial coach and CEO/founder of The Finance Bar. Adding theft and loss coverage to the AppleCare+ included in the iPhone Upgrade Program starts at about $4 per month. Meanwhile, Verizon charges $17 per month for insurance and device protection, T-Mobile’s insurance ranges from $7 to $18 per month, and AT&T’s device protection plan costs $15 per month.

Switching carriers at any time: If you buy an unlocked phone through Apple, you can switch cell phone providers at will, even if you haven’t yet paid off your phone. If you buy your phone through a carrier, you have to pay the full remaining balance before bolting.

Greater availability: You can buy an iPhone immediately in your choice of color and storage capacity at one of 272 Apple Store locations in the U.S. or have it shipped to you for free. Depending on your location, you might even be able to get two-hour delivery. In contrast, when I checked T-Mobile’s website, all of the iPhone 13 models were on backorder for several weeks. The iPhone 13 Pro was backordered for a couple of weeks on Verizon, too.

The Apple Store also has a wider range of accessories than most carrier stores.

The Cons of Buying an iPhone From Apple

You could miss special discounts. Although the iPhone rarely goes on sale anywhere, carriers often offer limited-time promotions if you trade in an old phone, add a new line, or switch to their service. For example, Verizon is currently offering up to $1,000 in bill credits with a qualified trade-in and if you’re on or upgrade to an Unlimited plan; it’s also offering an iPhone 11 for free when you switch from a different carrier or add a new line. T-Mobile is offering up to $1,000 off with a trade in and if you’re on or upgrade to their Magenta MAX plan. And AT&T is offering up to $800 in bill credits if you trade in an eligible smartphone. 

Apple’s website highlights some special deals from these carriers but not all of them, so it’s worth checking with your carrier before ordering your iPhone.

Potentially lower trade-in value: Your current phone might be worth more when you trade it in at a carrier instead of Apple. An iPhone 11 in good shape, for example, has a $300 trade-in value at Apple compared with $800 at T-Mobile and AT&T, thanks to current promotions. Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21+, also have much less trade-in value at Apple than at cell phone carriers—and Apple’s list of eligible trade-ins is much shorter, too.

Shorter financing term: Apple’s no-interest financing is spread over 24 months, so your monthly payment might be slightly higher than with carriers that have longer financing terms. T-Mobile spreads payments across 30 months, AT&T breaks payments into 36 months, and Verizon offers either 24- or 30-month financing. The total retail price will be about the same regardless of where you buy, but a longer term can be a bit easier on your wallet from month to month.

Headshot of CR author Melanie Pinola

Melanie Pinola

I've loved gadgets for as long as I can remember. In fact, my first smartphone was the Nokia 9000, a marvel in the late '90s for having the world's first graphical web browser on a mobile device. I'm still enchanted with technology, and as a tech writer, it's my goal to help people get the most out of it. When I'm not researching or writing, I'm playing video games with my family, testing new recipes, or trying to get my puppy to stop eating sticks. Feel free to reach me on Twitter (@melaniepinola).