AppleCare+ Cost for Phones, iPads - Do You Win or Lose?

AppleCare+ for iPads and iPhones has turned into a game of Russian Roulette with all kinds of options and service charges for accidental damage. I couldn't see the whole picture at first, so I've built a handy table to help you decide if AppleCare+ for an iPhone or iPad is right for you.

First, I should mention that Apple makes a lot of money with AppleCare, whether it's the AppleCare Protection Plan for Macs and displays or AppleCare+ for iOS devices. Apple corporate puts heavy pressure on all its sales force to "attach" AppleCare to any product sale. It's like gambling in Las Vegas. You know the house is going to make money, but occasionally, the statistics will allow a few individuals to beat the house.

Also, Apple has two very good things going for it. Its products are well made, and people have an appreciation for them. They may buy AppleCare on an emotional basis, not caring about the odds, and the device isn't likely to break on its own. Apple wins. Secondly, because Apple products are so beautiful and essential, everyone takes really good care of them, not wanting to be without. Applecare is also, then, money in Apple's pocket.

Given that Apple is going to make money in the long run, the challenge for the customer is to size up the potential risks and decide if out of pocket costs later will be less than the upfront cost of AppleCare+ on an iPhone or iPad for accidental damage. Note that Apple's standard one year warranty doesn't cover accidental damage, which is what we're discussing here.

The best course of action depends on which device you're working with, the environment, the type of user and the risks for that device. I was curious myself, so I made up a table. The sources for this table are:

From these pages, I extracted the following reference table. (If I've made any mistakes, please let me know.)

The trick is to predict the most likely outcome. Not easy.

One way to assess whether AC+ is a good option for accidental damage is to imagine a possible scenario and compute the out of pocket costs.

Scenario #1. You have an iPad Air 2. You're planning to take it on a business trip to Kenya. Let say, despite a good case, it gets munched on by an animal, the back is cracked and the Home button is destroyed. You passed on AC+. It's going to cost you $379 to have it repaired. With AC+, the cost would have been $148. You win.

Scenario #2. You have an iPhone 6 and work primarily out of a home office. When you go out, the iPhone 6 is in a very good case. You drop it in the parking lot at Starbucks, and the display cracks in an ugly way. Without AC+ the cost to fix the display is $109. However, with AC+ your cost is $178. Apple wins.

On the other hand, let's say you your display is fine, but you've heavily dented the case and the iPhone 6 won't boot. In this situation, your repair charge will be $299 (Other damage) while AC+ would have been, again $178. You win.

Scenario #3. You have an iPad mini 3, bought it with AC+, and 18 months into its life, the battery dies. Apple will replace it for no charge at all. AC+ paid for itself. Call it a draw. But it was a bad battery. Two months later, the new one also dies. Again, no charge to you. This time you win. Or the battery could outlive both of you. Then Apple wins.

The above table makes for some complicated risk assessment. From my own experience, AppleCare has saved me money on the long run, but I recognize that that may not be true for everyone. After all, if Apple's going to make money, the math has to work in its favor.

Finally, except for the battery discussion, none of the above takes into account the fact that AppleCare+ extends your standard one year warranty to two years and extends the sometimes vital telephone suport from 90 days to two years.  Those factors alone can be worth peace of mind.

I hope the table above helps you better assess the risks and payoff for your own situation when it comes to accidental damage. I know it opened my own eyes.