The new iPhone deals are crazy good, but is that a trap?


Ready to say your vows to a carrier?

Many tech pundits expected that Apple would raise the cost of the new iPhone when it was released, but to the delight of iPhone users, that didn’t happen -- except for the Pro Max which went up $100. 

Hooray? Sure, you can count that as a small victory. However, other questions remain. 

Enlighten us, Obi Won

Is the new iPhone's pricing -- and using a USB-C cable – Apple seeing an opportunity to go after all the Androidites who could be swayed by better prices and more uniform tech? Are the carriers forcing consumers who want the new iPhone to upgrade to a higher priced plan to make up the difference between what the new model was expected to cost and the inviting lower cost? What's going on? 

ConsumerAffairs asked experts to comment on the situation and here’s what two had to say.

“My opinion is that this new price point is not only a harbinger of things to come but also an indication of how much Apple has learned from its competitors,” Mac Steer, owner and director at Simify, said. “I think it's clear that Apple has been watching what other companies like Samsung and Huawei have been doing in terms of their pricing strategies and trying hard to keep up.”

Economics expert Jason Escamilla, founder, CIO at ImpactAdvisor LLC, offered this: "Apple's Cook is using this moment to grab market share by lowering the price of the iPhone, considering inflation. There is plenty of room to expand the lifetime value of an Apple subscriber."

Escamilla said the new 15 isn’t exactly the bee's knees and offers very little in the way of innovation. “But if Apple can better penetrate the global mass market to expand its user base, then needed earnings growth will follow,” he said and that may be the chess move that Apple’s Tim Cook wanted to play all along.

But what about those ginormous deals being offered?

When ConsumerAffairs dug a little deeper, the attractive offers companies are throwing around to get you to buy a new iPhone may be a double-edged sword -- one that consumers need to understand before they jump too quickly.

The Wall Street Journal’s Nicole Nguyen reports that carriers are pitching great iPhone 15 deals – like $1,000 in credit and upwards of $800 in trade-in value – but those companies’ dice are loaded. “When you take the deal, you are locked into paying monthly bills for years,” she wrote.

Plus, consumers who take the bait without reading the fine print may also be in for a rude awakening down the road.

The fine print is always in a company’s favor… always.

Nguyen says two of the things consumers need to know about are “locked phones” and “multi-year commitments.” While the phone companies aren’t showing their cards as to why, Nguyen suggests that one reason is that they want to keep existing customers paying for their plans every month for years to come, and provide an incentive to choose a higher-tier data plan to score the best deal. 

For us consumers, here’s what Nyguen says we need to consider:

Locked phones: If you’re buying a phone through a carrier (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) it’s almost certain that you’ll be wed to that carrier’s network, at least for several months.

“That means you can’t immediately switch to another carrier,” Nguyen said, adding this scary warning for travelers: If you travel outside of the U.S., you won’t be able to use travel eSIMs offered by international telecoms. In other words, if you get the new iPhone from T-Mobile, then you’ll have to use T-Mobile’s “international” plan.

Multiyear loyalty: That fine print has a little pre-nup, too. “There are no service contracts, per se, but to get the full deal, you’ll need to agree to stay with your carrier for several years,” she cautioned.

“Say you do qualify for the $1,000 trade-in deal—the carriers offer some of that amount up front, while the rest is spread out over many months as bill credit. For AT&T and Verizon, the deal is spread over 36 months. For T-Mobile, it’s 24 months. You’re not bound like [you are] with a service contract, but if you want to switch before that period is over, you will lose out on a chunk of the deal’s discounts.”

Is there no way around this?

If it sounds like you have nowhere else to go but AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon to buy your iPhone 15, you do have one option – but only one: buy an unlocked phone from Apple at the full price and without paying for it over a period of time with Apple’s credit plan.

The moment you say, “let me pay for this over 24 months,” you have to select one of Apple’s partner carriers and you’re right back in the arms of T-Mobile, Verizon, or AT&T, ConsumerAffairs learned when we called Apple's sales line.

Coughing up $799 or more isn’t an easy thing for everybody, but then you get an unlocked phone and can take it to any carrier (including those outside the big three like Cricket or GoogleFi) and cut your own deal on terms that you like. An unlocked phone will also get you the freedom to buy a country-specific SIM card when you’re traveling.

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