The big announcement at Apple’s iPhone event wasn’t listening to Jony Ive wax poetically about the new aluminum in the iPhone 6S. No, it was the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program.

It was a shot across the bow at the major carriers. The phones come unlocked; you can upgrade every year, and you have Applecare+ baked in. Sounds great, right?

On the surface, it looks like a hell of a deal. Yes, you do pay a bit more on the installments than with traditional carriers, but it is the cost of Applecare+ that pushes the installment prices a bit higher.

Not only is it one hell of an extended warranty, but if you suffer from iPhone clumsiness, you get coverage for two accidental drops. Hey, we’ve all dropped the thing. It’s like they designed it to slip out of your hand or pocket.

Lots of questions popped up surrounding the iPhone upgrade program. Can you go with a prepaid carrier? Do you have to give up your grandfathered unlimited data plan? Why can’t I do this online?

Apple iPhone Upgrade and Prepaid Carriers

The biggest knock against the program is the fact you have to activate it on one of the big four networks – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint. Once you do that, you are free to jump off the plan the second you walk out the door and go prepaid.

It’s an odd requirement. Three of the four carriers actually own prepaid networks. Cricket is owned by AT&T; MetroPCS is a subsidiary of T-Mobile and Sprint owns both Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. Apple is making you jump through quite a few hoops to get into the company’s program.

There is no minimum time you have to spend with the big four, but you can bet you will be paying for at least one month of service once you activate the phone.

I would expect this to change in the future. The whole of idea of unlocked is the ability to pick and choose your service provider. It could be a question of the carriers setting up the prepaid subsidiaries to take on the activations.

[divider]Unlimited Data Plans[/divider]

Those with the grandfathered plans from Verizon will be happy to know that if you stick with the carrier, your current plan will be honored. That’s a nice customer service move by Verizon. AT&T customers? That answer is still murky. It’s hard to see them saying no when Verizon is still offering the grandfathered plans to longtime customers.

[divider]Unlimited Data Plans[/divider]

Digital nomad? Or maybe you’re heading off on vacation. The unlocked phone allows you to trade the SIM out for one from a foreign carrier, and you’re good to go.

Minor Annoyances

I get why Apple is wanting you to come into the store. Ostensibly, the company says it’s to sign the documentation for the installment program. Yeah, that’s BS. They want you to see all the shiny products in the stores.

What it does do is create a series of hoops for customers to jump through. The closest Apple store is an hour from me. I love dropping in when I’m in the area, but I want to be able to use the upgrade program online.

Having to activate in the store is an annoyance. It wastes time when you can just as easily do it at your home. As for it being unlocked? It is, but you still have to camp out for a month on one of the four carriers.

For prepaid customers, that’s a pretty big annoyance.

Where does the program go from here? It’s hard to see it not ending up being offered online. There’s just not enough retail stores for the number of iPhone customers. And the addition of Applecare+ is just too damn profitable to leave money on the table by leaving entry barriers standing.

Now, can we get this program for the iPad? I have a serious case of wanting to buy shiny objects. Do I need the giant iPad Pro? Nope, but I damn sure want one.

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