TechnologyTell

MacBooks and iPads: To AppleCare or not AppleCare?

Sections: Features, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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Every Mac comes with a one-year limited warranty and up to 90 days of complimentary telephone technical support. You can extend coverage to three years from your machine’s original purchase date with the AppleCare Protection Plan, but it’ll cost you—AppleCare runs up to $349 with a 15-inch MacBook Pro.

iPads also come with one year of hardware repair coverage through its limited warranty and up to 90 days of complementary support. AppleCare+ for iPad extends your coverage to two years (not three as with Macs) from the original purchase date of your iPad and adds up to two incidents of accidental damage coverage, each subject to a $49 service fee plus applicable tax. AppleCare+ coverage for iPad costs $99.00.

For your money, you get direct, one-stop access to Apple’s telephone technical support questions about Apple hardware, operating systems, and Apple software applications such as iLife and iWork for the specified period of coverage. You also get global repair coverage for your Mac and Apple display if you have one through service options.

applecarePersonally, I’ve never opted for AppleCare for any of the new or refurbished Macs I’ve purchased over the past 22 years, and have never even made a warranty claim under the basic 1 year warranties on any of my Apple notebooks, although I did have a defective (excessively noisy) cooling fan replaced on a LC 520 desktop back in the early ’90s. I simply am not convinced AppleCare coverage is a worthwhile expenditure for me.

I do take my Macs and iPad mobile from time to time, but I work from a home office, and the vast preponderance of my usage is in that relatively low-risk of accidental damage environment. And how much risk one is comfortable assuming is the key issue when it comes to extended warranties like AppleCare.

I’ve done very well without AppleCare over the years, but there are also Apple hardware users who sing its praises after experiencing catastrophic hardware failures that were repaired under the service.

This week, iMore’s Peter Cohen posted a well-reasoned argument in favor of buying AppleCare for Apple laptops, which he says at his house get moved around a lot, and taken mobile routinely.

Cohen notes that Apple’s MacBook Airs and Pros have gotten slimmer and lighter over the years as well, and markedly more complex, making it more difficult to virtually impossible for even experienced and tech-savvy Mac owners get inside and actually fix problems. Consequently, MacBooks are expensive to repair, and if something does go wrong during the unit’s first three years of service, you’ll make your money back on the first repair.

That is, assuming you have a first repair. I’ve owned seven new or Apple refurbished Mac laptops since 1996, plus an iPad, and none suffered any hardware failures in their first three years of use—or in the case of my newest, a 13-inch MacBook Air, its first nine months.

I figure that at this point, had I purchased AppleCare for each of those machines, I’d have spent something like the price of a new loaded MacBook Pro with Retina Display and then some, with no benefit to show for it aside from some peace of mind that might have been illusory anyway. So, even if I do now someday have a major hardware meltdown outside the basic one-year warranty period that I have to pay for myself, I’m still ahead of the game having not bought AppleCare over the years. Your mileage may vary.

Most Warranty Issues Happen In The First Year

The strongest likelihood of warranty issues happening is in the first year, in which case you’re covered anyway. The second two years (one year for the iPad) of coverage that you pay for with AppleCare are more of a dice-roll, although given the general reliability of Apple portables, if your Mac or iPad survives the initial 12 month warranty period with no repairs needed (as is most likely), or is repaired during the first year, the probability of it needing repairs during the subsequent two years is relatively low (although it could, of course, still happen).

Check Possible Credit Card Extended Warranty Coverage

Note also that that many major credit cards will double the manufacturer’s warranty period (often capped at two years) on purchases made with their cards. However, if you use your computer for work, be sure to read the fine print, since most credit card warranty extensions don’t apply to machines used for business purposes.

Insurance is another matter, and I do keep my late-model Mac laptops insured with all-perils coverage using a personal articles rider on my homeowner’s insurance policy, which also covered my kids’ computers while they were at college.

Several years ago, Consumer Reports surveyed the experience of readers who had purchased extended warranties on electronic equipment. On average, consumers had paid about as much for the extended warranty, by the time the product needed service or repair, as the average repair cost for a product of that age (but bear in mind Peter Cohen’s point about today’s machines, especially laptops, being harder to repair). In most categories of electronic products, fewer than 25% of units surveyed had required repairs within five years.

Another point to consider is that with the historically lowest ever prices of computers these days—even Apple laptops and tablets—spending two or three hundred dollars on extended warranty coverage now represents a substantial fraction of the cost of a brand-new or certified refurbished replacement computer with a fresh warranty, probably with more power and a better feature set than your present machine. It was different back in the day when you could spend $5,000 or more on a high-end PowerBook. For example, back in August, 1997, the PowerBook 3400c/240 was selling for a suck-in-your-breath $5,879.02, and its lower-end entry level sibling, the 3400c/180, went for a still-daunting $3,821.02 (MacMall ad), but with 13″ Retina MacBook Airs selling new for $999.99 and Retina Pros for $1,299.00 the dynamics have changed substantially.

The Investment Alternative

An alternative to purchasing AppleCare is to take the money you would’ve spent on an extended warranty and invest it. If you do need service or repair after the original warranty runs out, you can cash in your investment to help pay for it, hopefully with some interest or growth added. However, if your Mac survives the initial 12 month warranty period with no repairs needed (as is most likely), or is repaired during the first year, the probability of it needing repairs during the subsequent two years is relatively low (although it could happen). The likelihood, however, is that your “repair fund” money can remain invested until you upgrade to a new system, at which time you could put it toward the new computer purchase, or keep it socked away against potential out-of-warranty repairs on the new machine, adding the amount you would’ve had to pay for AppleCare on the new machine, with attendant dollar cost averaging and so forth.

There’s also the extended telephone technical support aspect of AppleCare. Personally, I’m tech-savvy enough that I don’t have a lot of interest in extended Apple tech support (Apple’s standard phone tech support on new machines expires after 90 days.), but for for some users AppleCare’s tech support lifeline might be helpful.

The AppleCare Protection Plan can only be purchased while your device is still under its original one-year warranty. All covered systems and covered Apple peripherals must either be new or newly refurbished by Apple (Apple Certified Refurbished), or still be under Apple’s limited warranty to qualify for Protection Plan coverage.

Don’t Buy Until The Deadline

Note well that in the event that you are interested in buying the AppleCare protection plan, it is in your best interest to wait until the 12th month of ownership before purchasing (or within 60 days of your iPad purchase), rather than buying the coverage when you purchase your computer, unless you really need or want phone support after the basic 90 days.

In summary, my philosophy is that if you use an Apple laptop hard or on the road, AppleCare may be a prudent expense. Ditto for iPads, although $99.00 is quarter of the price of a new iPad mini with Retina Display. I would skip AppleCare for a desktop Mac, although the iMac these days has a lot in common engineering wise with MacBooks.

Of course, as noted above, it’s partly a matter of how much risk you’re prepared to assume, balanced against the certain expenditure of paying AppleCare premiums. You can’t put a price tag on peace of mind. There are instances when the logic board or the display—the most expensive components of a laptop—will fail, but my philosophy on that, still holding true empirically for me, is that major failures due to inherent manufacturing faults will usually show up in the first year of basic warranty coverage anyway. The only two serious hardware failures I’ve ever experienced in Mac laptops—a burned-out processor in a WallStreet PowerBook and a failed logic board (presumably) in a G3 iBook—happened at the 3.6 year and 6.2 year marks respectively, so neither would have been covered by AppleCare. Your experience may differ, of course.

If you’ll sleep better knowing you have AppleCare coverage, don’t let me persuade you otherwise. The degree of risk one is comfortable assuming is a personal judgement call. Statistical probabilities notwithstanding, with any mass-produced product there will always be a percentage of lemon units, so if you do decide to roll the dice, be aware and prepared to accept that once in a while they turn up snake-eyes.

More information about the AppleCare Protection Plan is available at Apple.com.

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  • Robby

    Nice write-up! However, I look forward to a new version of your column in two years when a bunch of your Apple products have had problems and you extol the virtues of getting it! :-)

    We’ve has Apple Care (or, more recently Square Trade) warranties on *all* Apple devices we’ve owned. And, thank goodness! We’ve had logic board replacements, battery replacements, screens changed, graphic cards updated, keyboards replaced, iPhone home buttons replaced, etc. And the problems have cropped up in the out years not just the first year!

    My sense is that quality is worse than it used to be, but Apple Care just as good, so it is worth getting.

    We’ve probably saved thousands of dollars over the years. The service is fast, free (they send custom designed boxes for the product and pay for all shipping), and turn around is typically within the week.

    The iPads are the only one we’ve had no cause for warranty repairs– our original iPad is still going strong. (We’ve been getting ST on those because of its no deductible screen breakage repair policy.)