Should You Buy an iPhone Directly from Apple or a Carrier?

By Kevin Hollington - Staff Writer
4 Min Read

When it comes to buying an iPhone, there are two main options: purchasing directly from Apple or buying from your carrier. Both options have their pros and cons, so it’s important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each before making a decision. In this article, we’ll compare the two options in different categories and declare a winner in each.


If you’re looking for the best price for your iPhone, then purchasing through your carrier is often the way to go. Carriers typically offer discounted rates on iPhones when you sign up for a new contract or upgrade your existing plan. These discounts can range from $50 to $200, depending on the carrier and the specific iPhone model you’re interested in.

On the other hand, Apple’s prices are typically higher than the carriers, as they don’t offer any discounts or promotions. However, if you’re looking to spread out the cost of the iPhone over a period of time, Apple’s payment plan options may be more attractive. Apple offers financing plans for iPhones, which allows you to pay off your device over a period of 24 months.

Winner: Carrier

Unlocked vs. Locked

If you’re looking for an unlocked iPhone that can be used with any carrier, then purchasing directly from Apple is the way to go. Apple offers unlocked iPhones, which means you can use them with any carrier that supports the iPhone. This is great for those who travel frequently or want the flexibility to switch carriers without having to purchase a new phone.

On the other hand, carriers typically sell locked iPhones, which means they’re only compatible with their own network. This can be a problem if you want to switch carriers or if you’re traveling to a country that doesn’t support your carrier’s network. While carriers do offer unlocked iPhones, they’re often more expensive than purchasing directly from Apple.

Winner: Apple

Upgrade Programs

Both Apple and carriers offer upgrade programs that allow you to get a new iPhone every year or every few years. Apple’s program, called the iPhone Upgrade Program, allows you to get a new iPhone every year and includes AppleCare coverage. You can finance your iPhone over 24 months and upgrade to a new one after you’ve made 12 payments.

Carriers also offer upgrade programs, such as AT&T Next, Verizon Up, and T-Mobile JUMP!. These programs typically allow you to upgrade your phone every year or every two years, depending on the carrier and the specific program you choose.

Overall, both options offer similar benefits, so it really comes down to personal preference and which program fits your needs best.

Winner: Tie

Warranty and Repairs

When it comes to warranty and repairs, purchasing directly from Apple may be the better option. Apple offers a one-year limited warranty on new iPhones, which covers defects in materials and workmanship. Additionally, Apple offers AppleCare for iPhone, which extends your coverage to two years and includes coverage for accidental damage.

Carriers also offer warranty and repair services for iPhones, but the coverage and terms may vary depending on the carrier. Additionally, carrier repair services may be more limited compared to Apple’s repair services, which can be found at Apple retail stores or authorized service providers.

Winner: Apple

Activation and Setup

When it comes to activating and setting up your new iPhone, buying from your carrier can be a more convenient option. When you purchase an iPhone from a carrier, you can often activate your new phone and transfer your data and contacts to the new device right in the store. Carriers also often offer technical support and troubleshooting for iPhones, both in-store and online.

Apple also offers support for activation and setup, but it may require more effort on your part. You’ll need to set up your new iPhone yourself and transfer your data and contacts, although Apple offers helpful resources and tutorials to guide you through the process.

Winner: Carrier

Trade-in Programs

Both Apple and carriers offer trade-in programs that allow you to trade in your old iPhone for credit towards a new one. Apple’s trade-in program is called Apple Trade In and allows you to trade in your old iPhone, iPad, or other device for credit towards a new one. The trade-in value depends on the condition of your device.

Carriers also offer trade-in programs, such as Verizon’s Device Trade-In Program and AT&T’s Trade-In Program. These programs allow you to trade in your old device for credit towards a new one, but the trade-in value may vary depending on the carrier and the condition of your device.

Winner: Tie

Availability and Selection

If you’re looking for a specific iPhone model or color, purchasing directly from Apple may be the better choice. Apple typically has a wider selection of iPhone models, colors, and storage capacities than carriers. Plus, purchasing directly from Apple ensures that you’ll receive the latest model with the most up-to-date features.

Carriers, on the other hand, may have limited availability of certain iPhone models or colors. Plus, they may not offer the latest iPhone model immediately after its release, which may be a drawback for those who want to stay up-to-date with the latest technology.

Winner: Apple

Network Compatibility

If you’re looking for the best network compatibility and coverage, purchasing from your carrier may be the way to go. Carriers have a vested interest in ensuring that their phones are compatible with their network and offer the best coverage possible. This means that if you purchase an iPhone from your carrier, you can be assured that it will work seamlessly with their network.

Apple’s iPhones are designed to be compatible with a wide range of networks, but there may be some compatibility issues with certain carriers. Before purchasing an iPhone directly from Apple, it’s important to check that it will be compatible with your carrier’s network.

Winner: Carrier


When it comes down to it, the winner between buying an iPhone from Apple or your carrier depends on your priorities. If you prioritize selection, customization, and customer service, buying from Apple is the better option. However, if you’re looking for a more affordable option and convenience in activation and setup, buying from your carrier may be the better choice. Ultimately, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each option and choose the one that best suits your needs and budget.

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By Kevin Hollington Staff Writer
Kevin Hollington is a seasoned tech journalist based in Los Angeles with a penchant for all things Apple. He started writing about Apple products in 2007 and it’s been a love affair ever since. He has spent over a decade testing and writing about iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other Apple products. In his spare time, he likes nothing more than catching up with the latest news and sports podcasts on the beach.
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