AppleCare+ vs. insurance vs. nothing: Which iPad Air or Retina iPad mini protection plan should you get?

2013 iPad buyers guide: How to decide between AppleCare+, third party insurance, or no insurance at all on your new iPad Air or Retina iPad mini

If you plan on picking up a new iPad Air, a Retina iPad mini, or one of the cheaper, previous generation iPads, one of the last - but most important - things you have to decide is whether or not you'd like to get some kind of insurance to protect your investment, whether it be AppleCare+, third party, or something else. There are lots of factors that can play a part in your decision, such as how long you plan on keeping your iPad before upgrading, and how careful you are with it. Here's what you need to know!

AppleCare+ vs. third party insurance

AppleCare+ costs an additional $99 and must be purchased either at the same time, or within 30 days of purchasing your new iPad. If you don't choose it at the time or purchase, you'll need to take your iPad back into an Apple Store for them to inspect it for damage within the first 30 days before they'll apply it.

AppleCare+ extends the standard one year warranty to two years and gives you phone support for those full two years (as opposed to the 90 days after purchase that comes standard). That means if you ever run into an issue with your iPad, you can dial 1-800-MY-APPLE and get help instantly at no extra cost to you.

Also, while the standard one year warranty does not cover accidental damage, AppleCare+ does. That means if you break your iPad or it sustains liquid damage, you're covered. AppleCare+ gives you two incidents where, for a $49 deductible, you can exchange your broken iPad for a new or refurbished one at any Apple Store or through the mail by calling AppleCare.

There are two other types of insurance you can get for your iPad, the type offered by carriers or retailers, and the type offered through a third-party service like SquareTrade.

I typically don't recommend carrier insurance as it typically involves monthly fees, a high deductible that changes based on weird formulas, and refurbished devices that are not certified through Apple. Likewise, big box retailer product plans involve you having to deal with big box companies and staff, and the service just doesn't ever seem to be as good.

Companies like SquareTrade offer warranties similar to what Apple offers but again, are not licensed by Apple. However, SquareTrade specifically offers a three year plan and up to four accidental replacements per warranty type, which is more than what AppleCare+ gives you. If you don't have an Apple Store near you and are especially accident prone, SquareTrade has a stellar reputation and may be a better option for you personally.

Your upgrade cycle

All iPads come with a one year manufacturer's warranty against defects at no additional cost to you. If you have to have the latest and greatest each and every year, you may be wasting some money on purchasing AppleCare+ since you most likely won't utilize the second year.

Just keep in mind that the one year warranty that comes with your iPad does not cover accidental damage, only defects due to no fault of your own. If you think you may break your iPad in that first year, it's still worth the purchase since a replacement iPad out of warranty due to accidental damage will cost you a minimum of $249.

Care and craftiness

Some of us take very good care of our iPads. Some of us don't. While using a protective case can't completely guarantee you won't break your iPad if you drop it, it can definitely help minimize the chances. Using heavy duty cases like OtterBox are a good idea for users that are accident prone or want to be extra careful as to not break their new iPad.

There are lots of people that hate cases since they add bulk and take away from the joy of using it the way Apple intended you to. It may feel better in the hand without a case on it, but it also greatly increases the chances of it breaking if it falls out of your hand with no protection. So think about how often you use a case with your iPad and that should weigh into your decision.

DIY iPad repairs are possible but typically require a lot more skill and care than iPhone repairs. Unless you feel completely comfortable cracking open your iPad, don't. If you're confident in your repair skills however, a cracked screen replacement typically costs far less if you do it on your own.

Who should get AppleCare+?

You know yourself and your iPad usage habits better than anyone. For $99, you get quite a bit of coverage and peace of mind. If you're accident prone, unlucky, and especially if you plan on keeping your iPad for more than one year, get AppleCare+.

Who should get third party insurance?

As far as carriers are concerned, you'll only be able to opt for this option if you're buying the WiFi + cellular model. Even then, I'd still recommend AppleCare+ or SquareTrade over carrier insurance any day of the week since the deductibles are always lower and there are no monthly fees to pay. As far as insurance through a retailer, just make sure you look very closely at the terms and conditions before deciding. A lot of times they too can come with high deductibles.

Unless AppleCare+ or a service like SquareTrade just aren't options for you for some reason, I'd stay away from carrier and third party retailer insurance.

Who should stick to the standard warranty?

If you take incredibly good care of your iPad, never drop or otherwise damage it, and are handy enough to DIY fix it if and when you need to, then you might be just fine with the standard warranty that comes at no additional cost. This is especially true if you upgrade once a year or more.

Still not sure?

If you still aren't sure whether or not you should pick up AppleCare+ for your new iPad, a great place to get some advice is the iMore forums. Several of our members have debated and made decisions on a lot of the same issues you're currently facing. Once you've made the best decision for you, let us know - did you go for AppleCare+, something else, nothing at all? And why?