On Sunday, I broke my iPhone screen. I dropped it, it shattered, and I let out a slow-motion "Nooooooooo" that was frankly way better than Darth Vader's in Episode III. The damage was done.
My first (highly misguided) thought was, "Ugh, I wish I had AppleCare+." But after researching the problem and getting my screen replaced at the Apple store the next day, I'm here to tell you I'm so glad I don't have AppleCare+. Not having it actually saved me money.
It breaks down like this: AppleCare+ used to cost $99 for new iPhones, but when the iPhone 6s came out, Apple raised the price to $129. Currently, AppleCare+ for an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus is $129, so if I'd bothered to purchase it when I bought my iPhone 7 outright in September 2016, I'd have paid $129.
That $129 AppleCare+ plan would have entitled me to a screen repair at the Apple store for $29. In fact, it includes coverage for "two incidents of accidental damage," at $29 for the screen or $99 for anything else.
Reading that, you'd assume that without this special coverage plan, having Apple replace my screen would be even more expensive. Ugh, what is this gonna cost me, I wondered: $149? $179? $199?
Reader, I paid $129.
No, that's not a typo. An out-of-warranty screen replacement, done the same day, in about 2 hours, cost me $129 plus tax, A.K.A. the exact same price I would have paid for the AppleCare+ plan that then would have dinged me another $29 to actually fix the screen.
So why would anyone want AppleCare+ then?
Beats me. OK, to be fair, if I drop this phone a second time and break the screen again, that's when AppleCare+ would really save me some money. In that case, the initial $129 fee plus the two $29 damage incidents would add up to $187, but two out-of-warranty screen fixes would be $258.
So AppleCare+ isn't for the accident-prone who might drop a phone. It's for the Venn diagram of people who are so accident-prone they will probably drop and break the phone twice, and they're self-aware enough of this possibility that they think to buy AppleCare+ within 60 days of the iPhone purchase, BUT they still somehow aren't willing to just buy an Otterbox or another tough case to avoid breaking the phone. (Or even one of those nifty thumb loops for the back to avoid dropping it in the first place.) For that small subset of people, AppleCare+ is probably a great idea.
But AppleCare+ covers other stuff, doesn't it?
Yes, yes it does. For $99, it will cover any accidental damage, plus an extra year of warranty against manufacturing defects that aren't your fault. But what else do you really need covered besides the screen breaking? Water damage isn't as common as it used to be now that the iPhone is more water-resistant. It's still very possible to drown an iPhone, but a quick accidental dunking probably isn't going to ruin it.
The solid Home button on my iPhone 7 is less likely to break. It's got no headphone jack, so that can't break. That leaves the Lightning port and the sleep and volume buttons as the major points of weakness, aside from the screen. It's also possible that an accidental drop could avoid damaging the screen but still somehow mess up the iPhone's insides: maybe a connector comes loose or an internal radio or modem stops working. All of this is possible, but when I think about the iPhones I've broken over the years, 100% of the incidents came down to water damage or a broken screen. Personally, I just don't think the other possibilities are urgent enough to insure against.
It comes down to your philosophy on insurance
I think we can all agree I came out ahead on this one. Paying $129 for AppleCare+ and then another $29 to fix the screen is a ripoff compared to just fixing the screen for $129. That doesn't mean AppleCare+ is a ripoff in every case, but it does mean iPhone buyers should consider their purchase carefully and not just assume that because insurance is offered, it would be smart to buy it.
I've owned eight iPhones in total and never purchased AppleCare+. (Actually, I bought my iPhone 6s with the iPhone Upgrade Program that forces you to pay for AppleCare+, but I now consider that a mistake.) If I had put the AppleCare+ fee in a savings account every time I bought an iPhone, I'd have around $860 in there today, not counting interest. Which means I could throw my iPhone 7 off the Golden Gate Bridge, hail a cab to the Apple store over on Chestnut Street, buy a brand-new one, and still have enough left over for a cupcake at the bakery next door.
Insurance is a way to transfer risk that you can't afford to take yourself to the insurance company. You're paying the insurance company to take that risk for you. If I total my car, or a tree crashes into my roof, that's not something I can just afford to pay for out of pocket without extreme impact on the rest of my finances. Saving one Benjamin Franklin on a new iPhone screen just doesn't make the cut, at least not for me.
So I'm glad I didn't have AppleCare+, and I still don't plan to buy it in the future. But I did put a case on my iPhone.
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Susie is a tech-obsessed writer and mom, and former Executive Editor of Macworld and Mac|Life. Follow her on Twitter @sfsooz.