Why Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program is Problematic in the UK

The iPhone Upgrade problem is a great way to get a new iPhone every year, without the hassle of re-selling your old phone. I used to do the latter, but it’s really problematic selling an iPhone on eBay, or through other services. You get targeted by scammers as soon as you list a new iPhone on eBay, and I don’t really trust the company to resolve, in my favor, if a buyer pretends that I didn’t send them the phone. You can also trade in your old iPhone to Apple, and I did that last year, but it’s not very advantageous.

So last year I got on the iPhone upgrade program. You pay £69 up front, then the remainder of the cost of the phone over 20 months. After twelve months, you’re eligible for an upgrade. The amount you pay includes AppleCare+, so you are protected in case of damage, or any issues covered by warranty.

The problem in the UK is that you have to go to an Apple Store each year to use the upgrade program. I understand why this is necessary the first year, as they need to identify you, but in subsequent years this shouldn’t be the case. (However, I took out a 12-month, zero-interest loan for my last MacBook Pro online; I didn’t need anyone to physically identify me.) In the US, after the first year, you reserve a phone online, Apple ships it to you, and a few days later they ship you a box to return your old phone.

This difference is problematic for a couple of reasons.

First, there aren’t many Apple Stores in the UK. I have to drive about an hour to get to my nearest Apple Store. Second, when you get there, you enter Apple Store Hell: that noisy, crowded atmosphere which is everything a retail outlet should be. I really hate the Apple Store environment, and only go where when I have no choice.

But there is a more important issue regarding the data on your iPhone. Getting your new phone this way means you cannot transfer your data from the old phone. (I assume this is the case; given how long it takes, I can’t imagine that someone is going to stay with me in the Apple Store as this happens.) So you need to back up your device and you cannot restore it until you have wi-fi, or until you return home. (The former if you back up your device to iCloud; the latter if you do it to your computer.)

In addition, for people who don’t back up their device to a computer via iTunes, they need to have enough storage available on their iCloud account to make a full backup. What happens to some people is that they have to temporarily up their storage to the next tier to be able to make the backup, restore the device, then downgrade the storage plan. This is clunky and Apple should provide a temporary storage bump when someone buys a new iPhone.

Since this process is a lot smoother in the US, I hope that Apple will extend the same process to other countries where the iPhone Upgrade program is available. As things stand, it’s a lot of work to use the program, and it should be smoother, especially when they are dealing with committed, repeat customers who want to get a new iPhone every year.

10 thoughts on “Why Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program is Problematic in the UK

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I too very much wanted to sign up for the Upgrade Programme. In my case, it’s near enough a 3 hour journey to an Apple Store (there are none at all in North Wales, so it has to be in England). I would be happy to do this once, of course; but yearly, no. And you very wisely point out the problem of transferring data from old to new iPhone. All of which makes a farce of the programme.

    • I guess you’d have to go to Liverpool or Manchester. I do understand why, for the first time, they need to eyeball people, because this is a loan. This said, I took out a zero-interest 12-month loan for the last MacBook Pro I bought online, so it’s not really necessary. Interesting; I wonder why they treat the iPhone differently.

  2. I was looking into it last year, but I found the wording on the website misleading: for example, it says “after 11 payments you’re eligible for an upgrade”, when really you need to make 12 payments, including the initial one, and then it says “simply trade in your phone and start a new programme”, when you actually just give the phone back and you don’t get any money for it, which is not what trade in means anywhere else on the website.

    • Yes, you do have to make twelve payments. And do you “trade in” the phone? I would argue that you do, because they’re giving you an opportunity to not worry too much about its condition. Since it has AppleCare+, if the phone is damaged, they’ll make you pay the standard repair fee at the time of trade-in. But don’t forget you can “trade in” your phone and buy any model; it doesn’t have to be the same price point as the one you bought previously.

      To be fair, with this system, you are renting the phone; or it’s like a car lease.

  3. Over an hour to the nearest Apple Store for many of us in the US, as well.

    I’ve certainly sat at a counter at the Apple Store restoring to a new phone when I’ve had a warranty replacement. I intentionally brought my laptop so I could restore from my iTunes backup. Also used their Wi-Fi for the app downloads, but got bored and wandered off to let it finish doing that later. Do UK Apple Stores also have free Wi-Fi? That should help.

    • Thanks for that. I wasn’t sure. But given the noise in the Apple Store I go to, I wouldn’t want to spend an hour there.

      This said, when I’ve had warranty replacements, they’ve shipped the new devices to me, giving me plenty of time to transfer data. I’ve never taken a device to an Apple Stores for repair, because AppleCare covers shipping if you can’t get to a store (or can’t get there easily).

  4. One wonders why the difference? It might be the lenders’ instructions are different in the two countries. Clearly Apple is content to ship a device to you under the warranty and then have you ship the old one back after the transfer, so it would seem Apple would be willing to ship a new device and let you ship it back as in the US. The only difference I can see is the lender. Apple, in the US, basically is paying the finance charges for a 0% loan through a commercial lender. And that lender is willing to play along with no presence in the store. Maybe the lenders in the UK want to have some face-to-face contact?

    • Well, they use Barclay’s for the iPhone upgrade program, and my MacBook Pro, on a 0% loan, was also with Barclay’s. So there is no real logic. Maybe they simply want to try to upsell people on the iPhone upgrade program?

  5. T-Mobile business customers in the US are not eligible for the iPhone Upgrade Program for some reason. Through gritted teeth and countless wasted hours, I have tried. The Apple Store employee I talked to blames T-Mobile for it while the T-Mobile agent I called said it was an Apple policy. Go figure.
    However, you are more than welcome to purchase an iPhone or any cell phone and move your SIM over. This is corporate irrationality gone amok.

  6. I just spent 4 and a half hours in the Apple store getting a new XR in St Louis on Wednesday. I had backed up at home ahead of time. It was even a “slow day” according to the employees! It was before the new iPhone 11 release, so it could have been worse. I had even made an appointment (which they make as difficult to do as possible!). There were not that many people in the store, with extra employees milling around. But it was like death by a thousand duck bites. The only reason I did the store route was that I needed a phone immediately, and I got a bigger trade in value and more set-up assistance than at my carrier. I’ve learned my lesson. The only seating options are either miserably painful small-child sized seating cubes or bar stools, both of which make me have intense back pain. So I mostly stood. Next time I’ll take the lower trade in value at my Verizon store which is 5 minutes away, as opposed to an 60 minute drive in heavy traffic for an excruciating wait. My time is worth more than 6 and a half hours in hell!

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