Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program: One year later, now what?

Basic questions and answers about upgrading to a new phone for those who have completed the first year of the iPhone upgrade program.

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The Orlando Apple Store.

It's almost September, that magical time of year when pundits and prognosticators polish up their crystal balls for the autumnal event we all know as the annual iPhone launch. All indicators seem to point to an Apple event in early September. As surely as night follows day, if there's an iPhone event in early September, new iPhones will be available for you to paw and cherish just a few weeks later.

For those of you who bought iPhones last year on the Apple iPhone Upgrade Program for the express purpose of getting a new iPhone every year, Christmas is coming early.

But what exactly has to happen for you to get your new iPhone? What steps will you have to take? How will the transfer work? What hoops will you have to jump through? All these questions, and more, will be answered right here, right now.

As our definitive source for all the rules, we'll be using Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program Terms & Conditions as our guide.

What if I love my current iPhone and don't want to trade it in?

This is actually the question I've been asking myself. As much as I'd like the rumored even-better camera, my workflow relies on being able to use the headphone jack as a microphone input. If the rumors are true that there will be no headphone jack on the iPhone 7, I'm going to have to hold off on upgrading until I have a workable alternative.

Fortunately, you never actually have to turn in your current iPhone to Apple if you don't want to. Once you pay for the 24 months on your iPhone program, your current iPhone is yours to keep. So, if you don't want to trade it in now, you can hang onto it forever, or until you're ready to upgrade.

If I wanted to keep my current iPhone 6s Plus and still get an iPhone 7, I'd have to slam down $548.92, and then start paying the iPhone 7's monthly freight. At that price, it'd be cheaper just to find a nice camera with a mic jack.

Can I trade in my iPhone for an iPhone 7 on launch day?

You need to have paid for 12 months of your installment plan before you can upgrade. Apple's T's and C's says "the equivalent of 12 months", so if you bought your iPhone 6s in November, you might have to eat two months of payments, pay that in a chunk, and then be eligible for upgrade.

Frankly, going to the Apple store at any time can be a hellish experience. Been there. Done that. But if you do plan to put yourself through that hell, you're probably best off saving a few bucks and waiting a little while anyway -- at least until the crowds die down.

What if my iPhone is broken or beaten up?

The terms of the Upgrade Program require your phone to be in "good physical and operating condition". That means your iPhone must:

  • Power on and hold a charge;
  • Have an intact and functioning display;
  • Have no breaks or cracks; and
  • Have Activation Lock disabled (you may be asked to disable at the time of upgrade).

If you've broken your phone and you want to upgrade, now might be the time to exercise your AppleCare+ program. After all, you paid for that added level of protection. Get your phone in good order, then trade it in.

Will I have to go through the financing application process all over again?

But of course. Do you think they'd make this easy? You have to apply for, and be approved for, a new 24-month loan.

Does that mean I'm signing up for another 24 months of payments?

Yepperoonie. The iPhone Upgrade Program is really a 24-month loan. The only bright spot is that you can cancel that loan after 12 months, get a new phone, and do it all over again.

To get your new iPhone 7 on the iPhone Upgrade Program, you're starting the clock all over again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

So, does this mean I'll have two loans open at once, the remaining 12 months of the first one and the new two-year loan?

No. Once you exercise your upgrade option (and it all goes through), your old loan will be closed out.

Will I have to go back to the Apple Store to get my new phone?

Probably. When I asked Apple, I was told it doesn't comment on new products. I was unable to get them to provide me with even a hypothetical.

If you are signing up for your first iPhone Upgrade Program, you are no longer required to go to an Apple store. But whether you'll be able to eventually renew it, or trade in your phone online, frankly, I have my doubts. I'm betting you're going to have to teleport your geeky ole butt right into your nearest store, stand in line, and question your will to live.

I've had my iPhone 6s for less than a year. Can I still upgrade?

This is pretty much the same answer I gave about trading in on launch day. You have to pay the equivalent of at least 12 installment payments before you can upgrade.

Does having the iPhone Upgrade Program give me any priority rights?

If you're asking if you can cut in line in front of the other supplicants, the answer is no. There is no guarantee of availability at the time you want to upgrade.

In other words, there probably won't be any iPhone 7s for you in the first few weeks. Relax. Your time will come.

I want to be the first on my block with a new iPhone. When do you suggest I start camping in front of my neighborhood Apple store?

Why not head over now? Next question.

What happens to all my data on my current phone when I trade it in?

Apple doesn't guarantee anything about data protection, which is ironic given their big fuss about not decrypting the FBI iPhone from the San Bernardino terrorist incident.

Basically, you should backup everything, delete everything, and then do a hard reset. I'll write more about this closer to the new iPhone launch.

How do I get my data from my current iPhone to the new one?

Cruel answer: iTunes. Better answer: iCloud.

Seriously, though, you should probably use both. You can get enough iCloud storage to back up the largest capacity iPhone for about three bucks a month. If you're not making cloud backups, don't wait until the last minute. It will take time for all those photos and videos to transfer to the cloud.

Even if you do have iCloud, you should probably (and I'm so sorry I'm saying this) make an iTunes backup before you leave for the store. I know it's painful to even think about iTunes. But having a separate local backup, as unreliable and forsaken by all that is holy that iTunes might be, is probably not a bad idea.

Why won't iTunes just die and put us out if its misery?

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I don't know. I truly, truly don't know.

What if I upgrade my iPhone to an iPhone 7, decide I hate it, and want to return it to Apple?

Apple, surprisingly, allows for this. You can return your new phone. The only gotcha is you will (a) not get your old phone back and (b) "owe the difference, if any, between the prevailing Reuse and Recycling Program value at the time of exercising the Upgrade Option on your original Financed iPhone that you traded-in, as determined solely by Apple or its Trade-In Service Provider, and the remaining balance of your original Installment Loan".

In other words, think before pulling the trigger on a new iPhone.

I'm not in the US. Can I still use the iPhone Upgrade program?

According to Apple, "iPhone Upgrade Program may not be available in all locations."

Any other tips or suggestions?

Be sure you read this article, particularly the list of iPhone Upgrade Program tips at the end. The experience last year was incredibly unpleasant, and if you're going to brave the experience and incompetence again, you should probably take the lessons my wife and I learned to heart.

As for me, I have to wait until I have an answer on what to do about adding a good lavalier mic to the new iPhone 7 without a headphone jack. But, since I'm in no rush to go back to the Trenton Bus Station, er, Orlando Apple Store, that's okay. I'll wait and see. When I decide to act, you'll be the first to know.

Actually, that's kind of unfair to the Trenton Bus Station. It was nicer. At least there were a few chairs.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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