The iPhone release schedule has grown pretty predictable over the past seven years. Usually, the latest phone goes on sale for $199 with a two-year contract, the old model’s price gets cut in half to $99 and the (now ancient) model from two years ago is thrown in the trash offered for free.
But as Apple has started introducing multiple phones each year and the smartphone market becomes more competitive, that pricing structure has been upended. At its announcement yesterday, Apple provided an offer similar to those in previous years: With a two-year contract, you can get an iPhone 6 for $199 or the larger iPhone 6 Plus for $299.
On Wednesday morning, as the reality distortion field cleared, major carriers were all clamoring to buy old iPhones and get a leg up on each other with some interesting deals.
Let’s take a look at what carriers are offering as of Wednesday afternoon:
Sprint: An iPhone for "life"
The cost: $70/month for a new phone every two years
Sprint wants you to lease a phone like you would a car, with no money down and an extra $20 per month on top of their $50 unlimited plan. Every two years you can trade up for the new iPhone “for life.”
(Or as long as iPhones actually exist — keep in mind the original iPod was discontinued Tuesday after 13 years.)
All of this means you’ll pay $480 for a phone every two years, and if you break it, you buy it. If you don’t want to lease, you can still buy the iPhone 6 from Sprint for $199, with that same unlimited plan costing $85 per month.
Overall, the lease is cheapest in the short-term, but the long-haul winner is Sprint. Plus, if you own your phone, the company is already offering to buy it back for up to $300, claiming to match any other buyback offers. If they keep that up, leasing is really a bad deal.
Cost: Matching trade-ins plus an extra $50; $50–80/month for plans
The self-proclaimed “un-carrier” — which also insists on calling smartphones “superphones” — is also offering to match any of its competitor’s trade-in offers, but it’ll throw in another $50.
That said, T-Mobile’s plans are more expensive, with their $50 plan capping 4G LTE use at one gigabyte. Getting everything unlimited will cost about $80.
Cost: Trade in a phone and a get an iPhone 6 for free; $60/month for a plan
The most straightforward deal comes from Verizon, who will give you an iPhone 6 for free when you trade-in your old phone and sign a two-year contract. So there’s no opportunity to make a little extra money off your trade-in, but there’s also no haggling or pitting other carriers (or “un-carriers”) against eachother.
The other compromise is that while Verizon’s single-line plan is pretty cheap at $60, they’ll cap your data no matter what.
Overall, each plan will end up costing almost the same over two years, depending on your data needs, and with nearly everyone (including Wal-Mart and Target) offering comparable trade-ins, the whole thing ends up being a wash.
Welcome to the hypercompetitive world of superphone smartphone shopping.