The home pages of the big four wireless carriers look suspiciously alike this week, and it’s mostly Apple’s fault.
Tuesday’s announcement of the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max has led AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless to give over their online front doors to Apple’s marketing materials – all in the hope that you’ll buy your next iOS smartphone through them instead of directly from the Cupertino, California, tech giant.
But just as in earlier times when the four nationwide carriers have latched onto the debut of a new lineup of iPhones, you don’t need to take up that quartet on their offers when online presales begin Friday and in-store purchases start Sept. 20.
The longstanding reason to look past the carriers boils down to one word: unlocked.
Both Apple and the carriers will let you make interest-free, installment-plan payments on a new iPhone, but Apple will sell you an iPhone that will work on any carrier in the U.S. or abroad out of the box. That’s true whether you select a carrier at Apple’s site or purchase a SIM-free iPhone.
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AT&T and T-Mobile, however, lock phones on installment-payment plans until you pay them off, leaving you unable to switch carriers or use cheap prepaid SIMs if you travel internationally. Sprint’s leasing deals carry the same restriction. Verizon Wireless locks new phones for 60 days, a lesser hindrance.
Since last year, Apple has added a new reason that runs a whole two words: Apple Card.
The no-fee credit card it introduced last month with Goldman Sachs provides 3% off on Apple purchases. That’s $20.97 on an iPhone 11 or $43.47 on an iPhone 11 Pro Max maxed out with 512 GB of storage.
That cash-back rebate also applies to installment-plan payments on carrier-specific phones.
The carriers do, however, beat Apple’s pricing in certain cases. AT&T says it will offer a buy-one-get-one-free deal on the iPhone 11, while Verizon is offering an iPhone 11 for free – meaning $500 in service credits paid out over 24 months, plus a $200 gift card – to people who switch to that carrier.
Sprint and T-Mobile have yet to announce their own deals, but the wireless price-shopping site WhistleOut noted Tuesday that the last time around, all four offered either a free iPhone to switchers or a second iPhone free to anybody.
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Or you could choose to keep your existing iPhone and find some other use for the $700 and up you just saved. That’s the financially sound move, and it no longer appears to represent a lonely stance.
Ting, a reseller of Sprint and T-Mobile’s networks (with T-Mobile set to be replaced by Verizon in December), surveyed 3,640 people in July and found that 47% had kept their last phone for three to five years. With Apple supporting phones as old as the 2015-vintage iPhone 6s with the upcoming iOS 13 update, you can’t say all the iPhone owners among them are wrong.
(Disclosure: I also write for Yahoo Finance, one of Verizon’s media properties.)
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ordering iPhone 11: Wireless carrier deals for new Apple phones