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iPad 101: iPad AppleCare pros & cons


Considering AppleCare for your iPad? I know that I am. For $99, AppleCare extends your iPad warranty coverage to two years from the date of purchase. Although AppleCare tends to be expensive, for certain purchases it can really save you, especially for devices which run a higher risk of component failure over a lifetime of hard use -- such as laptops and other mobile tech.

Many Apple aficionados tend to avoid buying AppleCare for robust devices like the Mac mini series. Those units tend either to die right away or last forever. They are highly self-serviceable for anyone who has a reasonable degree of comfort with a screwdriver.

The iPad and the iPhone, on the other hand, can feel like accidents waiting to happen. Without a simple avenue for owner-repair, they are more of a black box purchase. And their components can and do die much more unexpectedly. In my history of purchasing iPhones and iPod touches, I have personally encountered video driver death and massive touchscreen failure.

To be fair, both of these incidents happened within a month or so of purchase, so keep that in mind as well. For many devices, component failures tend to show themselves fairly soon. With a standard iPad purchase, you are covered for 90 days of phone support and a 1 year hardware warranty without any need for a further AppleCare payment, according to the Apple representative I talked to this morning.

What's more, if you want to wait, you can. Purchasing AppleCare extends standard iPad coverage to 2 years each of phone support and hardware warranty. You can buy AppleCare up until the last day of your 1 year complimentary coverage, so there's not really a rush unless you need phone support during that time.

I know I'm completely out in speculation territory, but I kind of think that the component failure rate for these devices tends to be a bit higher than for desktop systems. I base this on several years of hanging around with other iPhone and iPod touch users and listening to their stories rather than on any consistent study. So I tend to err on the "I know I'm kind of getting ripped off buying this extended warranty from AppleCare but that's okay for my piece of mind" side.

AppleCare may be a big additional price to grapple with when you're already coughing up $499 or more for the device, but consider that this object is going to bounce around with you most of the places you go, and take abuse accordingly. TUAW colleague Mike Rose suggests AppleCare on any mobile device where paying the repair or replacement cost out of your own pocket would be more painful than you'd like. TUAW commenters also point out that buying your iPad with American Express automatically doubles your warranty coverage so you won't need to buy AppleCare at all (or gives you 4 years of coverage with Applecare -- TUAW reader TJ contacted Amex and a service rep stated that they only double original mfgrs warranty, not extended care.)

Apple tends to be one of the least obnoxious companies around when it comes to actually following-through on their extended warranties. Anyone who has visited a genius bar with a sick Apple product will recognize that having a diagnostic and repair service in-store helps create an atmosphere of getting devices fixed without an argument. And that's a very nice thing, indeed.

Admittedly, Apple has been a little rotten about it's various moisture sensors (especially the ones near the microphone for the iPhone -- where you naturally blow hot moist air while talking) but you can always insist that repair persons open devices to check the interior moisture sensors as well.

Another thing about AppleCare is that it does make your early-adopter iPad a lot more re-sellable via eBay. As TUAW commenters have pointed out, being able to state that your device has an extended warranty in place can help it stand out among other auctions and offer extra end-purchaser confidence.

So, bottom line? You will have a year or so to decide about AppleCare after purchasing your new iPad, but sometimes it's simply nice to know that a problem will be taken care of.

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