The high costs of getting an Apple i-device repaired. Jefferson Graham reports on #TalkingTech
Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
The new Series 4 edition of the Apple Watch has a bigger, more colorful screen and one really cool new feature.
If you fall to the ground and don’t get back up within 60 seconds, it will call 911 and get help on your behalf, automatically.
But what will it do about the cracked screen of the watch itself? Or more specifically, the screen that fell to the ground this week as I was adjusting the band and got destroyed?
Getting a broken smartphone screen fixed is rather easy. Any shopping mall and most city centers have kiosks and store fronts eager to take care of all us klutzes who drop our phones and get screens easily replaced. One of the largest firms, uBreakIFix, has nearly 500 stores and says it fixes some 60,000 phones monthly, mostly due to broken screens.
But uBreakIFix won’t touch the current edition of the Apple Watch. Neither does rival iCracked, or even Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
The reason, Apple tells me, is that the Watch is designed in a more complicated fashion. It’s not like the technicians can just remove one screen and replace it with another. They would need to take the entire watch apart to fix it. As Justin Wetherill, a uBreak co-founder said, “The part alone on the Series 4 Watch costs me $180, and that’s before adding in labor.”
The bottom line, as I learned: You break an Apple Watch, you might as well buy a new one. The device starts at $399, and Apple’s flat rate fee to fix a screen is $299. If you bought AppleCare (for $79), Apple will give you up to two fixes of “accidental damage,” at $69 a pop. Or in other words, you’d spend around $150 (Apple Care, plus the fee) to fix a watch you spent $400 on, or 37.5 percent of the initial cost.
These prices aren’t that much higher than what Apple charges to fix iPhones – until you look at it on a percentage basis. Apple charges a hefty $329 to replace a cracked screen of the flagship 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max (or $29 if you spring $199 for AppleCare,) versus $279 for the smaller 5.8-inch XS, $199 for the 6.1-inch XR and just $149 for last year’s 4.7-inch iPhone 8.
In other words, you know you will crack your iPhone screen at some point. Not buying AppleCare for protection of what’s often a $1,000 investment is foolish.
“My general counsel bought the new Apple Watch and cracked it within 24 hours,” Wetherill says. “And we couldn’t fix it. He brushed it against a staircase, and it was gone.”
Most people, knowing how fragile phones are, usually buy a case to protect their device at a cost of anywhere from $25 to $100.
For the Watch, Apple doesn’t sell cases. But many third-party vendors do. In fact, a simple search for Apple Watch Series 4 cases on Amazon showed a cottage industry devoted to rather inexpensive looking $10 to $25 bumper protectors for the Watch. This wouldn’t have saved me, as the screen fell straight to the ground, but who knows – maybe I’m wrong.
We reached out to Apple, which declined to comment.
Longtime readers of the Talking Tech newsletter know that I’ve been consistent in asks for Apple when it comes to new features. Don’t tell me about more power, augmented reality or anything else fancy; just give me an all-day battery and unbreakable glass. That’s all I need.
But clearly, Apple doesn’t want to make devices with unbreakable screens, or it would. Consider this: What’s a good motivator for people to upgrade to new phones? Something is wrong with the current model, as in, a cracked screen. Fix the glass issue, and Apple won’t sell as many new ones.
In diving into the world of smartwatches and cracked screens this week, I think back to the old tag line Timex used once upon a time for its watch: “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
The Apple Watch won’t keep on ticking. It needs to be charged, and it certainly won’t take a licking. But hey, did a Timex ever call 911 when anyone fell down?
Meanwhile, in other tech news this week
• Black Friday ads began appearing this week for Walmart and Best Buy,and if nothing looks that exciting to you yet, just wait until we get closer to Thanksgiving and the companies let us really know about the doorbusters.
• Facebook launched Portal. That controversial new video speaker from the social network, with the always-on camera and always-on microphone, was released to the public Thursday. The device, which competes with Google’s Home Hub ($149) and Amazon’s redesigned Echo Show 2 ($229), starts at $149.
• Samsung debuted a concept for a foldable phone, which basically expands from small to large. While the concept sounds a little strange, consider that other products currently are foldable, most notably DJI’s drones, whose wings fold in and out for easier transporting.
This week’s Talking Tech podcasts
• Game night @pop.in: The pop.in app pops out of beta with a new, nightly feature it calls Game Night, the ability for anyone to either be in the show or play along, via their webcam, and win prices. Founder Alex Kruglov explains.
• Facebook: No the Portal isn’t a snooping device. That’s what Facebook says, anyhow.
• Listen to Chat fiction on Tap. Caroline Lesley, an actress from Toronto, has created an original chat fiction show called “Ditch Squad” that she calls a mix between “Gossip Girl” and “Pitch Perfect.” She tells us all about it on Talking Tech.
• You’re not going crazy. Amazon really is showing you more ads. I explain why, on #TalkingTech.
• Your smartphone battery really is weaker than before. Geoffrey Fowler from The Washington Post joins me to explain his battery test findings.
This week we spent several hours in wild Venice Beach, California in search of the definitive photo essay of one of Southern California most popular photography spots. If you have a second, please take a look by clicking the link below and let me know what you think.
That’s it for this week’s edition of the TalkingTech newsletter. Please subscribe http://technewsletter.usatoday.com, listen to the daily TalkingTech podcast on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher and follow me (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
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