Apple introduced the iPhone Upgrade Program in 2015, and this year the company added a new aspect to it: you can upgrade to the iPhones 8 through the mail without having to visit an Apple Store.

I’ve upgraded to the new iPhone every year since the iPhone 5S, when I bought my first iPhone.1 Every year has involved standing in line at a store.2 I decided to give the mail option a spin since it was more convenient.

As I’ve already narrated, the initial preorder process was much smoother than previous years, because I was able to set up everything in advance before the critical moment. This meant that the 2:00 AM preorder was very minimal — just a couple of taps.3 4

When new phones arrived, they already had the new SIM cards in them. I suspect that this required Apple setting things up to some extent before shipping them, so the devices would be aware of the phone number that they were replacing. Once I unpackaged the new iPhone, I activated it by pointing the camera of the old iPhone to the screen of the new iPhone, which showed a swarm circle of magic fairy dust. It was very seamless and very cool. I wish I’d taken a photo of it. I can’t find anything online that talks about this or shows a photo of it, or I’d link to it here.

This process worked without a hitch for my wife. As for me, I had to call AT&T to get it fully working, which took a good 30 minutes. Before calling AT&T, both my old iPhone 7 and my iPhone 8 showed “AT&T” in the top left corner of the screen, but my iPhone 7 remained the activated phone — the one that could make and receive phone calls. Once I got off the phone with AT&T, my iPhone 7 showed “No Service” in the top left corner, and my iPhone 8 was the one that could make and receive calls. This is what the magic fairy dust should have been able to do on its own. I’m not sure why it didn’t with my iPhone.5

Next, my iPhone 7 had a slight crack in its lower left corner from dropping it in the bathroom.6 The instructions were that if your iPhone had any sort of damage, you should get it repaired first, and then mail it in. I ignored this advice and just sent it in as it was. A few days after shipping my cracked iPhone 7, I got this email:

The iPhone you sent us arrived with damage. We can still complete your trade-in, but first you’ll need to pay the standard service fee for the repairs.

And also:

Please note that the repair service fee payment is due exactly seven days from the date of this email. If the fee is not paid on time, the iPhone will be sent back to you unrepaired. The associated loan will resume, in addition to any payments for your new iPhone.

The fee was “$29 plus applicable taxes,” which is what I would have paid had I gone to an Apple Store and used my AppleCare+ to take care of it. In other words, shipping the cracked iPhone didn’t cost me any more than it would have had I fixed it myself first, plus I had the convenience of paying online instead of going through the rigamarole of traveling to an Apple Store to fix a device that I was on the verge of shipping through FedEx.

Was the overall experience of upgrading via the mail good enough that I’ll do it this way again next year? Absolutely yes. This is the way I’m doing it going forward, assuming Apple continues to offer the option.

  1. When you upgrade to the new iPhone via the iPhone Upgrade Program, the only cost you have to pay besides your normal monthly payment is the tax of the new device. Unless, of course, your old iPhone is damaged in some way, in which case you have to pay the AppleCare+ rate to get your iPhone restored to premium condition. ↩︎
  2. Standing in line has improved over the years. It used to be a free-for-all. But even now with the appointment system, it’s still a greater hassle than simply signing a FedEx package at your doorstep. ↩︎
  3. Lest there be any ambiguity, this newfound smoothness applied to customers regardless of whether their choice was to have their new iPhone mailed to them directly, or have it available for pickup at a nearby Apple Store. ↩︎
  4. Note that you had to had this initial preorder stuff done before midday the eve of the preorder. If you waited until that afternoon, the Apple Store iOS application wouldn’t let you in — it was too late at that point. ↩︎
  5. When we upgraded our phones last year, the folks at AT&T somehow botched up the process on my wife’s iPhone and we had to go pick up a new free SIM card at a local AT&T store. I wonder if the fact that her SIM card was changed to a newer one accounts for why the process for hers was smoother this time around. I don’t know any of the technology behind this though, so it’s total speculation. ↩︎
  6. No comment. ↩︎