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Macworld Guide to AppleCare

I'm sure you've had this happen: You're buying a TV, a refrigerator, or a digital camera, and the salesperson tries to pressure you—or maybe even scare you—into paying for an extended warranty. In some cases, the expense may be justified, but in others, you're simply paying for something you'll never need.

But what about the AppleCare Protection Plan, Apple's extended warranty for Macs, Apple displays, iPhones, iPods, and iPads? Is it worth paying for the extra coverage? What exactly does AppleCare cover, and how does it work? Here's a guide to AppleCare to help you decide if you should buy this extended warranty with your next Apple product.

What AppleCare covers

Apple sells AppleCare contracts for a variety of hardware items: Macs, Apple displays, iPods, Apple TVs, iPhones, and iPads. All of these devices come with a limited one-year warranty, and this includes 90 days of telephone support to help you get set up and resolve any problems you may have. Apple also offers AppleCare+ for the iPhone, which includes repair or replacement for accidental damage, under certain conditions, and with a service fee.

But beyond that, you're on your own. If you need repairs after a year, you'll have to pay for them out of pocket; and if you have problems you can't resolve by visiting Apple's support forums, then you'll either have to find a friend who can help you, or pay for phone support.

AppleCare extends both of these types of support—hardware repairs and telephone support—to a total of three years for computers and displays, and two years for other devices. You can buy an AppleCare contract when you buy your new Mac, or any time in the first year, though if you wait, you won't get that extended phone support after 90 days and before you buy the AppleCare contract.

Also, if you buy a Mac and other items (a display, any AirPort devices, or certain other accessories), the contract for a Mac will cover all of these. For devices like an iPhone, for example, you get a total of two years of coverage, and must purchase the contract within 30 days of buying your phone. (See Apple's AppleCare web pages for precise conditions and prices.)

When it's worthwhile

I've been living in a rural area for 12 years; I'm far from any Apple service center, and I've bought AppleCare contracts for all my Macs since I moved here. However, I don't buy them for iPods, iPads or other devices; I've never had any problems with them, and I can work if they go on the blink. However, if my Mac has trouble, then I need repairs quickly so I don't lose too much working time.

If you live in an area like me, AppleCare is a worthwhile investment. If you're near an AppleStore, however, and you use your Mac at home, spending an extra $150 or more may not seem worthwhile. You can always drop into the Apple Store and get a diagnosis or repair (if it's still the first year).

If you use your Mac for work, I wouldn't even think twice: I'd get AppleCare right away. If you consider how much it would cost you to not be able to work, the small investment you make in an extended warranty is insurance that will be useful in case of problems. Of course, if something is seriously wrong with your Mac, and on-site service is out of the question, you'll still need another Mac to work; Apple doesn't loan computers when they take yours in for repair.

Depending on the device and the type of repair, you may be asked to drop it off at a nearby Apple repair center (if there is one near you); you may asked to mail it to Apple, in which case they'll send you a box to pack it in; or they may offer on-site repairs. (There's no rule as to when they do on-site support; in my experience, when they are sure what part needs to be replaced they will come to your home or office; when they have doubts, and need time to test the Mac, the'll ask you to ship it.) I've had technicians drive to my home, about two and a half hours from their repair center, to replace parts in Macs: once for a video card in an old CRT iMac; another time for a CD drive in a similar model; and once for the front connectors on a Mac Pro. The time I saved for each of those repairs was well worth the cost of the AppleCare contract.

If you have a laptop, and carry it around a lot, AppleCare is certainly a good investment. Laptops get bumped around a lot, and are more likely to have problems with, say, hard drives than desktops. Also, if your battery goes bad, Apple may replace it under your AppleCare warranty.

Note that when you buy an AppleCare contract, it is valid worldwide. So if you travel a lot, and have a problem with a laptop, or if you have a child who's going abroad for a year of school, having that warranty will ensure that any problems encountered will be covered.

One final reason to buy AppleCare with Macs: if you keep your Macs for less than three years, and want to sell them used, the AppleCare contract is transferrable. (You can also have Apple refund you a pro-rata portion of the contract if you prefer.) I've found that being able to sell a used Mac with several months of guarantee is a big plus; people are more likely to buy a used computer if they know they have some protection.

I now automatically buy AppleCare when I get a new Mac. I know plenty of people who never buy AppleCare contracts. Sometimes I have problems with my Macs that necessitate repairs or extended telephone support, and over the years, I've certainly felt that it was worth spending this extra money.

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Twitter: @mcelhearn Kirk is the author of Take Control of Scrivener 2.

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