Mobile phone operators could offer the iPhone 14 for free in the United States

Mobile phone operators could offer the iPhone 14 for free in the United States

(CNN Business) — The unveiling of the latest iPhone 14 lineup last week has already sparked a slew of new promotions from mobile phone giants including AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The three major US carriers announced deals that allow qualifying customers to get the latest Apple smartphone for free, under certain conditions, often including trading in an older iPhone model.

AT&T and T-Mobile, for example, offer credits of up to $1,000, after trade-ins, to buy the iPhone 14 or iPhone 14 Pro. Verizon offers credit of up to $800 after an iPhone 14 trade-in. or iPhone 14 Pro, according to some of the offers rounded up and promoted by Apple.

While Apple managed to keep the base price of the latest iPhone the same as the previous generation, the iPhone 14 still starts at $799 and $899 for the 14 Plus model. Meanwhile, the top-end 14 Pro model starts at $999 and the 14 Pro Max starts at $1,099. At a time when inflation hits consumers everywhere, carrier deals can help make the latest iPhone more affordable.

Check out the new Apple iPhone 14 1:54

Mobile carriers that have built extensive 5G infrastructure can also offer these deep discounts as customers look to upgrade to 5G-enabled devices, according to Tom Forte, senior research analyst at DA Davidson.

“They have invested billions of dollars in their own 5G networks and now they are trying to get a return on their investment,” Forte told CNN Business.

The iPhone has been able to use 5G networks since the iPhone 12, released in 2020.

“The other reason I think they can do it, though, is that iPhones historically hold their values ​​well,” he added, noting that many of the deals involve trading in an older iPhone model to qualify for discounts or gifts of the latest gadgets. Many of these carriers then sell used and refurbished iPhones.

See how the iPhone has evolved from 2007 to today 1:49

The latest iPhone 14 lineup, at least in the US, also ditched the SIM tray and went completely eSIM. By doing this, Apple “is essentially making it easier for consumers to switch services,” Forte said. “That could be another reason carriers are being more aggressive, or at least as aggressive as they have been since 12, in getting consumers to sign up.”

Still, it’s important to read the fine print, as these deals often come in the form of contracts, a practice that’s been common since cell phones became ubiquitous. Forte noted that if you took advantage of some of these iPhone 14 deals but then tried to cancel service after a month or two, you’d likely be responsible for “a lot more than the purchase price” of the new phone.

Apple and carriers may also be capitalizing on the rise in popularity of buy-now-pay-later plans among consumers in recent years, according to Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. So more people looking for options to pay for a new iPhone over time might be especially attracted to carrier deals that end up including discounts on the device and cellular plans, even if they involve a longer commitment.

“There has been a small increase in consumers’ willingness and interest in paying over time,” he told CNN Business. Still, he said operators often look to “lock people up for at least a couple of years, so that’s the fine print I’d be looking for.”