Signing up for the iPhone Upgrade Program online should be the least-hassle way to buy a new iPhone every one to two years. You get an interest-free loan, and can then choose between upgrading every year – returning last year’s phone – or every two years, when the old phone is yours to pass on to a family member or to sell.

But there are some limitations to it in the US and elsewhere that put barriers in the way, and one of those is particularly problematic during a pandemic …

When Apple first launched the program, the only way to do the initial sign-up was in-store. You could renew your membership online, but you had to physically visit an Apple store to join in the first place.

Apple later removed that requirement in the US, but it’s still the case in the UK and other countries.

iPhone Upgrade Program outside the US

Having to visit an Apple Store is a nuisance at the best of times – not everyone has one within convenient range, and even for those of us who do, it’s a hassle to have to go pay a visit just to sign a piece of paper.

But the coronavirus crisis of course makes it much worse. First, because you now have to make an appointment for a store visit, with only limited slots available. Second, because it makes no sense at all to force people to visit a store at a time when Apple is trying to minimize the number of people doing so.

Apple needs to roll out the ability to sign up online to all countries where it is legally permitted to take out a credit agreement online (which definitely includes the UK).

But there’s a second issue within the US.

iPhone Upgrade Program online application

While it’s no problem to sign up for the iPhone Upgrade Program online in the US when you are ready to buy a phone, there’s no way to do so in advance. The phone you want to buy has to be available for sale right now.

This means that, online or offline, you can’t join today and then buy the iPhone 12 when it is announced. Worse than that, you can’t even join the program on the day of the announcement: you need to wait until the phone is on sale.

Update: I was wrong about this – it used to be the case, but Apple fixed it.

Crucially, pre-order periods are excluded. So you have to sit and wait now. You have to continue waiting after Apple announces the new phones, and you know which one you want. You have to wait further during the pre-order period, as everyone else secures their launch-day delivery date. Only once the phone is available for immediate order can you join the program – by which point you’ll likely be waiting quite some time for availability.

This seems an easy fix for Apple, and there’s never been a more timely moment to do it.

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