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Apple reportedly working on iPhone subscription service — what it means for you

iPhone 13 Pro Max review
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Update: Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has been speculating about the price of the iPhone subscription service — here's how much it could cost you

Apple is reportedly working on a subscription service that would let customers pay a monthly fee to own and use Apple devices. It seems the service would be different than existing initiatives like the iPhone Upgrade Program and extend to multiple categories of Apple hardware.  

According to Bloomberg (opens in new tab), sources say the project is still in development. Apple is no stranger to subscription programs, employing recurring payment structures for individual services like Apple Music and Apple TV Plus in addition to multi-service subscriptions bundled with iCloud storage. 

Bloomberg's report doesn't share many details about how subscription plans for Apple hardware would compare to current software programs. It's likely customers would need to be "approved" for a subscription, similar to the process that allows for smartphones to paid off in monthly installments. 

If we had to guess, there would be definitive safeguards in place for this kind of program to become viable. When someone stops paying a membership for an app or digital service, the app simply stops working. It seems more complicated to fetch back hardware, so perhaps subscription-eligible devices would be outfitted with a forced shutdown mechanism. 

With the iPhone Upgrade Program or financing an iPhone over the course of several months, your credit score will take a hit if payments are missed in most cases. That would make it more difficult to be approved for a credit card or loan, which is a well-understood financial threat most customers won't mess around with. It's hard to imagine the same degree of severity would accompany any kind of subscription service targeting the Apple product-using masses, so maybe it'll be limited to certain kind of customers.

We're also curious as to whether the subscriptions will only be available in fixed terms, such as a year or two years. Perhaps it's meant to work more like a rental program, letting a student borrow an iPad needed for a semester-long course. Or maybe instead of paying full-price for a Mac Studio with M1 Ultra, a freelance creator could rent the computer for a the duration of a project. 

Another question we have is what will happen with the subscribed hardware when its returned, or a customer changes their mind. Would Apple keep a semi-permanent inventory of eligible devices? Or would anyone who wants to be able to upgrade every Apple device they own every time a next-gen version comes out? Of course, that comes with a slew of environmental concerns.

By offering a hardware subscription service, Apple would also achieve an even more direct relationship with the customer, so it could rely less on both wireless carriers and retailers like Amazon and Best Buy. Apple is already reportedly planning satellite communication capabilities for the iPhone 14, so it's possible this strategy would be another step in the path of being more autonomous. 

Moral of the story — any kind of hardware subscription service from Apple won't arrive until the details are smoothed out. And given how little is shared in the Bloomberg report, it's unlikely the service is anywhere close to launching, if it's actually launching at all. We'll be keeping an eye on the relevant rumors, but we're not holding our breath.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account (opens in new tab), which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.