iPhone 13 deals are extra aggressive this year, here’s why

Get free iPhone upgrades throughout your life
Switching carriers will get you a $500 gift certificate

As soon as the Apple California streaming event ended, I could almost hear Oprah yelling out the competing offers from each of the carriers AT&T and T-Mobile. All of them offer huge incentives to get you to trade in your old device, switch carriers and then sign up to a top-shelf plan. You can get a free iPhone 13 if you're in the market right now for a new iPhone and a new carrier. Or, pay a small fee for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

These offers are too good to be true, and they're a surprise to find on new iPhones that have traditionally been sold by themselves. Verizon offers a $500 gift card to your prepaid MasterCard, which is a great deal for anyone who has switched carriers. What about the ridiculously high trade-in offers all carriers offer, such as the $350 off a used Samsung A50 that retails for about $180, or the outrageous offer of a $500 prepaid MasterCard gift card? As you can see in our preorder guide, all the carriers are aggressive with their signup offer this year.

All offers, regardless of whether you choose T-Mobile or Verizon, follow the same basic principle. After you trade in an older iPhone 13 device of any value, you will be charged monthly installments for the balance. If you sign up with AT&T, you will need to qualify for an unlimited plan. This will tie you to your phone and provider for at least 24 months. You will be able to choose which device and when you can upgrade. This helps phone manufacturers and carriers better predict the demand and allows you to get a free upgrade.

We are back, to a certain extent, to the subsidy system that existed ten years ago

The carriers will not offer as generous deals to iPhone 13 customers who are happy with their current data plans or carriers. You must be willing to upgrade to premium plans at Verizon or AT&T, or to take a lower deal at T-Mobile if you are an existing customer.

Carriers want to regain control of your upgrade process by offering scheduled upgrades. They also want to lock you in to a larger plan than you actually need, by giving you a nearly free phone. Do you feel this is happening to you?

According to Wave7 Researchs principal analyst Jeffrey Moore, although the offers are more generous than before, the overall picture shows that we were moving from the EIP [Equipment Installation Plan] model to a subsidy model. We are back to the subsidy system that was in place a decade ago when iPhones were available for $200 but at higher monthly rates.

Apple may appear to be the one driving these promotions. After all, more iPhones sold are always a benefit for the company. However, even though Apple is dependent on people buying new iPhones each year, carriers also need to sell more.

Wave7 Researchs monthly survey of US retail wireless stores found that more than 60% are iPhone-related, with the remaining activations being Android, with Samsung holding the dominant Android share.

The ongoing global chip shortage has made it difficult for carriers to push customers towards iPhones. This is especially true for Samsung phones. Wave7 Research's August 2021 survey of retail shops found that the supply of the base Galaxy 21 was particularly low for Verizon in the U.S. with several Samsung models out-of-stock online. It is easy to see why retailers are more inclined to sell iPhones than Androids.

Stocking other models of phones has been difficult due to chip shortages

As they expand America's 5G network, it doesn't hurt that service providers need to increase their 5G user base. The lure of iPhones is what can convince customers to upgrade to a multi-year, all-inclusive data plan.

Americans hold onto their phones longer now than ever before (remember the annual update days?). Each phone is more iterative and less innovative than the previous. This is great news for the environment and wallets, but it does not do carriers any favors. They don't make much money when people buy unlocked phones, order pre-paid plans, or keep their phones for more than three years. With new iPhones on the market, it is now that carriers can once again grab new customers with new iPhone 13s and fancy plans that include built-in upgrades.