Why Aren't Cellphones Under Warranty For The Duration Of Your Contract?

Adam got a bad iPhone that stopped providing some key functions–he can’t make calls on it, for example–18 months into ownership. He didn’t buy Applecare when he purchased it, which would have covered him during the second year of his contract. But that shouldn’t matter, he argues: “[Why isn’t it] incumbent upon a device maker to guarantee a product’s proper function for–at the very least–the length of the contract required at purchase?”

I purchased an iPhone about 18 months ago. About two months ago I began experiencing serious problems with the phone: it doesn’t hold a charge, the charge cable has to be held just-so to connect with the phone, the left channel on the headphone jack is dead, and just today it has lost the ability to connect outgoing calls. It just hangs during the “calling” status and eventually times out.

At the Apple store I was told that they don’t do repairs, and that my only option is to pay $200 for a refurbished replacement. I know Apple offers an extended Applecare warranty, and that I didn’t purchase it, and that Applecare would have solved this problem. But shouldn’t it be incumbent upon a device maker to guarantee a product’s proper function for – at the very least – the length of the contract required at purchase? Further, shouldn’t a device’s most basic features – in the case of an iPhone those would be the ability to make calls and play music – work for more than a year and a half under normal use? I haven’t dropped the phone, wet it or otherwise abused it.

I paid the subsidized price for the phone and am locked into a contract, and now I have to pay another $200 to continue using the contracted services. I think mobile manufacturers and service providers should be forced to disclose the potential full cost of ownership at the time of purchase, as well as the statistical failure rate of their products, or – if you can imagine it – warranty their products for the life of the initial contract. If someone buys a $300 phone with a two-year contract they should know up-front that it will cost them an additional $200 if the phone stops working during the second half of the contract term. Doesn’t that seem reasonable? Yes, Applecare would have resolved this, but so would a company standing behind its products.

We all know the easy answer. From the manufacturer’s and carrier’s side, it’s financially more rewarding to only offer a 1 year warranty and to force customers to pay more money for any other guarantee of quality–$70 for an extra year of protection from Apple, for example, or for non-iPhone owners $5/month for “insurance” from AT&T.

But let’s look at it from the consumer’s side. The current set-up creates yet another hidden financial burden that’s passed along without full disclosure, because as Adam points out, you’re not given a repair cost list or stats on failure rates when you sign up. And if Xbox 360 taught us anything, it’s that sometimes a manufacturer will rush a product to market with freakishly high failure rates if it’s ultimately better for the immediate bottom line.

Adam adds, “Is there any way to petition the Public Utilities Commission or some other official body for this sort of regulation? Any help is appreciated.”

You can certainly file a complaint with your state’s PUC, as well as with the FTC and the FCC. The FCC’s role in this is debatable, but considering they’re asking carriers to explain their business practices right now, it may be worth a shot.

But on a more personal note, try emailing “Steve Jobs” at sjobs@apple.com with your story and see if they’ll offer any sort of alternative.

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