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True Cost of Owning an iPhone 5s: Buying Into Apple’s Ecosystem Costs Thousands



How much does it cost to own the iPhone 5s? Apple is pitching the iPhone 5s as a mere $199 phone with a two-year contract for most carriers, and while that is true, it doesn’t factor in the true cost of the device with the wireless service and any accessories or added features you may want. We’re going to try and break it down and do it for you. When you’re looking at adding in your favorite services, accessories, and content, you’re looking to pay a few thousand dollars over the life of your two-year contract. This is far in excess of the $200 for the iPhone 5s that Apple is asking for today.

READ: iPhone 5 True Cost of Ownership is the Most Expensive iPhone Ever

iPhone Device Cost

iphone5s-selection-hero-2013Given the significant improvements in camera quality for the iPhone 5s, I would likely skip the $199 base iPhone 5s model with just 16 GB of non-expandable storage and go with a 32 or 64 GB model. This would allow me to store more pictures and capture more videos on my device without having to worry about storage space. With a contract, you’re looking at $199 for the 16 GB model all the way up to $399 for a 64 GB model. Additionally, some states like California calculate taxes based on the full retail price of the phone, so you’re looking at paying taxes on up to $850 for the 64 GB retail price.

The problem with the exceptional hardware that Apple is pitching–new A7 processor, fast 64-bit iOS 7, fingerprint sensor, and broad 4G LTE compatibility–is that you’ll want to do more with your iPhone. Doing more could mean spending more money on data plans, accessories, apps, and other services and content.

Wireless Voice, Data, and SMS Service

LTE coverage will be important for many users, especially business customers. For this comparison, I’ll opt to join Verizon’s network as it has the largest LTE coverage footprint of any U.S. carrier. The downside is that Verizon’s phone won’t support simultaneous voice and data–for that you’ll need to sign up with a GSM-based carrier like AT&T Mobility or T-Mobile US. However, Verizon does have good coverage and 4G LTE speeds are fast, though not the fastest around.

I am going to choose the $70 plan with 4 GB of sharable data, meaning that I can use my iPhone as a hotspot for no added cost or fees. The plan is just $10 more per month than the $60 with 2 GB of data, and that equates to roughly $240 more than the next lower plan over the life of my contract. Add on the iPhone to use the plan and I am adding $40 per month, so I am essentially paying $110.

READ: iPhone 5s: AT&T v. Sprint v. T-Mobile v. Verizon

For $110 per month I get unlimited talk and text plus 4 GB of data for use on the phone or as a mobile hotspot. Total: Over two years, I am looking at $2640 plus taxes.

T-Mobile’s service is perhaps the cheapest as you can get a $70 plan with unlimited text, talk, and data, but no mobile hotspot capabilities per month. That’s $1680 per year, but you’d have to pay for the full price of the device rather than the subsidized cost. This means you’ll be adding between $650 and $850 to the cost of your plan to own the iPhone 5s.

READ: True Cost of Ownership: AT&T Next v. T-Mobile Jump v. Verizon Edge


lifeproof_fre_waterproof_iphone_5_case_1Cases. Apple sells an iPhone 5s leather case for $40. Most users will likely get a case for their phone, so we’ll add $40 plus tax to the accessories list.

READ: Best iPhone 5s Cases

Screen Protectors. Many users will want a screen protector as well to protect the iPhone’s display. Zagg sells a basic screen protector for $15 and some screen protectors run as high as $30 or more. Glass screen protectors cost more than this even, ranging between $30 and $50.

Specialty Cases. Sometimes, you need a specialty case depending on what you’re doing. Apple’s leather case for the iPhone 5s, or even a $10 cheap plastic one will do fine for everyday use, but if you want to take your iPhone 5s to the beach or to go kayaking or surfing, you may want a waterproof case. Cases from Lifeproof, Incipio, Otterbox, and others that promise waterproof capabilities can run as high as $80.

37020-bDocks. And if you’re an office worker or like having a dock by your bedside, Apple’s official iPhone 5s dock comes in at $30. This allows the iPhone 5s to quickly be docked for charging without having to fumble with the Lightning cable.

Fitness Trackers. Fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit, Nike+ FuelBand, and others cost around $100. It’s a good way to track how active you are throughout the day and get you motivated to workout and stay healthy.

Apple TV. For $100, the Apple TV allows users to not only gain a bit more functionality out of their iPhone by mirroring their games to the larger HDTV screen and using the iPhone as a controller, but it also allows you to take advantage of any digital music, movies, or TV shows you’ve purchased on iTunes. Rather than watching this content on your PC, iPad, or iPhone, you can enjoy it on a much larger screen in your living room.

121010125434-slingbox-350-and-500-story-topSlingbox. If you love TV but aren’t home much to get the maximum benefits of your cable or fiber subscription, you may want to consider an investment in Slingbox. The home set-top box uses a place-shifting technology. Essentially, a $350 base box (or $500 for a higher-end model) allows you to stream your cable service from your home using your home’s broadband connection to the Internet. Then you can log in from your iPhone with a $30 Slingplayer app using your phone’s 4G or 3G service to pull the video stream so you’re watching your favorite local shows wherever you go, even if you travel internationally. This is great for sports fans.

Extra Lightning Cables. Some users will likely add a second lightning cable for charging at the office or in another location in the home. Apple’s official cable–we’re going official to not risk electrocution by using a faulty third-party charger–costs $19.

Car Chargers. If you want to use the iPhone 5s in your car, you’ll likely need a car charger. Dual-USB third-party cigarette chargers cost as little as $10 through Amazon.

Car Mounts. And given Apple Maps is improving and the option to use Google Maps with voice guided turn-by-turn navigation instruction, I will also be adding a car mount to make driving with an iPhone safer. Mounts vary in cost, but I’ll factor in about $30 for an off-the-shelf mount.

Car Speakerphone. And if your car doesn’t have Bluetooth speakerphone capabilities built-in, like my older model car, then you’d also want a Bluetooth speaker for your car. This allows you to command your iPhone using Siri safely in your car as well as make phone calls safely and legally as many states have hands-free laws. I’ll factor in about $50 for a Bluetooth speaker, though some higher-end units will cost more.

Specialty Camera Accessories. Though the iPhone 5s comes with a much upgraded 8-megapixel camera, users may want a better camera experience, or something with a better zoom lens, for special occasions. For parents watching their kids play baseball or soccer, Sony’s more budget-priced QX10 lens offers the ability to take pictures with a 10X optical zoom lens and have the images instantly transfer from the lens to the camera via WiFi. This way, when your child scores that winning goal, you can quickly text a photo to grandma or share to Facebook or Instagram. The QX10 costs $250. Less pricey camera lens attachments include fisheye lenses or macro lenses that hook on to your iPhone 5s camera lens. Those typically cost around $50.

lockitron-home-lock-security-system-for-iphoneHome Automation and Security Systems. At the high-end of our accessories list is various home automation and security systems, including lights that you can control with your iPhone, door locks that you can open and close either with your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or remotely over the Internet, and remote security cameras. The parts may range anywhere between $50 to a few hundred dollars, and complete systems can cost anywhere in the thousands. If you can afford such luxury, your iPhone 5s will allow you to monitor and control your home when you’re at work, secure your prpperty when you’re on vacation, and be notified if there is something wrong. You can even get a dedicated service like AT&T’s Digital Life to do this. Depending what options you get, you’re looking at a few hundred dollars to start and up to a few thousand dollars.

Digital Media & Content

App Store. Though you can find lots of quality free apps–and many users will never pay for an app and just use whatever is available fore free–some users will spend $5 or $20 a month for apps on the App Store. Apple’s App Store does offer a robust collection of apps that augment the phone experience and allows you to do more. Your phone can serve as a graphic calculator if you’re a student studying calculus, or it could be your map to the universe if you’re a star gazer. If you’re a bird watcher, there are apps that provide guides and bird sounds.


Music. Thanks to iTunes, you can download music on the go. iTunes Radio will likely allow you to listen to a broad range of music without having to buy songs, but that’s provided you’re on a WiFi network or have an expensive 3G/4G data plan to stream the music. Else, if you’re driving on the road, it may be more economical to shell out between $0.69 and $1.29 per track on iTunes and have your favorite songs wherever you go without having to worry about data management or run the risk of overages on mobile broadband. With average purchases around $0.99, it’s easy to

Videos, TV Shows, and Movies. If you’re on vacation, traveling for business, or have a lonely night at home, it’s easy to just use your iPhone and buy some TV shows or movies to pass the time away or relax. A flick costs around $10 and could go as high as $20 for new releases in the movies section. Users can also rent instead of own, paying around $5. For TV shows, you’re looking at between $20 and $50 for a full season in HD quality, or around $1.99 or $2.99 per episode depending on if you want SD or HD quality.

Most users will buy one or two movies occasionally when they’re bored. Others are committed to the ecosystem and could spend hundreds, if not thousands, over the course of two years.

Books and Magazines. Another area where you can spend your money is by buying books or magazines. Users can also subscribe to digital magazine copies as well through Newstand. If you’re a voracious reader, the iPhone could make for a great companion when you have some breaks during the day to catch up on your favorite novel or periodical. Considering each book is about $10 and each magazine is about $6, you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars over two years if you read a lot, follow your favorite tabloids, or keep up with current events.

Subscription Services. In addition to Apple’s content store, there are other services. Next Issue is a subscription service that gives you unlimited access to magazines for $10 or $15 per month. Netflix does the same for videos for about $8 per month. Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime for videos, and paid music services like Pandora are a few others.

Additional Services

Cloud Storage Options. Though many popular cloud services–Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, Box, Dropbox–give you a set amount of storage for free. If you find yourself needing more, you can pay either an annual or monthly fee to upgrade your storage plan to store more content on the cloud. This way, you can back up your content from your phone to the cloud, in the event your phone gets lost, stolen, or damaged or corrupted, and you can also offload content to the cloud to save space on your phone. After all, if you choose a 16 GB iPhone 5s, you cannot add more storage should you need more later as the iPhone does not have a memory card slot. A cloud storage service helps in this case, and one example would be to use Google, where 100 GB of storage costs $5 per month on top of the 15 GB free storage Google gives every user.

AppleCare+. If you’re clumsy or predict that your phone may break or drown in a tub over the next two years, AppleCare+ is an easy solution to help safeguard against iPhone death. The program costs $99 and every accidental damage claim you make will cost you another $79. So, for one incident where you accidentally hop into the pool with your iPhone, you’re looking at being out $180.

Carrier Insurance. Through your carrier, you can get insurance for an added $7 to $10 per month. This adds to $240 over two years for the high end of the spectrum, and going with insurance over AppleCare+ will give you added coverage. In addition to covering defects, accidental damages, carrier insurance also provides coverage against theft or loss. Each claim will cost around $200 for your iPhone to be replaced. Over two years, if you make one claim, you’re looking to pay $450 out of pocket.




  1. Bruce X

    09/20/2013 at 7:02 am

    What an exceptionally misleading title.

  2. Brian

    09/20/2013 at 7:20 am

    Wow, what a dumb article. With a couple exceptions you would have to get these same things for ANY smartphone. Cases? Screen protector? Docks? Car chargers? Data plans? Solution to most real issues, buy books from Kindle store. Buy magazines through Zinio. Buy music via Amazon MP3. Apple TV? Automated door locks? None of those are required to fully enjoy an iPhone.

    yes you are buying into the ecosystem if you buy apps…but you do if you buy them for any smartphone. In most cases the things you want to do don’t have an equivalent on other platforms…so yes you can spend more to DO more.

  3. alan

    09/20/2013 at 3:30 pm

    So what. I have a job.

  4. Dianne

    09/21/2013 at 3:27 pm

    Actually for LTE, the article is wrong. Verizon DOES support simiutanious voice and data on LTE, just like the other carriers. I know because I use it.

    • Xavier Lanier

      09/23/2013 at 1:04 am

      Verizon supports simultaneous voice and data over LTE on some Android devices, but the CDMA iPhone 5s/5c/5 does is not capable of voice/data at the same time.

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