So, you've splashed the cash for Apple's latest wunder-tablet and it's just hit the doormat, still swaddled in its glossy protective packaging. But the world outside the box is a harsh place, with all manner of hard surfaces, sharp edges and opportunistic ne'er-do-wells just waiting to sully your new pride and joy. Fortunately, Apple offers some peace of mind with its Apple Care service, but how does it stack up against third party insurers offering similar services?
What is Apple Care?
First of all, what do you get automatically when you buy the new iPad? All Apple products, including tablets, include a year's warranty and 90 days of technical support free of charge. This protects your iPad against any mechanical faults or any defects that may occur due to materials or workmanship. It doesn't cover the software that comes on the iPad (you can't claim a new iPad just because you can't get your David Bowie discography into the correct album order), or any accessories that don't come boxed with your iPad (that's cases, new headphones etc. - even if you bought them in the Apple Store). The warranty doesn't cover you for "damage arising from failure to follow instructions relating to the Apple Product's use" - so no skimming it across any lakes.
AppleCare is an extended warranty, which will set you back £69. This covers your iPad (as above) for two years rather than one, and also extends the telephone support from 90 days up to the full two years. If your iPad breaks down, you'll be sent a pre-paid box which you can use to post your iPad for repair. Alternatively, you can bring your iPad in to any Apple Store or Apple Authorised Retail Service Provider.
AppleCare also covers the iPad's battery, which you're entitled to a replacement for if the battery life degrades by 50% or more in the two year warranty period. The USB cable, power charger and a Time Capsule and AirPort devices are covered too (as long as they are less then 2-years old).
But AppleCare doesn't cover you for accidental damage - so if you drop your shiny new iPad it won't be covered. Apple fans outside the UK can get AppleCare+ includes the above plus cover for two incidents of butter-fingeredness (accidental damage). But this isn't available in the UK yet. According to Apple tech support, each claim for accidental damage will come with an excess of one third the total cost of the repair (so if you knacker the screen and the repair costs £150, you'll be forking over £50 to Apple to get it fixed). This may change by the time the service goes live in the UK, however - be sure to check the details before you buy.
In addition, the one big thing that AppleCare and AppleCare+ won't cover you for is theft or loss. So, if your new iPad is going with you out and about town you'll need some insurance.
So, what are the options?
Depending on whether you're buying the WiFi or 3G version of the new iPad, it might make more sense to take out insurance with your 3G provider, but as we found the last time we looked at different mobile insurers, this can be a pricey option. In our experience, the best deals to be had insuring tablets and smartphones come from the independent third-party insurers like Protect Your Bubble and Gadget Cover. Their terms and conditions differ in the minutiae, but key selling points they both share in common are protection against electrical or mechanical fault, accidental damage and theft (where the tablet was either nabbed off your person or from a locked car or premises), as well as well as worldwide travel cover (for a slightly increased excess fee).
Which type of insurance/cover do I need?
AppleCare is a solid option, especially if the iPad's been bought as a gift for a less tech-savvy family member who will be making use of Apple's tech support services. £2.80 a month over a two-year period is a small price to pay to having someone at the end of a phone to help with queries and will be invaluable for many people.
Remember that some of what AppleCare covers is also covered by the free one-year warranty. So unless you really need the technical support, in reality you don't need both the warranty and AppleCare running at the same time. AppleCare doesn't need to be purchased when you buy the new iPad - the terms on Apple's website state that it needs to be taken out during the one-year warranty period. So you could always buy the iPad then take AppleCare later if you decide you need it.
BUT whether you need the phone support or not, remember that AppleCare isn't insurance, so doesn't cover the iPad for accidental damage or loss.
So if you're taking the new iPad out and about/have children/or are scared about damage or theft and don't want the phone help AppleCare offers, forget AppleCare and spend the money on dedicated third-party insurance, as theft and accidental damage obviously become more of an issue.
It's also worth remembering that the iPad has a massive online following, and a quick Google search or trawl of the various network provider's online message boards will yield answers to even the most obscure technical problems.
If you do settle for third-party insurance, however, do read their terms and conditions in full; there are a couple of sneaky clauses - like having to inform your insurer within twelve hours of your iPad being stolen in order to make a claim - that can get squirrelled away in the small print with financially ruinous consequences.