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The late launch of the iPhone 12 range in 2020 means that users on the iPhone Upgrade Program shouldn't get to update to iPhone 13 yet — but Apple will allow it, for a price.
Of course Apple is going to give as many people a way to buy a new iPhone 13 as it conceivably can. If they're on the iPhone Upgrade Program, where they get a new iPhone every year, there is always a way to avoid waiting the full 12 months.
This time out, though, the result is likely to be a cash windfall for Apple — and there are already disgruntled users.
Besides Friday's issues with payment processing and approval, the disgruntlement is because although Apple promotes this as an annual upgrade program, it's really 12 instalment payments. In theory, Apple could decide to allow you to pay all 12 on the first day.
In practice, it typically expects you to pay monthly, and then will allow you to make your 12th payment a little early.
Not everyone joins the Program on the day a new iPhone comes out, so every year there are people who either have to wait, or pay their remaining monthly fees early. This year, however, vastly more people are affected because the iPhone 12 was delayed a month.
Those people have already paid Apple for 11 months, and they want to go on to pay monthly for the iPhone 13. So this month they end up paying both the 12th instalment on the iPhone 12, and the first on the iPhone 13.
How to get an iPhone 13 early on the iPhone Upgrade Program
If you are already on the iPhone Upgrade Program, go to Apple's eligibility page. You'll need to sign in, and may also be asked for your iPhone's serial number.
It's possible that there may be limitations. Possibly if you only joined the program a month ago, Apple might not offer the early upgrade option.
However, for people caught by the late launch of the iPhone 12, Apple's page will tel them that they qualify. And it will detail how to make the remaining payment outstanding on this year's phone.
How to join the iPhone Upgrade Program
Ahead of the pre-order launch, Apple opened up the approvals process for getting the iPhone 13 on the program. So now any users going to the main iPhone Upgrade Program page will be getting a model from the iPhone 13 range.
The process for joining the program varies internationally. US customers can complete the entire process online, but UK ones, for instance, are required to go into an Apple Store first.
It's to do with the legal requirements of the financial institutions backing the program in each of the territories. Other than always being inconvenient in the UK, though, the difference did give problems in 2020.
When the iPhone 12 came out, the UK was in coronavirus lockdown. No Apple Stores were open, so no one could join the iPhone Upgrade Program in the usual way.
Apple temporarily made the program unavailable. Which means that UK users who then joined the Program when it returned, are currently likely to be on only their 10th or earlier payment.