CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Mobile

Sprint tries out an easy-upgrade iPhone pitch

You can get a 16-gigabyte iPhone 6 now, and then upgrade to the next-generation model for $22 per month, or $15 if you trade in an existing phone.

Sprint is trying to one-up T-Mobile with its own anytime upgrade plan. Lynn La/CNET

Sprint's new iPhone Forever promotion promises to make it easier for you to always own the latest iPhone.

As of Monday, customers new to Sprint, or existing Sprint subscribers eligible to upgrade, can buy a 16-gigabyte iPhone 6 for $22 per month. And through December 31, you can bring the price down to $15 per month if you trade in your existing smartphone. If you upgrade to the latest iPhone after December 31, the monthly installment rate returns to $22. But Sprint will pay off your old phone and contract so you can switch to the new plan.

The focus on monthly phone pricing and anytime upgrades is part of the mobile industry's shift away from subsidies and two-year contracts. T-Mobile and Sprint -- the underdogs to market leader Verizon Wireless and second-place AT&T, when going by number of subscribers -- have been leading the way by offering plans that charge you the full retail price of the phone in exchange for not saddling you with a two-year agreement, which had long been the industry standard. That gives you the ability to upgrade to a new phone whenever you want. AT&T provides the same option through its Next installment plans. And on August 7, Verizon announced that it would kill off subsidies and contracts for new customers.

The move away from lengthy phone contracts has its advantages and disadvantages. With carrier subsidies, buyers could pay a "low" fee for the phone all at once and then just pay for the voice, text and data plan on a monthly basis. But on a plan with no subsidy, consumers must also factor into the cost of the phone, either paying the full retail price up front or paying off the phone on a monthly basis. The carriers clearly believe consumers will continue to gravitate toward contract-free plans for the benefit of anytime upgrades.

Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 and its bigger sibling, the iPhone 6 Plus, almost a year ago, delivering among other things larger screen sizes than its smartphones had been known for, and those models have been hugely popular. The company is widely expected to show off the next new model -- rumored to be called the iPhone 6S -- in September, the month that it has traditionally launched its phones.

The iPhone Forever program is clearly Sprint's way of trying to outsmart a similar promotion introduced by chief rival T-Mobile in June. T-Mobile's new Jump On Demand program lets you upgrade your smartphone whenever you want, but only up to three times a year. You also have to buy a new smartphone to join Jump On Demand. But T-Mobile's program expands your choice of phones beyond the iPhone to such devices as Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, the LG G4 and more models to come down the road.

Sprint describes its iPhone Forever promotion in three steps:

1. Get a 16GB iPhone 6 model for $22 (or the $15 special promotional price with trade-in) when you activate on any individual unlimited plan or family share pack plan.

2. Upgrade to the latest iPhone by the end of the year and keep the $15 a month special promotion price.

3. At your next upgrade, the monthly cost is $22. (Excludes taxes and service plan charges.)

Customers who don't have the latest iPhone can take advantage of iPhone Forever. The new promotion is available with any eligible Sprint rate plan, and future upgrade eligibility is included in the price. To sign up for iPhone Forever, buyers can go through Sprint directly, or through retailers Best Buy and Target.