Why Apple consumers should be wary of iPhone back-to-school deals

Consumers may want to reconsider the back-to-school bundle deals on Apple products. Apple is expected to refresh its line of iPhones and iPads soon, which may make the Apple bundles less valuable in the long run.

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    A shopper walks by an Apple store in Peabody, Mass., June 9, 2014.
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Back-to-school sales are now in full effect, and to get consumers to notice their deals, retailers are discounting big-ticket items, such as the Apple iPhone and iPad Air.

Both devices are among the most sought-after gadgets, so it's no surprise to find retailers bundling them with their back-to-school promotions. But buyer beware — Apple is slated to refresh its iPhone and iPad line of devices as early as September, meaning that any back-to-school Apple bundle that might have caught your eye may not be as good a deal as you originally thought.

Apple refreshes — and new price cuts — are on the horizon

Last year, the iPhone and iPad were refreshed in September and October, respectively. Current Apple rumors indicate a similar trajectory this year, with the iPhone receiving its most significant update in recent years. When Apple releases the new iPhone 6, it will likely discount its remaining iPhone 5s smartphones. Even if Apple chooses to update its budget iPhone 5c and phase out the 5s, retailers will still be eager to rid themselves of their current stock of iPhones.

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The same scenario applies to the iPad Air and iPad mini Retina. As a result, shoppers will find better deals on both devices after Apple's autumn announcements. That means any back-to-school bundles you see with the iPhone or iPad will provide very limited savings, if any at all.

Is a bundle ever worth it?

In some cases, these bundle deals are barely even a deal in the context of current pricing. T-Mobile, for instance, is offering a $100 prepaid MasterCard with the combined purchase of an iPhone and iPad, as part of its back-to-school promotions. To qualify, both the phone (iPhone 5s or 5c) and tablet (iPad Air with LTE or iPad mini Retina with LTE) must be purchased on the same day and both devices require an active account. In addition, the iPad requires a minimum 1GB data plan.

With this deal, you'd pay list price for whichever iPhone and iPad you select. (The total would be paid throughout the span of 24 months). In return, you'd get a $100 rebate.

While you may think the bundle is worth it for a contract-free iPhone and a cellular iPad, we've seen unlocked iPhones up to $159 off their list price. We haven't seen many cellular iPad deals, but the savings on the iPhone alone would be enough to beat T-Mobile's current offer. If you're not loyal to T-Mobile, you can find even better deals on current iPhone models, some as low as $0.

While it's true that T-Mobile will allow Jump subscribers to upgrade to new devices as they come out, at least 50 percent of your device must be paid off before you can upgrade. The Jump service also adds an additional $10 to your monthly bill. That means there's little chance of saving money with this deal, and that's without factoring in the devaluation of your device once Apple announces its successor.

In this scenario, consumers are better off searching for deals on an unlocked iPhone and buying their tablet separately. If you're still intrigued by T-Mobile's offering, the complimentary $100 MasterCard requires six to eight weeks of processing time, at which time Apple may have already announced new models.

Apple laptops are still a safe bet

However, not all Apple devices will receive updates this fall. Apple laptops and iMacs, for instance, are in no imminent danger of being refreshed. In fact, these devices may not see their next upgrade till early 2015, which is when Intel predicts its next-generation Broadwell processors will be widely available.

In the end, back-to-school shoppers should only be wary of bundles with iPhones and iPads. These devices are very close to their end of life, and the chances of devaluation and the likelihood of seeing better deals in the weeks to come are increasing significantly by the day.

Louis Ramirez is a senior features writer for DealNews, where this article first appeared:

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