If you're making an investment in an Apple product, whether it's a new machine or a permanently on-sale refurb, you want to protect it. At the same time, spending a few hundred more on AppleCare hurts when you're already dropping a couple grand on a computer. You get a year of AppleCare as part of any purchase—but do you need to pay for more time under Apple's guaranteed protection? The truth is, it depends on what you're buying to begin with.
If You're Buying an Expensive Professional Machine
Simple. Yes. Probably. Look, a lot of these machines are never going to leave a work station. But any hardware defects or malfunctions that occur in these machines is going to be less acceptable than it will in a home PC. A faulty keyboard or trackpad, clumps of dead pixels popping up, or a whirry HDD that all of a sudden doesn't seem all that reliable—these are not problems you can sit on if you're using your machine professionally.
The ones that are going out into the field with you, the MacBook Pros and the like, are an even easier decision. It's not just blunt damage that you've got to worry about, but the jostling and bumpy rides, the moisture or exposure, and the temperature shifts. Basically, your computer is living harder than everyone else's, and it's your livelihood—the lost income, if it's down, could quickly exceed the cost of AppleCare.
A few stipulations: One, a lot of people will load up their MBPs after purchasing them, because it's cheaper to do that yourself than pay Apple's expensive upgrade prices. However, DIY upgrades mean you can't cash in your warranty or AppleCare service. So if you plan on doing that, make sure you'd be able to put everything back as it was before taking it in for an AppleCare appointment, or your AppleCare investment won't do you much good.
Also, if you've got a good IT department behind you (in which case you probably aren't the one making this decision, but whatever), or you know how to fix minor and major mechanical issues, then you can probably skirt on by, too. But then, you knew that already and aren't actually reading this guide.
If You're Buying an iPhone
iPhones come with an optional $100 add-on called AppleCare+, which covers two incidents of accidental damage for $50 a piece. So at $150 for just one replacement, and $100 per replacement if you use both.
The most common instance of iPhone death or destruction is a dropped phone and a broken screen. Early estimates are that fixing it yourself will cost you about $100 for just the part, plus whatever service fee you're charged. Going through Apple itself will cost $229. Any more significant damage, like a trip into the toilet bowl, will be even worse.
So the answer, probably, is only a firm "yes" if you're sure you'll end up breaking your phone (some of you are very sure). And even then, the value only hits home if you have to get it fixed twice, and only twice. Alternatively, do not buy AppleCare+ and simply stop putting your damn phone in the toilet.
Also, remember: You can only get AppleCare+ at the same time as when you buy within 30 days of buying your phone. So plan ahead.
If You Upgrade Regularly
Nope. A big benefit of buying Apple products is that, unlike other manufacturers,' they are remarkably easy to re-sell and in turn flip into a brand new model. In that case, you're not going to have the machine for longer than the year of AppleCare you get for any purchase, so don't worry about it.
The one stipulation is that you might want to think about selling early—like possibly before the new generation is out—because once your one year of AppleCare runs out, you can't add on the two extra. That could matter to someone buying a computer second-hand. It's unlikely you'll recoup the extra cash in the sale if you buy AppleCare right at your one-year mark and then turn around and sell at the next update, but you can hold off on the sale a little longer if nothing else.
If You're Just Buying a Home Computer to Last a While
Probably. A lot of people buy Apple stuff because they figure it'll just last a long time and they won't have to worry about it. Which is generally true most of the time. And if you're in the group of people who's going to get an iMac and stick it your family's desk for the next seven years and forget about it, then AppleCare gives you two extra years of actually being able to totally forget about it.
If You're Buying Refurbished
See above. The thing about refurbished Apple stuff is that it's treated by Apple as though it is new, and has a fairly consistent reputation for performing that way as well. There are no statistical failure rates available, but looking on any message board or talking to anyone who's bought Apple refurbished turns up almost universal positive experiences.
So: You shouldn't base your AppleCare purchase on whether or not your gadget is refurbished. Also, remember, Apple refurbs come with a year of complimentary AppleCare, same as the new stuff, so you have some time to make up your mind.