The iPhone is among the biggest hit consumer electronics and cell phone products of recent years and, as a result, everyone wants one. Given that, the question is not whether to buy, but where?
Sure, you can go directly to the source and buy an iPhone from Apple's online or retail stores, but you have lots of other choices about where to buy your iPhone. Here's a list of the major places to buy an iPhone in the U.S.
You can, of course, purchase an iPhone at any of Apple's 400-plus retail stores across the globe. Apple stores can activate your iPhone, though you can also do that either at a phone company store or online through iTunes.
The Apple Store will be equipped to sell you an iPhone and activate the phone service that is required to use the iPhone.
With over 2,200 AT&T stores in the U.S., AT&T stores are more widely spread than Apple stores. These stores sell iPhones and activate them on site.
Authorized Carrier Resellers
While each major phone company has their own official stores, there are also lots of companies that resell phones and service for multiple carriers. These authorized resellers can be good locations to buy the iPhone. Not every authorized reseller location will have the iPhone, but don't ignore these businesses just because they're not carrier-owned.
In 2008, Best Buy became the first major retailer besides Apple and AT&T to be authorized to sell the iPhone. Though you won't find big discounts or sales here, Best Buy does occasionally run promotions that increase value and sells used iPhones at a discount. It does not sell the iPhone online, though, so you’ll need to visit its retail stores to buy an iPhone.
As of 2012, the iPhone is available through a number of pre-paid phone companies in the U.S., including Cricket, Straight Talk, and Virgin. Boost Mobile joined this group in 2013. There are some trade-offs with pre-paid companies, but if you're willing to make them, you'll probably save some money on your monthly bill compared to the major phone companies. Learn more about pre-paid carriers, their pricing, and where to buy.
Longtime electronics retailer Radio Shack has moved heavily into cell phones in recent years. As part of that, the company now sells all iPhone models. On top of that, since the launch of the iPhone 4, the company has offered an iPhone trade-in program that can net upgraders up to US$200. Find your closest Radio Shack.
As with the pre-paid carriers, these smaller phone companies offer options that the major providers don't: in this case, service to rural and remote areas. Phone prices are roughly the same as the major carriers, though monthly plans differ. Check out this list of regional carriers who offer the iPhone to see if there's one in your area.
Now that the U.S.'s third-largest mobile phone company is offering the iPhone, you'll be able to buy that phone in its retail stores. Find your closest Sprint location.
Major big-box retailer has gotten in on the iPhone business. You can buy an iPhone and service plan from AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, or Virgin at its nearly 1,700 U.S. stores. Target only sells the iPhone in store, though, so while you can learn about it online, you'll have to head into a store to buy it. Find your closest Target.
The last of the four major U.S. phone companies started carrying the iPhone in 2013. As a result, you can now buy all current iPhone models at T-Mobile's retail and online stores. Find your closest T-Mobile store.
The U.S.'s biggest cell phone company began selling the iPhone at its retail stores on Feb. 10, 2011. Find your closest store.
Wal-Mart & Sam's Club
The world's largest retailer began selling the iPhone in 2009. In early 2010, it offered a deal on the iPhone 3GS that no one else has matched: US$97 for a 16GB iPhone 3GS with a two-year AT&T contract. With the introduction of the iPhone 4, though, the standard price of the 3GS fell to $99, making this a less unusual offering. Your local Wal-Mart doesn't always have such good deals, but it's smart to at least check its prices. Its sibling company, Sam's Club, also offers the iPhone.
As with almost anything else you're looking to buy, Craigslist and eBay can generally help you out. Buyer beware, though. Make sure you know what you’re buying, are buying from a highly rated dealer (on eBay, at least. Craigslist offers no ratings) and make smart purchases. Be wary of deals that seem too good to be true, and make sure you're buying a new unit (unless you're looking for used), or you could end up out money and with a subpar phone.
Most of the websites that buy and sell used iPods also buy and sell used iPhones. Shop around on these sites for the lowest prices. And even though quality is generally very good here, remember that these phones will be used and sometimes without warranty. As always, you'll need to activate through Apple or a phone company.