Let’s Set The Record Straight On Refurbished / Pre-Owned iPhones in India

Apple has made a request to the Indian government seeking permission to sell Certified Pre-Owned iPhones in the country. However there seems to be some confusion and debate on what that means & if that is a good or bad thing. Some questions are unanswered & I have had no interaction with Apple on this, but let’s look at what we know from public domain and other reports.

The debate for me started when I saw that there is some attempt to portray a pre-owned iPhone as better than a refurbished one by claiming it has a “New IMEI”, with the statement in this Indian Express article saying “Apple certified pre-owned phones have new IMEI numbers, not refurbished phones which are essentially repaired second hand phones.” My twitter exchanges with the author is here (somewhat going in circles there).

Indian Express on Pre-Owned iPhones In India

So are pre-owned iPhones better than refurbished? Because refurbished are repaired and second hand? Wait, Isn’t pre-owned = second hand? Honestly, it seems like Apple PR’s job to me. Trying to get some good press for certified pre-owned iPhones planned to be sold in India. 

Of course if you were asking me, I personally would love to see that happen and see nothing wrong in it. But let’s get clear on what is pre-owned and refurbished. Leaving text book definitions aside, I would like to claim / believe that what Apple is calling ‘Certified Pre-owned iPhones’ in India is just like their Refurbished Macbooks in US. Yes, Apple has an entire section on its website to sell refurbished goods, just that they don’t sell the iPhone there.

Apple Store Refurbished

The term refurbished & certified pre-owned seems to be used interchangeably. If you look at Apple’s own website about Refurbished (pic below), they use the term pre-owned themselves and even the Verizon page that Indian Express links to uses both the terms as-well.

apple website on refurbished

There isn’t any reason to be apprehensive about a refurbished iPhone and I wonder if Apple wants to call it a ‘Certified Pre-Owned’ product in India because otherwise it may be compared to plenty of other refurbished products sold online in India?^ Won’t be considered special? To my mind, refurbished is better than pre-owned which indicates that the product is used whereas factory refurbished can mean the same, but it is a more trusted term (also see chat with Apple support below).

I bought both my Macbooks over the last 5 years from Apple’s refurbished store on I even walked into the iconic 5th Avenue Apple Store in New York and quizzed the staff there about what is a refurbished Mac and I was assured that is is not very different from a new one, someone may have returned it for various reasons. I also re-confirmed with Apple Support just now.

preowned vs refurbished

So is there a secret sauce or differentiator in Apple’s certified pre-owned iPhones that may be sold in India provided the government approved it? Apple is promoting recycling and re-use of iPhones and that may mean a lot of old iPhones would come back to them which can be sold at an attractive price in India. From some experiments in the used phones market, I sure know that there is enough demand for Used iPhones, making it certified by Apple adds even more credence to this market.

However I would appreciate if Apple comes clean on their choice of terms here and explain how certified pre-owned is better or different than their own refurbished store in US. Given that refurbished products are always in short supply in US which suggests to me that they are mostly returns accepted within the 30 day returns guarantee. For all we know, pre-owned may not be as high standard as a factory refurbished!

^ You may also note that a lot of refurbished goods sold in India are basically e-commerce returns. They are also called unboxed or open box. There is also a market of 3rd parties who refurbish used phones and certify them. So the market is complicated. But when something comes from Apple and Apple warranty, call it refurbished or pre-owned, it may not be too risky for the consumer.

Edit 1 (Addition by Arpit Verma): To investigate the issue further, we went further ahead and spoke independently to the kind folks at Apple Support in order to sniff any anomaly.

Devices are the same

They were very clear in their stand that Apple uses the terms Refurbished and Certified Pre-Owned iPhones, very interchangeably and that, they themselves do not have the ability to change the IMEI of phones which have been assigned a serial number. Above, you can find the transcript of the chat.

IMEI Swap not Possible

Assuming that Apple would be changing the IMEI (maybe even the Serial Numbers) on the certified pre-owned devices as per the media report, we cannot help but think that, this is a completely new and unique market that Apple is venturing into unlike the case in the US.

Updated (by Ankur): Striked out what seems like a personal remark up there. Was avoidable, happened in the heat of the moment.

Updated (by Arpit): The application to sell refurbished phones has been officially rejected by the Government of India.

Annkur P Agarwal

Annkur P Agarwal is a mobile enthusiast who is fascinated by the ways in which mobile is changing our world.

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