Any individual Apple product is typically quite good on its own merits. A MacBook, iPhone, or pair of AirPods will stack up well against any comparable laptop, smartphone, or wireless earbuds on the market.
But the Apple ecosystem isn’t about a single product, it’s about a whole array of technology that, when used together, is more than the sum of its parts. A MacBook is more useful when all your Messages, Photos, Reminders, and Notes sync with your iPhone with automatically. Grabbing a phone call on your Apple Watch when your hands are too busy to dig your phone out of your pocket, or using Siri hands-free with your AirPods, all feels great. It’s like Apple sells one big product with a bunch of parts—the ecosystem is the product.
Whether you’re new to Apple products or just looking to expand beyond the one product you have right now, you might want to think about how to dive into the Apple ecosystem and not just whether or not to get the next iPhone. Here are our suggestions for collections of products that will help you enjoy Apple’s “walled garden” at different price levels. Everyone’s needs and budgets are different, so our specific suggestions may not apply to you, but the structure of the bundles will give you a solid starting place.
Budget: Under $800
Devices included: iPhone, AirPods
Apple’s most important product is probably the iPhone, and it doesn’t come cheap. There’s the iPhone SE, but for the latest features, you’ll want to get one of the newer models. Last year’s iPhone 12 mini is still on sale for $599 and it’s a great phone with a very fast processor, excellent battery life, and an extremely capable camera. It’s even got the U1 chip.
Add a pair of AirPods and you’ll start to see how Apple products really work together. The AirPods pair up just by bringing them close to your iPhone, you can see your battery levels in the battery widget, you can use “Hey, Siri” commands hands-free, and you can even have your AirPods announce messages (and with iOS 15, important notifications too).
The Apple ecosystem is all about services too, and you’ll really want some iCloud storage to store all those photos. The Apple One Individual plan, at $14.95 a month, is a good deal for those just dipping their toe in. You get Apple Music to jam out with your AirPods (and tell Siri to play music), and 50GB of storage for your photos and videos, plus Apple Arcade and Apple TV+.
Shopping advice: Keep an eye out for sales on AirPods and you can save a few bucks. If the iPhone 12 mini is just too small for you, you’ll have to spend $100 more for the regular iPhone 12.
Budget: Under $1,300
Devices included: iPhone, AirPods, Apple Watch
If you’ve got more to spend, we can step up to a current-model iPhone 13, which has a slightly superior camera, OLED display, and improved performance and battery life. If nothing else, it’ll last longer before it’s time for an upgrade. We’ll also add on an Apple Watch SE. There’s no real need for the Series 7 for most people—the always-on display and ECG and blood oxygen measurements are nice, but not worth the price premium for most people.
The addition of the Watch adds a lot to the ecosystem. Now you’re tapping your wrists to use Apple Pay, glancing to see your critical phone notifications, and tracking your workouts to feed into the Health app.
Shopping advice: AirPods and the Apple Watch SE are regularly on sale at Amazon or Best Buy, so keep an eye out for that. You can often save about $20-30 on each. If you prefer really small phones, save $100 by choosing the iPhone 13 mini.
Adding a Mac
Budget: About $2,500
Devices included: iPhone, AirPods, Apple Watch, MacBook
The biggest missing piece of the puzzle in our starter kits so far is a Mac. Not everyone needs a new computer, but almost everyone has some sort of laptop or desktop at home. If you’re going all-in with Apple, you’re going to want that computer to be a Mac.
The way Macs work together with your other Apple products is pretty impressive. iCloud documents are already there. Airdrop anything you need back and forth. Take a call, even a regular voice call to a regular phone number, with FaceTime on your Mac (it will just bridge the call to your iPhone). Use your Mac’s keyboard to type out texts in Messages, which sync with your iPhone. Notes, Reminders, News, TV+…so much of what you do on your iPhone will be on your computer, synced up via iCloud.
Even with a new model reportedly arriving this year, we suggest the new M1 MacBook Air as a great entry point. It’s shockingly fast for a thin-and-light laptop, with killer battery life. The entry-level model has only 256GB of storage, though, so you should probably step up to the 512GB version.
It’s also probably worth jumping up to the Apple One Family subscription at this point, especially if any of your family members have Apple products. Even if it’s just for you, you’ll want that 200GB of iCloud storage. You might even consider spending another $10/mo for Apple One Premier (which lets you share with your family) if you really use a lot of cloud storage or really like Apple News+.
Shopping advice: Like the AirPods and Apple Watch SE, the MacBook Air is often on sale. You can expect to save for $100 to $150. If you prefer really small phones, save $100 by choosing the iPhone 13 mini. Need a desktop instead of a laptop? Swap out that MacBook Air for the 24-inch iMac (we suggest the $1,699 model with a 512GB SSD).
4. MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
$999 (256GB) | $1,249 (512GB)
Getting it all
Budget: Almost $4,000
Devices included: iPhone, AirPods, Apple Watch, MacBook, iPad, Apple TV
Oh, $2,500 isn’t enough Apple stuff for you? Do you want to Think Different in every room of the house? Here’s what it would cost to go all-out with premium Apple stuff.
We’re adding the Apple TV 4K and a Homepod mini. We’re also upgrading the iPhone to the Pro model, the Apple Watch to the Series 6, and the AirPods to the Pro version. If you’re going to spend this sort of money, you don’t want to settle for second-best. (We’re still not crazy enough to recommend spending over $500 on AirPods Max, though.)
You could argue that one should also step up to the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro, but there’s honestly very little difference between that and the M1 MacBook Air. You’re paying another $250 for the Touch Bar and a little more battery life (which is already excellent in the MacBook Air). And the 14-inch MacBook Pro, while an amazing machine, is likely too much power for most people.
But wait! There’s no iPad! Let’s rectify that with the latest iPad Air, which is the sweet spot for price and performance, along with an Apple Pencil. There’s likely a new model on the way in spring 2022, but it shouldn’t be all that different.
With all this gear you’re definitely going to want Apple One Premier, which bumps you up to 2TB of storage space and includes Apple Fitness+ and Apple News+ as well as all the stuff in Apple One Individual or Family. Of course, you can share all the services (and all that iCloud storage) with 5 other family members, too.
Shopping advice: For almost $4,000, plus $30 a month, you can have a new Apple product in every room of the house, essentially. You’ll have every major product category and service covered, and covered well—you’re not skimping on two-year-old refurbished gear or anything like that. You aren’t likely to find the iPhone on sale, but nearly every one of these other products can be had at a discount from time to time. Even the Apple Pencil sometimes lists for about $5-10 less. If you were to actually buy all this stuff, you’d probably save $300-500 on the various discounts.
2. MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
$999 (256GB) | $1,249 (512GB)
You’re not done yet!
Naturally, you can buy more Apple stuff. Need a desktop? That new 24-inch iMac sure is nice. You probably want the 512GB model, which costs $1,699 but can often be found for $100 less. You can always buy more Homepod minis to put in different rooms of the house for whole-house music or to use as an intercom. Most people don’t need an iPad Pro, but it certainly is a gorgeous (and powerful) tablet. Let’s not forget accessories like a Magic Keyboard for the iPad, or options like more storage on the iPhone or iPad, or the cellular model of your Apple Watch.
One could easily spend $8,000 and up diving into the Apple ecosystem, and that’s without going crazy with a $6,000 Mac Pro, $5000 ProDisplay XR, or really high-end MacBook Pros. It doesn’t have to be that expensive. Just pick your budget and buy what you can afford, then expand (or not) over time as you need.