It was a blockbuster opening weekend. On Sept. 28, Apple announced it had sold 13 million iPhones in the three previous days, its most ever during a launch. It wasn’t just the new iPhone 6s’s features that attracted customers. The Cupertino, Calif.–based company also introduced a new way to pay for it, allowing consumers to lease a phone for a small monthly fee and to upgrade to a new model every year. “I left the store with the phone I wanted without being tied into a contract,” says Joseph Morris, 34, an IT administrator from Papillion, Neb., who bought two new iPhones under the plan.
Almost every detail of phone buying has been scrambled over the past few months. Goaded by the relatively small T-Mobile, major carriers like Verizon Wireless have ditched two-year contracts, a longtime industry staple. Many, like AT&T and Sprint, offer both traditional and contract-free plans. Customers can either buy phones at full price, or finance them over the long term as they would with Apple. And upstart services like Republic Wireless are finding ways to keep monthly costs low by using local wireless networks for calls and web browsing. Analysts say the shake-up is a mixed blessing for consumers, who now face more factors to consider than ever. Here’s a closer look at the shifts in phone buying.
This appears in the October 19, 2015 issue of TIME.