Apple today launched its annual Black Friday sale and for the first time offered gift cards with the purchase of an iPhone.
The sale -- Apple's only everyone-is-eligible one of the year -- provides iTunes gift cards of $50 with the purchase of any new iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6 or iPhone 5S, or with the purchase of an unlocked iPhone 5C.
People who buy a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or iMac receive a $100 iTunes gift card, while all iPads -- including the newest iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 -- come with a $50 gift card.
Apple also threw in $25 gift cards with the purchase of an iPod Touch or Nano, Apple TV, or Beats headphones or speakers.
The gift cards represent 10% of the list price of a 16GB iPad Air 2, 11% of the lowest-priced MacBook Air, and 20% of the cost of a first-generation Wi-Fi iPad Mini. The "discounts" are less than Apple -- known as a Black Friday skinflint -- has handed out in the past. In 2013, the $150 gift card included with an entry-level 11-in. MacBook Air and the $75 card that came with an iPad Air represented 15% of each product's then-list price.
The iTunes gift cards are a change from last year's Black Friday Apple Store cards. iTunes gift cards can be used only for digital purchases, including iOS and OS X apps; Apple Store cards are good at the company's online and retail stores.
Rival retailers again beat Apple's deals, especially on the harder-to-move iPad. For Black Friday, Best Buy cut the price of a 16GB iPad Air 2 to $399, a $100 reduction, and Target included a $140 store gift card with the same iPad Air 2.
Businesses have increasingly gravitated toward gift cards to drive traffic back into stores, and to cut expenses and boost profits. Cards are often lost or simply forgotten, and many future purchases exceed the value of the cards, bringing in even more revenue.
Apple is enamored of gift cards: Not only is this the second time it has used them for Black Friday, but it has deployed gift cards in the last four of its annual back-to-school sales. This year, those deals ranged from $50 with the purchase of an iPad, iPad Mini or iPhone, to $100 with a Mac. The gift cards were good for later purchases of iOS or OS X apps, or for goods bought at the Cupertino, Calif. company's online or retail outlets.
The Black Friday sale terms and conditions (download PDF) are available on Apple's website.