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Is Apple Locking iPhone Batteries to Discourage Repair?

August 14, 2019: Apple Statement

Apple sent me the following statement:

"We take the safety of our customers very seriously and want to make sure any battery replacement is done properly. There are now over 1,800 Apple authorized service providers across the US so our customers have even more convenient access to quality repairs. Last year we introduced a new feature to notify customers if we were unable to verify that a new, genuine battery was installed by a certified technician following Apple repair processes. This information is there to help protect our customers from damaged, poor quality, or used batteries which can lead to safety or performance issues. This notification does not impact the customer's ability to use the phone after an unauthorized repair."

A couple of days ago, Justin from TheArtofRepair YouTube channel discovered that, all of a sudden, swapping out the battery on an iPhone resulted in the newish battery health monitoring system turning off and popping up:

Important battery message: Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery. Health information not available for this battery

Since then, we've seen headlines like Vice's "Apple Is Locking Batteries to Specific iPhones, a Nightmare for DIY Repair" and, of course, iFixit's "Apple Is Locking iPhone Batteries to Discourage Repair" and just a ton more like them.

Now, I'm going to push back kinda hard on using the term "locking" for any of this. Not because I'm an evil Apple apologist or defender, even though I can feel some of you just itching… itching to start typing that in the comments right now already.

But wait... just wait. Because I think it's just dumb and lets Apple off the hook far too easily.

First, It's listed publicly on Apple's iPhone Battery and Performance (opens in new tab) page as applicable to Phone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. And has been since at least March 1st.

Second, Joe Rossignol has also shown a support document from back in April that tells technicians to run RepairCal to make sure it doesn't happen with Apple repairs. RepairCal being Apple's repair and calibration system that authenticates the hardware for the software.

In this case, there's a chip on the battery that has to be paired with the board, something that only Apple's tools can do, and if it's not, you get that warning.

According to iFixit, it can be worked around by swapping the original chip onto the new battery, but that's a much tougher and more onerous job.

Apple has invested heavily in making iPhones last longer. Everything from devoting most the iOS 12 engineering resources to performance enhancements for older phones, to putting in chipsets with years of overhead, to providing updates longer than pretty much everyone else in the industry. So why make third party repairs harder?

Some of the coverage has then focused on this being a move deliberately designed to hurt third party repair shops and it's going to make Apple look really, really bad.

The first part is about as silly as saying right-to-repair is deliberately pushed to make a buck off selling high priced DYI kits. It's just nonsense. Hurting third parties really sucks. Like really sucks. But it's collateral damage. And it's why the second part is bunk too. Apple doesn't really care about looking bad with this.

What Apple cares about is catastrophic battery failures. Apple cares about that a lot.

It may seem like people didn't really care about Galaxy Note 7 having a failure rate so high people were literally instructed, over the intercom, not to have any on flights. But that's the nightmare scenario here.

Ever notice that when Samsung was going through the whole Galaxy Note 7 thing, Apple didn't take any shots at them. Like zero. Because it's not a company thing. It's a technology thing. Lithium Ion is the best mainstream battery we have right now but it's far from perfect and having lithium-ion batteries explode or catch fire, get further restricted in terms of carry-on or shipping, damage property, or worst of all, hurt people — that's it. That's the end.

While some third party and indy repair shops are among the very best and most highly skilled in the world, some of them aren't. Those tend to be the ones that cause problems.

And if you just can't bring yourself to think Apple or any other manufacturer really cares about property damage or personal injury console yourself, just tell yourself they care about the legal exposure that comes with it, and will do an awful lot to limit it as much as possible.

And again, that totally sucks for the many, many great shops out there. But, beyond the sensationalism and victimy-ness, that's the real issue that needs to be negotiated.

I say negotiated for a reason. Apple didn't just lock out third party battery repairs but they sure as hell heaped a ton of stigma onto them, and at the expense of a super useful feature for customers.

And that's why, ultimately, my thinking on this hasn't changed. I fully support right to repair but, please don't make me quote Spider-Man here, it has to come with responsibility as well.

That includes provisions for the handling of potentially dangerous materials like lithium-ion batteries, quality standards for parts where failure just isn't an option. That includes batteries but also authentication so bad actors can't just swap their way into your data.

With severe penalties for shoddy work and security and privacy violations, like fixing your phone but stealing your nudes and sexts. Which, yes, has happened a bunch of times already as well.

Because, if you're going to regulate right to repair, you need to regulate repair as well. Otherwise, this is just about money and going from Apple, who's a big and easy target, to a bunch of much smaller, much less accountable targets, with unknown benefits to consumers.

And it should always be the consumer who ultimately benefits.

In the meantime, I'm going to hard agree with my colleague, Lory Gil. Instead of turning off battery monitoring, which is hella passive-aggressive, Apple should just steal a page from MFi and pop up an annoyer that says much the same thing, then, each and every time you dismiss it, you get an estimation of battery health anyway. Even in another color if they have to.

That way, people who are buying second-hand iPhones also have a super easy way to know if the battery has been changed and, if it hasn't been changed by Apple. Which may factor into their purchasing decision. Which is totally fair.

Corporate asses covered. Customers disclosed. But I'd love to hear your take on this. How do you think we should balance cost and availability of repair with safety and privacy? Let me know in the comments.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

18 Comments
  • Yes, without a doubt. It's not just Apple, this happens in my industry too. The OEMS lock the dates of fans, batteries and capacitors into the units.
    It's a money grab no doubt. If you could get rid of the alarm yourself then fine but you can't.
    There are and have been for a long time batteries in a multitude of hardware consumer items. They never did it.
    They will spin it like they have your best interests at heart. Now, yes. They do want happy customers but your 'best' interests? No.
    Apple make lovely products but they're highly anti consumer. People love to gush about the great service they get in the stores. Great customer service is actually never making your customer have to make the journeys they don't want to in the first place.
    Yes things fail and that's to be expected. But journeys for example to fix things that Apple could easily avoid are not right.
  • Rene, You do raise a valid point on the fire risks of Lithium-ion batts. But, that's been an issue for years so why is it on the top of Apples hit list by this action? Apple could have done this back in the iPhone 6 or 7 which was just after the Samsung battery failure issue. OK, so lets say its the batteries being sold are junk (I don't really believe that it true) then why doesn't Apple offer a parts clearinghouse so the REAL batteries (and other parts) could be bought directly? If that was truly the issue at hand. OK, so maybe its the person putting the battery in is the risk, but wait! So the act of just plugging it in is the failure? I can't see how that would be the issue. Granted the battery is often glued but replacing it would not be the issue. I better get Sony in to plug my TV into the wall outlet then ;-} Or heavens! My Dyson hair dryer in the bath room. Sorry I think thats a reach as well. Apple could have done a few things differently if they truly wanted to make sure they weren't liable. Having the phone submit a text message to them absolving them when the phone had detected the battery wasn't theirs. Then, the repair person and the battery maker is on the hook not them. Disabling an important monitoring function is just wrong! Sorry, to tell you. I've only seen failed batteries (swollen) which are original Apple. I've not seen 3rd party batts. Thats not to say it hasn't happened its just not within my view as someone who repairs computers. By the way, have you tried using the built-in diagnostics since upgrading the Mojave? (Restart your system press the D key) Apple killed it as well. So now anyone with a Mac can't test their system for a simple piece of mind their system is working. Forget about the cryptic codes which is so lame as well. BTW - Apple will be introducing a foldable iOS device within the year if not sooner! Ha! Got you! It will be a hard clamshell iPad, the rebirth of the 12" MacBook. I envision the lower part of the clamshell will have a standard keyboard and the upper area an OLED touch area being the trackpad and Touch Bar like space. The main display in the upper side with be LCD like the current models. To be truthful, I would rather just see a two glass display foldable iPhone. As a plastic display is not what I would want, Samsung will ship a few and kill it as it just won't hold up.
  • Rene - Checkout Louis Rossmann's response on this! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHAfPyqQQ2I His main point is Apple should have prevented third party batteries from even working! In addition his point of the fact a repair person is now incentivize to now salvage the BCS module from the old battery now makes this more of a mess! And like me has not seen this as such a large issue with the battery more a factor of the charging of the battery or a short in the logic board from a liquid spill. Bottomline Apple did a bonehead solution which only made things worse not better from a safety perspective in the long run and will likely have a hard time proving the issue was a failed 3rd party battery if brought to trial. This is a subversive approach to kill off the "Right to Repair" by putting the question in the buyers mind the battery they got is junk! Remember, a REAL Apple battery from another phone will say it failed as well. Not cool Apple, just not cool!
  • Of course Apple is locking iPhone batteries to discourage repair. Apple has gone rogue with a full blown corporate mindset, the kind it once railed against in 1984. It wants full control over your personal computing experience, including what you do with your device. You know, the one you paid a huge margin on to satisfy the ever growing Apple tax that its shareholders demand to keep them giddy. Uh, no.
  • You act as if this is a new thing for Apple. They've demanded full control for decades now.
  • The full control is more on the hardware side now than the software side (although of course the software is what's causing this warning). iOS itself has opened up a lot since its first release, you can even sideload apps without jailbreaking and without a computer
  • "Customer un-impacted. But I'd love to hear your take on this. How do you think we should balance cost and availability of repair with safety and privacy?" I think you're missing something else here: Customer choice. People would be outraged if our auto manufacturers nagged us like this just because we didn't use one of their dealerships to repair or perform routine maintenance on our automobiles. I bought an Edelbrock Carburetor because I "CHOSE" to buy an Edelbrock Carburetor, so don't nag me about it. You've made your money off me, Apple. Now, leave me alone. It would be fine if iOS prompted the user (ONLY ONCE) to let them know that it may be better to have Apple replace their battery and then display battery health thereafter. We shouldn't be forced to have to dismiss that message each and every time. Stop annoying us with stuff like this, Apple.
  • I think the best way to do it would be just to simply have a banner on the battery health page. You can notice it every time you go on the page, but it doesn't get in the way of anything. Very similar to the EU cookie banners that you see on webpages
  • Yes! Thats a smarter solution. It still gets down to Apple coming to the table on the "Right to Repair" and work it out. Creating valid parts suppliers or a clearinghouse. Look at it this wa I can go to a Ford dealer and buy the needed part to fix my own car what can't I do that here?? Doing this is just so subversive! Just think of it this way... What if the car makers made odd shaped lug nuts preventing you to change your tires and of course didn't offer a lug nut wrench for that custom nut! Or, your dashboard flashes a message you bought someone else tires that GM's or Fords This is no different! Tires wear out, batteries wear out.
  • You get the same message when you replace a bad battery with an genuine OEM apple battery. This is being done most certainly to discourage 3rd party repair. Shame on you apple. You have become the exact corporation you rallied against in 1984.
  • It sucks that Apple is doing this for genuine Apple batteries as well, like you said, Apple are blocking third-party repair, not third-party batteries
  • You don't get to say you are not a fanboy and then immediately post fanboy comments. The reason why Apple didn't say anything during the Galaxy battery issues is BECAUSE THEY HAD THEM TOO. Was your head just to far up Steve Jobs' corpse's a** to hear about it?
  • Apple (and pretty much everyone) has battery issues sometimes, but never on the scale that the Galaxy Note 7 had
  • To add to this, these where original batteries from Samsung. And Apple is also facing the exact issue within the 2015 MacBook Pro's. While Apple would like all of the issues to be 3rd party batteries the truth is they are the ones batteries failing. But, I can't blame Apple fully here! As the root issue is often a cheaper knockoff charger that damages the charging logic on the main logic board and in some cases damaged the battery. Just this week I've had six systems come in with damaged logic boards from fake MagSafe chargers. Most had replaced their charger in the last six months from an online store selling them at half price from what Apple sells. Thats the real risk. I can't wait to see what happens when crappy USB-C chargers start showing up! Please! Do your self a favor buy the REAL Apple chargers directly from Apple and don't chance what looks like an Apple charger to be a real one as it likely isn't!
  • Anybody knows what performance implications this "warning" has? Does Apple start throttling your device if it detects this condition? Is it the next step, perhaps? All in name of optimal customer experience and safety, of course? Looking forward to see Rene write an apologists piece then... Simple fact is that Apple is taking a long-term, consistent efforts to make their products less repairable, all motivation for customers to buy a new product instead. :-(
  • There's no evidence to suggest that the warning does anything except simply warning you
  • Re-watch the original post from Justin from the ArtofRepair https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nGnAdtTDCw The issue is the disabling battery health monitoring and telling you your battery needs replacement even if you got another iPhone battery from another 'new' iPhone! So now you have no clue if the battery is good or not. Serialization of the battery to the phone only hurts the customer!
  • That's true, it's a shame really, Apple makes iOS last so long on a phone now that consumers should be allowed to fairly easily change their batteries without Apple. Batteries naturally wear out, the rest of the components will last a long time providing you don't use your phone as a frisbee