Thursday, August 8, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple Is Locking Batteries to Specific iPhones

Jason Koebler (tweet):

A longtime nightmare scenario for independent iPhone repair companies has come true: Apple has tied batteries to specific iPhones, meaning that only it has the ability to perform an authorized battery replacement on the newest versions of iPhones, two independent experiments have found.

Battery replacements are among the most common repairs done by Apple and by independent repair companies. This is because lithium ion batteries eventually lose their ability to hold a charge, which will eventually make the phone unusable. Replacing the battery greatly extends the life of the phone: Apple CEO Tim Cook acknowledged earlier this year that battery replacements are resulting in fewer people buying new iPhones, which has affected Apple’s bottom line.

It’s concerning on many levels, then, that on the iPhone XS, XS Plus, and XR, that any battery swap not performed by Apple will result in the phone’s settings saying that the new battery needs “Service.”

Craig Lloyd (MacRumors, Hacker News):

Put simply, Apple is locking batteries to their iPhones at the factory, so whenever you replace the battery yourself—even if you’re using a genuine Apple battery from another iPhone—it will still give you the “Service” message. The only way around this is—you guessed it—paying Apple money to replace your iPhone battery for you. Presumably, their internal diagnostic software can flip the magic bit that resets this “Service” indicator. But Apple refuses to make this software available to anyone but themselves and Apple Authorized Service Providers.

Our friend Justin notes that there’s a Texas Instruments microcontroller on the battery itself that provides information to the iPhone, such as battery capacity, temperature, and how much time until it fully discharges. Apple uses its own proprietary version, but pretty much all smartphone batteries have some version of this chip. The chip used in newer iPhone batteries includes an authentication feature that stores the info for pairing the battery to the iPhone’s logic board.

Previously:

Update (2019-08-13): Rene Ritchie:

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.

Adam Engst:

I think Rene is significantly overstating the case. There have been third-party batteries available for Apple laptops and iOS devices for many years, and while it’s possible that dodgy parts or repair shops have caused problems, I can’t think of a single instance where that has reflected badly on Apple in a big way.

[…]

I’ll return to the car analogy. If you go to a lousy mechanic and get rebuilt or aftermarket parts that don’t work well, you complain to the mechanic, not Ford or GM. And more to the point, if someone does a terrible repair that results in an accident (which is a heck of a lot more likely with a car than an iPhone), no one expects that it will reflect badly on Honda or Toyota.

This is control freakery on Apple’s part.

Jerri-Lynn Scofield (via Hacker News):

I want to focus on one practical problem here: the dearth of Apple stores to conduct these repairs. This is a problem outside major US cities, as I understand there are big chunks of the US that lack Apple stores. This means people who live in these areas must now either schlep to an Apple store – or ship their iPhone – when they need a simple battery change (unless they are prepared to ignore bogus error messages). Uh huh.

Josh Centers:

Frankly, this is bush-league anti-competitive behavior on Apple’s part. Anyone who chooses to have an iPhone battery replaced by an independent repair shop—or opts to do it on their own—knows what they’re getting into. Independent car mechanics who rely on aftermarket parts have existed since the Ford Model T as an alternative to working with a dealer, and car owners have no trouble deciding which sort of business they’d prefer to patronize. That should remain true of computers and smartphones as well.

Update (2019-08-15): Rene Ritchie (tweet):

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.

[…]

No batteries are being locked out. That’s hyperbole, sensationalism, scare tactics.

It actually seems worse than blocking certain batteries, because it also complains about genuine Apple batteries that were merely not installed by a certified technician.

See also: Josh Centers.

4 Comments

This is just Apple trying to be Sun Microsystems. Guess what happened to Sun?

Lily Ballard

My bet is that Apple has seen evidence of counterfeit “Apple” batteries and is trying to avoid the PR nightmare that will ensue if one of these batteries causes an iPhone to explode.

Holy crap, is this actually true? I've changed a bunch of iPhone batteries for friends, which allowed them to keep using older iPhones. Disallowing that seems completely bonkers.

>My bet is that Apple has seen evidence of counterfeit “Apple” batteries and is
>trying to avoid the PR nightmare that will ensue if one of these batteries
>causes an iPhone to explode.

That could be done without tying the battery to one single phone. Also, I've had more issues with genuine Apple batteries (bloated batteries on three different MacBook Pros, and not the ones that were recalled) than with Chinese replacement ones recently, so there's that.

Anything Apple says about batteries should be viewed through a very critical lens. Between their many first party battery problems over the years and historically unreliable and dangerous charging cables/adapters, come in now. The only power adapter I have ever owned that literally caught fire was my G4 iBook adapter but my G3 adapter also singed itself.

This is yet another ecosystem play, let us not kid ourselves. Safety? Apple just had to recall MacBook Pro batteries.

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