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Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery: Take Two

I can’t remember exactly when my iPhone 5’s battery began to fail, which is often the trouble with such things. I do know that, after installing iOS 7, it seemed to die occasionally when hitting the 20% or 30% mark. What I had assumed was a software quirk was not only not fixed by any of iOS 7’s updates, but grew worse this summer. The battery had gotten so bad that it would even die in the 40% range, and would sporadically drop several percentage points in a few seconds.

With my AppleCare+ plan due to expire soon, and with a big project that requires iOS 8 (which, after installing, will effectively void my warranty), I decided to pay my first visit to the vaunted Genius Bar. I’m no stranger to tinkering, but after Adam Engst’s trials and tribulations replacing his iPhone 5 battery (“Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery,” 5 March 2014), I decided to err on the side of caution. My closest Apple Store is about 90 minutes away, but I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway.

Long story short, the Genius confirmed that yes, my battery was shot, but not so bad that it qualified for warranty replacement, which flabbergasted me. Apple will replace the battery under AppleCare+, but there’s a catch in the terms and conditions: “…the capacity of the Covered Equipment’s battery to hold an electrical charge has depleted fifty (50%) percent or more from its original specifications…” In other words, unless your battery is half-dead, you still have to pay the $79 replacement fee, which I declined to do, because I’ll probably have a new phone in about a month anyway, and I had already paid (or, you might say, wasted) $99 on AppleCare+.

I had decided to just deal with the dead battery until I heard about “Apple Replacing Defective iPhone 5 Batteries” (25 August 2014). “I have been vindicated!” I exclaimed to the empty room, since I’d bought my iPhone in the covered date range between September 2012 and January 2013 and its serial number was recognized by Apple’s eligibility page. But what I had thought would be an easy fix turned out to be more of a headache than anticipated.

First, instead of driving 90 minutes to the Apple Store, I decided to call a somewhat-closer Apple Authorized Service Provider, which the battery recall support article lists as a possibility. But I was told no, they were not currently allowed to replace iPhone batteries under this program. “Very well, then,” I once again said to the empty room, “I shall return to the original Apple Store where I previously suffered defeat to reclaim victory.” Then I whipped out the Apple Store app and made another appointment with the Genius Bar, hoping that I’d get exactly the same Genius who wouldn’t help me before on the off chance I’d get an apology as well as a new battery.

Alas, after the next 90-minute drive, not only did I not get the same Genius, but it also wasn’t a quick fix. The Genius confirmed that my iPhone’s serial number was included in the recall, verified that my battery was indeed defective, and then informed me that they were out of replacement batteries, but might have more in a day or two.

It took a bit of willpower at this point not to be rude, since trying to get my battery fixed had already wasted hours of my time, and I had made an appointment. But, it wasn’t this guy’s fault, and I told him point blank that if I had to drive all the way back again, I probably wouldn’t bother. He checked again to see if there might be a spare battery, but to no avail. However, he did tell me that more might be coming in that day, if I could hang around the area. I agreed to do so, and left my number with him.

Thankfully, about an hour later, I got a call from the Apple Store telling me a battery had been reserved for me. So I rushed back, only to be told that it would take about two hours for them to replace it. At this point, I wasn’t going to say no.

Unfortunately, the mall surrounding this particular Apple Store has absolutely nothing I find interesting. No video game stores, no outdoor stores, no arcades, no movie theaters, not even a place to grab a burger. And thanks to a near-constant traffic jam surrounding the mall (it sits between one of the only three Whole Foods in the state and one of only two Trader Joe’s in the state), I didn’t dare venture far, though I did manage to find lunch.

Thankfully, there’s a happy ending: I did get a new battery for free, or, rather, in exchange for six hours of my life.

Why am I telling you my first-world sob story? Because I know many of you have the same battery issue (there were three other people picking up phones when I finally got mine), and I want to help you avoid my mistakes.

  1. Before leaving for the Apple Store, call first and make sure they have batteries in stock.

  2. Ignore Apple’s instructions to wipe content and settings from your iPhone. Unless you’re carrying extremely sensitive information in plain view, there’s no need, and you might want your phone to be functional while you wait. (I didn’t make this mistake, but neither should you.)

  3. Expect to wait a couple of hours. Either scout the area for something of interest or bring along a book or something to work on.

  4. Alternatively, you can opt to mail your iPhone in to Apple, but you’ll be without a phone for a few days.

  5. If you don’t have a local Apple Store and mailing it in isn’t feasible, you can try following the steps Adam did and fix it yourself (read “Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery,” 5 March 2014, and be sure to go over all the comments on the iFixit page).

What really irks me is that I had to make two trips in the first place. Apple should have just replaced the battery the first time. It would have saved both them and me a lot of time and trouble, not to mention helping that “customer sat” rating Tim Cook is supposedly obsessed with.

Apple should make a choice: either cover batteries under AppleCare+ completely or make them user-serviceable. I’ve heard compelling counter-arguments to both points. My pal Peter Cohen of iMore informed me that batteries are considered wearable parts — like a car’s brake pads — and others have said that if batteries were user-serviceable, they’d be smaller and have less capacity.

Those are good points, but let’s return to the ever-popular car comparison here. Manufacturer warranties don’t usually cover brakes, because they’re designed to be worn out and replaced. But here’s the thing: I can replace my car’s brake pads and rotors myself (and I have) or take them to a third-party shop without voiding my warranty. To insist that a part is both non-user-serviceable and not covered under warranty is unfair.

More practically, Apple has numerous opportunities to improve the support process. Let’s start with checking to see if my phone was covered by the recall. Why do I have to look up my serial number and type it in manually? Apple already has that information on file, and the Settings app could compare the serial number to a recall database on its own. Furthermore, why did I have to even write an article telling you how to check to see if your phone was covered? Shouldn’t Apple have notified everyone who was covered via email, iMessage, or even a push notification along the lines of those for Software Update?

Let’s proceed to the process of making the Genius Bar appointment. When you book via the Apple Store app, there is no machine-readable way of indicating what the problem might be, just a comment field, which I’m guessing rarely gets read.

What if, at least for recalls like this, since Apple knows that my device is affected, the app provided a checkbox I could mark to indicate that I’m coming in for a battery? Then, Apple could have iMessaged me that morning to let me know the battery wasn’t in stock, and sent me another message later when it came in.

Look, I’m a realist. I understand that no other company is likely to give me better service. If this had been one of the many Android phones, I’d be lucky to get any support at all two years out (on the other hand, I could probably have changed my own battery). And I commend Apple for the battery recall; it was a large-scale problem that the company could have easily ignored.

But Apple has raised the bar, for itself and for us. If Tim Cook wants Apple to remain the exemplar of top-notch service, there’s still work to be done.


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Comments about Replace a Dying iPhone 5 Battery: Take Two
(Comments are closed.)

Similar story here (45 minute drive only) and am still waiting for a call that the battery is in. BUT I DID THE WRONG THING BY FOLLOWING APPLE's INSTRUCTIONS AS I WIPED THE PHONE. So add a couple more hours to restore it! Agree with Apple having a more PROACTIVE process. Wasted trip and I have to do it again. At least there is a Starbucks and Cinnabon in the mall.
sw.foster1  2014-08-28 11:08
I went with my daughter to get her battery looked at when it began quickly losing its charge. No problems at all, and 30 minutes of time invested for the switch. Happy ending here.
Geraint  2014-08-28 12:57
Same story here - half hour journey to the NYC Grand Central Station store, repair took well over 2.5 hours (early on Sunday morning). Result, marginally better battery life, still barely lasts a day of very light use.
wieland hartwig  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-08-29 02:57
No Apple stores in NZ. If one wants to buy Apple one can do it via the web through Australia or via a few 'authorised resellers' who have only limited stock and limited access to parts (certainly not replacement batteries).

BUT –– in NZ, resellers must ensure that NEW products are free of defects and fit for consumer use for at least three years. It might take a few days to get a replacement battery for a phone, but it also means 'bye bye' to Apple Care.
Roger Moffat  2014-08-29 06:03
Sightly different story here. My phone has been shutting down at about 40% of power remaining - with no warning of course since 20% and 10% haven't been reached yet.

I had thought about going to our Apple store - luckily only about 20 minutes away, but never quite got around to it. So I was excited to see the battery replacement programme announced, and excitedly entered my serial number, only to be told I didn't qualify - even though my purchase date is right slap bang in the middle of the affected time period.

I went through the "make an appointment" thing online, including giving a detailed description of the problems, and got the text sent to my phone that included a link to daig:// which when I put in the PIN number I was sent ran the diagnostics and reported back in the browser window on my Mac that I had battery problems and needed a new battery. So (foolishly) thinking that all this was saved under my account, I made an appointment for a couple of hours later and headed off to the Apple Store.

Greeted at the door, told to wait over here and Ben will check you in. The store was busy loud!! 10 minutes later I'm talking to Ben. He says they need to run a diagnostic. I've already done that I say - it should be saved under my account/reservation.

But he runs it anyway, I get to see the fancy 4 quadrant graph of the battery capacity versus charge capacity remaining. I'm in the red zone, not far from the middle where the 2 centre lines cross. He types in my story of why I'm there (didnt I already do this from home?)

Wait here, we'll get you when we're ready. By now it's about 5 minutes before my 10:40 appointment time.

More than 30 minutes later someone comes get me to take me to my seat at the Genius Bar. The Genius I'm assigned to is still helping the previous guy, but introduces himself and shakes my hand. He kind of looks me up in the system - my check in, not my original detailed report I had already entered from home, and then proceeds to run the Diagnostic again!! (While still dealing with his previous appointment who needed a new replacement phone activated with ATT).

After the Diagnostic is run again, it's a discussion about the battery replacement programme, which he informs me I'm not eligible for, but they can do it within the hour for $79.

My suggestion that 2 weeks ago nobody was eligible for the programme because it didn't exist, and who knows - maybe next week they'll extend the serial number range that is eligible fell on deaf ears.

He looked at some other stuff in the diagnostic and showed me some Crash statistics saying that there were several apps crashing regularly that probably was contributing to this issue, and indeed his phone had done the same thing, and a complete wipeout and set up from new had fixed it for him, and a number of others. But even though I had done a Backup in iTunes just before going to the store, I shouldn't restore that since that would restore what was causing the crashes in all likelihood. At a quick thought this seemed reasonable.

After verifying that my iCloud backup held my Contacts, and Calendar etc, and explaining that I'd need to reinstall the Apps from iTunes, he wiped the phone clean and reinstalled iOS on it.

Once the phone restarted we synched to my iCloud and got the Contacts and Calendar installed. I told him I could handle the rest from home where it would be a good chance to weed out some of the Apps that probably didn't need to be there any more and off I went home.

Then the realisation set in - once I selected all the Apps I wanted put back, they all got dumped on to 6 home screens in alphabetic order - all my months of organisation in to folders, with most used Apps on the first screen gone. Then I realised all the notes were gone, and the Call History, and the Messages, and the camera image counter was reset to 0001. (He didn't explain to me that I'd lose the Notes, Call History, Messages etc.)

But I told myself - I've saved $79.

That night the phone shut down at about 30% remaining.


I'm still hopeful that the programme will be extended so that my phone is covered - or that the iPhone 6 is so compelling I'll need to get one of them in December when my 2 years is up.

And why does Apple, with all its Tech Cleverness need the Diagnostics to be run 3 times - it made feel like I'd completely wasted my time doing that from home, and typing out the story about what the problem was since I just had to repeat it all two more times when I got to the Apple Store.

My previous interactions there for Macintosh related issues have been great - including replacement of a brand new Mac Pro I'd bought from MacMall that wouldn't stay running for more than a few minutes at a time the day I got it, but this was more than a little frustrating!
abridge  2014-08-29 14:15
I was given the option of having my iPhone returned to a service depot for battery replacement or wait for 3 or 4 days and have the store do the replacement, perhaps by someone just trained.

I chose the depot repair. DO NOT DO THIS!

The loaner phone I got was a 16 GB to replace my 64 GB. They didn’t mention this. (Or I didn’t hear/understand it because the noise in the store was overpowering me.) The result: restoring my repaired phone is going to be a serious nightmare.

I’m angry. Nothing to be done although I wrote a rather forceful critique of the experience.

High-noise environments are hard for me. I have difficulty filtering and sorting out someone’s speech. I’m in my mid-60s - far out of the demographic Apple appears to care about. The stores are an ugly experience since they don’t seem to care about the noise level.

I’m not sure how I’ll recover everything from this mess. But I urge anyone who gets the choice to have the battery replaced in the store.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-08-29 14:35
I strongly encourage you to call AppleCare immediately and get them to fix this error. There's absolutely no reason you should have gotten any other iPhone back, much less one that's so much smaller than your old one.
abridge  2014-08-29 22:40
I will call AppleCare but at this point I'm just waiting for my old phone to be repaired and returned so I can attempt to get things back to some semblance of normal.

I may not have been clear that I got a loaner phone. Sorry about that.
Sean Campbell  2014-08-30 10:50
IPhone 5 - does fall in the correct serial number range but the Apple diagnostics indicate that I have only used up 40% of the charge cycles and therefore would have to pay $79 to replace the battery.

So the phone dies at 40% battery but does not qualify for a replacement because I haven't recharged it enough times yet? Really? Is the battery defective or not?
Lou Judson  2014-09-01 15:47
I have the first iP4 that Verizon allowed, as I will never again deal with "ATT" which is the worst corporation that has invaded my life (long story, not now). I put off as long as possible "upgrading" to iOS7 and I sorely regret finally doing it, as the only thing I needed was skype access. My home and work computer runs OS10.6.8, and I hope both my iFony4 and my Mac Pro last as long as I do, because this is not MY apple, not to mention my grandfather's Olds! I dread the next time I need to actually deal with the newApple.
Robert A Carpenter  An apple icon for a TidBITS Supporter 2014-09-01 16:59
Actually, compared to some of the stories here, my iPhone 5 battery replacement was painless.

I did call the store first to make sure the batteries were in stock. The person I talked to said they weren't in stock, but I'd have to bring in my phone to have it examined before the battery could be ordered. That didn't sound correct, but the local store is only about 20 minutes away so it wasn't a big deal.

Anyway, I made it to the Apple Store for my Genius appointment only to find out they had batteries in stock and my iPhone 5 had failed the diagnostics so they would replace the battery that day. He said they were backed up so it would take about 45 minutes for my battery to be replaced. He suggested coming back in an hour to be sure it was done.

Because of traffic, I arrived 90 minutes later and received my iPhone shortly after arriving (about 5 minutes). I requested a short time to make sure my iPhone was working correctly before I signed off on the repair.

I took the iPhone home and the battery is working as expected. During my normal very light use, the iPhone has about 60-70% battery life left at the end of the day. I haven't seen drastic percentage drops like I did prior to the replacement.

I was able to survive with the old battery by keeping my Mophie Juice Pack attached to it at all times. That's no longer necessary. I only bothered with the recall because I bought the unlocked version and I figured this would help its resale value or allow me to keep it another year depending on how iOS 8 runs on it.
I had a similar experience with regard to parts availability. I had to return a couple days later because my store was out of stock.

They were also too optimistic with their repair times. I had wait for them to finish (or start?) the repair after I returned (+15 min. later!) than the appointed time for pickup.

But the real trouble for me began after I noticed they had damaged the screen during the replacement.

After waiting a few days for the next appointment, the genius (reluctantly) agreed to replace the screen.

Again, the phone was not ready to be picked up at the appointed time. Worse, this time they tried to return it unrepaired because they said it had a 3rd party screen, and Apple can't work repaired they already did. The phone had the original screen.

Long story short, it required managerial intervention, and a refurb replacement was provided.

Despite their good service reputation, the Apple stores still have a lot of operational issues.
jsmecham  2014-09-01 17:33
I, too, had an iPhone with the dying battery problem. Made an appointment with the Apple Store that is about 45 minutes from my home, went in, found the battery was part of the defective group, left my iPhone and came back about 40 minutes later. My iPhone was ready. Noted during the remainder of the day some funny battery percentage numbers so did a reboot. Things seem to to improve. Let the phone discharge to almost zero and put it on the charger overnight. Next morning it was acting weird, it would reboot itself, give me gray and black striped lines on different apps and have to be rebooted several times. Made another appointment, went back, the iPhone was checked and found to have multiple problems. Since I had Apple Care, it was replaced free of charge. No problems since. All in all, I think the Apple Store in Oklahoma City did a great job of customer service. Yes, they could have found the problem the first time but overall they did the right thing.
IMO the best and easiest, hassle-free and fastest way I get your iPhone 5 battery replaced is to use a mall kiosk often found very near apple stores. It cost me $40, I verified the capacity was correct first, and 3 minutes to replace, and that time includes the payment card swipe and singing. I recommend this method to all my friends so as not to deal with the hassle of apple. Yeah, I spent another $40 but it was totally worth it.