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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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