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31 comments

Apple Starts Locking iPhone Batteries to Thwart Independent Repair

iFixit has discovered that Apple has locked the batteries in the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max, so that if anyone other than Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider replaces the battery, even with a genuine Apple battery, iOS replaces its battery health metrics in Settings > Battery with an ominous message about being unable to verify that the battery is genuine. Only Apple’s internal diagnostic software can clear the message and restore battery health metrics, and Apple doesn’t share that software outside of its Apple Authorized Service Provider network. The good news is that battery life and performance aren’t affected.

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.

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Comments About Apple Starts Locking iPhone Batteries to Thwart Independent Repair

Notable Replies

  1. I agree, Josh. They could display a warning indicating their metrics are calibrated to their batteries and results therefore might deviate with your non-Apple battery installed. But just outright removing all those metrics and instead telling people they need to have their battery serviced strikes me more as corporate bullying rather than honest concern for their customers.

  2. I read several articles on this topic already.

    I don’t think Apple is intentionally being a big bully here but simply protecting themselves with a bit too much heavy handedness.

    I think Rene Ritchie’s piece over at iMore is pretty balanced.

    I also agree with his take on why Apple is doing this and his solution is probably a reasonable compromise.

    We know what would happen should a repaired phone burst into flames or whatever: Apple would be blamed rather than those who did the repair either incorrectly or with shoddy parts.

    I fully support the ability to repair or upgrade systems. I’ve done over 10 SSD installs on 27" iMacs recently, but if one of those systems has problems, I’m on the hook for that, not Apple. That’s the way it should be.

    Cheers,
    Jon

  3. 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.

    In fact, when there’s a big fuss about something Apple has supposedly done wrong (like the guy who lost access to his iTunes movies because he moved countries) and the reality of the situation turns out to be different, the media is happy to exonerate Apple.

    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.

  4. Likely not wanting to be unjustly blamed if third party repaired batteries go up in flames more than anything else…unless the OS can recognize and actual Apple replacement battery over a third party one…with third party repairers not having the software to register the battery.

    Right to repair is generally a good thing…but we all saw the bad press Samsung got for bad batteries and the same thing could happen to Apple with dodgy 3rd party battery repairs.

    Rene hit it on the head…including that Apple could still notify about non apple battery replacement and then give the health…although to some extent that could be interpreted by class action suit shyster lawyers as accepting responsibility for the 3rd party battery.

  5. Except a) the Samsung batteries were OEM and installed at the factory and b) you get the warning even with an authentic Apple battery.

  6. Samsung got bad press for bad batteries because the company was directly responsible, not because people replaced batteries with third-party batteries. Can anyone point to a situation where a third-party battery gone bad reflected on the original manufacturer?

  7. Several years ago I replaced an MBP battery with a non-Apple battery, and it caused a massive continuous CPU drain, apparently OS X checking something. Had to return and replace with an “official” Apple battery to get back normal performance. So apparently they have been looking at some battery info for some time. Not sure if this would be called planned obsolescence or anti-right-to-repair or bad programming or what.

  8. Can anyone point to a situation where a third-party battery gone bad reflected on the original manufacturer?

    I can’t think of an example with batteries, but there have been a number of stories of fires and burns that initially implicated Apple and days later the reports revealed the people were using crappy third-party cables and charging equipment.

    Naturally, the exoneration of Apple articles received far less attention/promotion than the scandalous ones.

  9. I’ve certainly seen plenty of stories of cables catching on fire, but I can’t say that Apple has ever gotten significant blame when it was a third-party cable or charger (and some of the reported fires are with Apple’s own cables and chargers). The fact that we can’t remember any specifics is telling, I think.

    https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=iPhone+cable+fire

    Of course, there are also stories about Apple batteries catching fire:

    So I’m just not buying the claim that Apple has to do this to protect itself from the possibility of undeserved bad press for a situation that has never happened before.

    This is a company that’s fighting hard against the right to repair both with its product design and with legal firepower. Occam’s Razor would suggest that this move is much more about shutting down independent repair operations.

  10. No. These are entirely different matters. Samsung got blasted and rightly so for their batteries on their brand new devices. It was systematic failure caused by their shoddy process.

    Apple OTOH won’t get faulted for an isolated case here or there where somebody got a crappy 3rd party replacement part. As Adam correctly points out, the community is usually very good at pointing out such facts, exonnerating Apple, and getting the media to report the full story.

    Toyota doesn’t get blamed when somebody gets a cheap fake part and then destroys their car. Why should Apple?

  11. The details are different, but this situation feels similar to the Supreme Court case where Lexmark was told it couldn’t stop third-party toner recyclers by using a proprietary chip. The big difference is that Lexmark was hinging its argument on patent law, which isn’t what Apple’s doing here. But the goal—control over the ecosystem—is the same.

  12. True…but Apple has no idea of the quality of the repair even with an Apple battery. OEM batteries in the Samsung or not…they got the blame and we know the media would blame App,e for flaming iPhones and not the good old boy repair shop…there’s no clickbait in the latter.

    To some extent…Apple is between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If they let anybody replace batteries and they erupt…Apple will get the blame, not the corner repair stand in Barcelona. If they stop 3rd party replacements…they get blamed for right to repair issues.

  13. IMHO the crucial difference is that in the latter case they rightly face blame, while in the former they don’t. I think it’s fair to say that Apple knows how to defend itself when it feels it’s being unfairly accused. May I remember you of Tim’s “it’s all political crap” statement when he was told he’d have to pay taxes in the EU that amount to more than 0.03% of their EU earnings?

  14. GV

    I didn’t know that OEM Apple batteries are available for iPhone owners to install. . . When I have done searches for replacement batteries I always wind up finding third-party batteries.

    Anyone have a link to OEM batteries? I have a couple of 5S models that need new batteries.

  15. If Apple really wanted to thwart third party installation, they could have prevented the batteries from working. They’re not. Whether it’s the right reaction or not, I tend to agree with folks that this is a legal move to ensure Apple isn’t liable for any problems with third party batteries, and is especially not reporting that those batteries are healthy.

    but this situation feels similar to the Supreme Court case where Lexmark was told it couldn’t stop third-party toner recyclers by using a proprietary chip

    The details are important, however. Apple’s not stopping people from using the third party battery, it’s just throwing up a warning about them.

    People see this as Apple being actively out to get third party repair people. My sense rather is that they simply don’t weigh that as a factor when making decisions about how to manufacture things.

  16. True, but the warning uses the same terminology iOS uses to identify a failed battery. In essence, Apple is saying “That third-party battery you got is no good.”

    I’m guessing that the More Info link goes to:

    and at the bottom, where that message is described, the text supports that message of “This battery is no good—contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider.”

    Important Battery Message

    If you see the message below, it means the battery in your iPhone is unable to be verified. This message applies to iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR.

    Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery. Health information not available for this battery. More info…"

    Reported battery health information is not available. To have your battery checked, contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider. More about service options .

  17. FWIW, Fujifilm pop up an alert on their cameras if you use a third-party battery, at least on my X-T3, it advises you to use their NP-W126S battery and warns that Boost mode is compromised. Boost determines continuous shooting and faster EVF refresh. Not seen any reports of higher capacity third party batteries being available yet for the X-T3 and wonder if it would appear in that instance.

    • True, but the warning uses the same terminology iOS uses to identify a failed battery. In essence, Apple is saying “That third-party battery you got is no good.”*

    I don’t agree that that’s the default translation that people will get. It seems about as neutral a disclaimer as they could put in, and one that doesn’t stop the phone from being used. And – if we’re now down to arguing the exact meaning of the warning message, it’s hardly much of a block on Apple’s part, is it? They could be light years more aggressive about this if their aim was really to stop third party shops.

  18. I can’t emphasize enough that this also happens with genuine Apple batteries, not just third-party ones. If an independent repairer installs a new Apple battery but doesn’t activate it with Apple’s proprietary in-house software, it will display the message. I would actually understand more if Apple locked out third-party batteries entirely, since yes, a poor-quality battery could potentially be dangerous. But that’s not what they’re doing here.

    MacBook repairman Louis Rossmann suspects that the goal is to sow distrust of independent repair shops. You take your phone to a repair shop, they put in a genuine Apple battery, but then you get a message saying the battery may not be genuine, and you think you got ripped off.

    I’m not sure I buy that, but I’m not really buying any of the other explanations either. And Apple has a well-established practice of discouraging repair, going back to the original Mac.

  19. But that would likely result in a lawsuit, much as it did with Lexmark.

    The simple fact would seem to be that customers want to get repairs and battery replacements from firms other than Apple. That might be due to cost, speed or convenience of repair, or some other intangible factor. Since Apple likely has a closer relationship with the owner of an Apple device than any independent repair shop would, this would seem to be a failure on Apple’s part.

    Apple could easily put all third-party repair shops out of business by offering free, same-day repairs of any Apple device, regardless of age. Heck, even providing a 3-year warranty with guaranteed free repairs would probably do it. Of course, providing such free repairs would cost the company hugely, both in repair costs and in slower sales of new devices, as evidenced by the damage done to iPhone sales when Apple offered free iPhone battery replacements throughout 2018 as an apology for slowing down iPhones without alerting customers.

    So without any evidence of significant harm to Apple caused by independent repair shops—or in allowing individuals to repair their own devices—I just can’t buy the claim that Apple is doing anything other than competing with non-Apple repair options with this behavior.

  20. I notice that the commenters on Rene’s piece largely disagree with him. :slight_smile:

  21. But that would likely result in a lawsuit, much as it did with Lexmark*

    It’s not just doing nothing vs. Full-Lexmark – there’s a whole range of more aggressive options they could have undertaken if they really were aiming to get third party retailers. Heck, even a more aggressive warning – “We cannot guarantee that a non-Apple battery will not damage your iPhone” – is easily doable. If they are worried about legal issues with non-Apple batteries (as I am speculating) this is about the bare minimum reaction they could manage and still cover themselves.

    offering free, same-day repairs of any Apple device, regardless of age.*

    They could – if their goal was to drive third party repair places out of business. Instead, they set up a network of stores where people could go to get their equipment fixed, which impacted, but did not destroy third party places. As with the battery warning, what I think this reflects is that Apple does things for their own reasons and don’t really care one way or the other about the impact on third party repair places.

    I just can’t buy the claim that Apple is doing anything other than competing with non-Apple repair options with this behavior

    Well, they’re doing it remarkably ineffectively if they are.

  22. That might be because the only people who care about this are people who disagree with him. I don’t really care one way or the other. If everybody griping makes right to repair happen, that’s fine, but I’m only going to use Apple for servicing anyway, and frankly I’ll probably be getting a new phone before I’ll need battery service anyway. I bought my latest iPhone knowing that service options are what they are; it was part of my buying decision (i.e., I prefer iPhone over anything else that I’m fine with Apple’s repair policies. And frankly I don’t think any or many of the competition with Android have better policies or would be easier to get repaired anyway.)

  23. I’ve had numerous discussions with Apple Authorized Service Providers who are massively unhappy with how Apple treats them (and how it continues to get worse)—some have even given up working with Apple because of the low fees and poor treatment. They believe that Apple tolerates them only because it can’t actually provide the service that customers want. And those are the stores that are willing to play by Apple’s rules.

    So yeah, I’m pretty confident that Apple would prefer that independent repair shops never touched Apple devices and is willing to do things in that direction short of being sued. (I overstated the case earlier when saying that Apple wants to put them out of business, since Apple devices are such a minority, particularly in the computer world, that such repair shops would have non-Apple business as well.)

  24. I’ve had numerous discussions with Apple Authorized Service Providers who are massively unhappy with how Apple treats them

    I’m not surprised by that – but I’m also not sure that AASPs are the best sources for Apple’s motivations in doing things.

    So yeah, I’m pretty confident that Apple would prefer that independent repair shops never touched Apple devices and is willing to do things in that direction short of being sued

    We’ve cycled back to the beginning of this discussion, so I’ll just go back to what I said then – that it seems to me that Apple doesn’t weigh the impact on third party shops when it makes decisions, not that it is actively trying to stop them. If it’s doing the latter, it’s doing it very badly indeed.

  25. Apple can do what they like as far as I’m now concerned… I’ve fixed it! I’ve simply stopped buying iPhones and iPads.

    Once you couple the fact of the high out of warranty repair pricing such that you may as well buy a new device, the necessity of AppleCare, the constant updates that slow my device down I gave up. While my trigger was no SE2 release 12 months ago it’s all of these things bundled up that I no longer care about any of it. Best thing I could have done for myself.

  26. Samsung Galaxy S10 with a Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e.

    The S10 is a much better fit for me, all things considered, than any iPhone that Apple could sell me. Samsung/Google have done more than a good enough job from 2018 that I truly doubt I will ever return to an iPhone.

    The S5e is another story. Its the right fit for my usage and more so the right price point for that that usage is. Its clear that iOS is far superior to Android when it comes to a tablet. Thing is, for Apple to give me what’s important to me in the S5e I need to go to the 11" iPad Pro to get a nearest match. Additionally the S5e is great in all the right places and the iPP is way better in areas I really don’t care about. The IPP is 2.5x the price… a price difference that actually fit the purchase cost of my S10. So justifying iOS of a cost perspective is an impossibility for me. And the S5e still betters the iPP when it comes to 16:10 AMOLED vs 4:3 “Liquid Retina”.

  27. This is definitely NOT the Apple a lot of us grew up on, the Apple of Jobs & Woz, Hertzfeld, Raskin, and Atkinson and SO many others. THESE guys were my tech heroes, the crew in Cupertino are zeroes compared to them. Blows me away that they still get so many to buy throw away products for a HUGE premium.

    Think about this… estimates say here are close to 200 million phones in the US… how many “authorized” repair places are there?

  28. That Apple charged $2500 for a Mac Plus (about $6000 today) and made it so a special tool was required to crack the case open and certain jumpers snipped to upgrade the memory.

    Sound pretty similar.

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