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Apple issues statement on ‘locking’ third-party battery replacements

Published Aug 14th, 2019 6:04PM EDT
iPhone Battery
Image: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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It’s no secret that Apple has historically made it extremely challenging for iPhone owners to open up their devices and replace components, a stance which certainly explains the company’s affinity for pentalobe screws. From Apple’s vantage point, it’s a matter of safety. And while this may seem like nothing more than a generic talking point, the reality is that third-party battery replacements can have potentially grave consequences as we saw in a recent video featuring an exploding iPhone.

In light of that, iFixit last week discovered that Apple implemented something of an unusual software lock in iOS that prevents users from checking the health of their iPhone battery if it was replaced by an unauthorized third-party. Instead, users keen on checking the health of their battery are greeted with the following message: “Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery. Health information not available for this battery.”

What caused a bit of outrage is that the message occurs even if a third-party installs a battery from another iOS device. iFixit notes:

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. In simple terms, if the battery doesn’t have the unique authentication key the iPhone’s logic board is expecting, you’ll get that “Service” message.

The issue reportedly impacts Apple’s 2018 lineup exclusively, though it stands to reason we’ll see similar issues arise with Apple’s forthcoming iPhone 11 lineup.

With many users echoing the sentiment that Apple’s behavior here is unnecessary and arguably hostile to users, the company earlier today issued a statement on the matter to iMore.

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 United States 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.

All told, I think some of the backlash against Apple in this regard is a bit unwarranted. Third-party replacement batteries still work fine, insofar that performance isn’t impacted whatsoever. If the only measure taken by Apple is that battery health can’t be displayed, that really doesn’t seem like something to get worked up over. And while you could reasonably argue that Apple is being overly cautious, the video here shows the danger that can arise when replacing an iPhone through non-official channels.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.