Getting Up to Speed on Solutions for a Pokey iPhone
Posted January 31, 2018 6:24 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2018 6:28 p.m. EST
When Kathryn Schipper discovered in December that her iPhone had slowed down because it needed a new battery, she unknowingly walked into the middle of a growing Apple controversy — and is now mired in the continuing fallout.
Late last year, Apple said a software feature was slowing down iPhones that had aged batteries, immediately drawing accusations that the company was trying to force people to upgrade to its newest iPhones. In response, Apple said customers could get their iPhone batteries replaced at its stores for a discounted price of $29, down from $79.
Yet when Schipper, who lives in Seattle, took her iPhone 6 Plus, purchased in 2014, to an Apple store in early January, she was told the store was out of replacement batteries for at least two weeks. An Apple representative later left her a voicemail message with a new estimated wait time: up to four months.
“I feel like I’m waiting outside of a club and the bouncer won’t let me in because I’m not fashionably enough dressed,” Schipper said in a phone interview. “I’m at the back of the line because I don’t have a fancy phone.”
For iPhone owners, Schipper’s experience does not have to be the way forward. Even as Apple appears to be struggling to keep up with customers asking for new batteries, there are other ways to make sure your smartphone is still running. The workarounds include finding a reputable third-party repair shop, using a battery pack or replacing the battery on your own.
Apple may be dealing with the fallout for a while. The company published a lengthy memo in December saying that smartphone batteries became less effective over time and that its software was intended to prevent iPhones with older batteries from unexpected shutdowns. Apple also apologized to customers for the slowdowns, offered discounts for its battery-replacement program, and said it would introduce software to gain visibility into the health of an iPhone battery.
Yet since then, consumer advocacy groups have filed lawsuits against the company for failing to disclose that the software would throttle old iPhones. The U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have also started an inquiry into the matter, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who asked not to be named because the details were confidential. Bloomberg earlier reported the inquiry.
Early Wednesday, Apple said in a statement that it had received questions from some government agencies and that it was responding to them; the company did not specify the agencies it had heard from. The Justice Department declined to comment.
As for the wait times that Schipper and others are experiencing for a battery replacement, a spokeswoman referred to Apple’s support webpage, which states that battery supplies at its stores may be limited.
Let’s not wait around. Here’s a guide to other solutions to keep an iPhone running in the absence of an Apple battery replacement.
Third-Party Repair Shops
Plenty of irate Apple customers are turning to local third-party repair shops to get their iPhone batteries replaced. At Mega Mobile Boston, twice as many customers are coming in for iPhone battery replacements than in years past, said Adam Fullerton, the store’s operations manager.
Third-party repairs are a decent — but imperfect — solution. One drawback is that they vary in quality — some repair shops buy lower-quality batteries that don’t last. So to find a good shop, rely on word-of-mouth and reviews on the web, similar to how you might seek out a good car mechanic.
Another issue is that if you service your phone with a third-party battery and later take your device in to Apple for repair, the company could refuse to service your phone. So if you go the third-party route, chances are you will have to stick with third-party repair shops through the end of your phone’s life.
There’s a less risky route here. On Apple’s support webpage, you can look up third-party repair shops that are authorized by Apple as service providers. These are fixers who have been trained by Apple and carry original parts. But the list is short.
If you find a good local fixer, there are plenty of benefits to sticking with one long term. For one, third-party shops tend to have shorter waits. Fullerton said his shop could typically get an iPhone battery replacement done in about 30 minutes. The process involves opening the device, cleaning away the old waterproofing adhesive, replacing the battery and applying a new waterproofing adhesive.
For another, local repair shops make their prices competitive with the manufacturer’s. In the case of batteries, many shops are discounting their battery replacements to match Apple’s $29 pricing. “We’re probably losing money on it with the cost of a half-hour time from a technician,” Fullerton said. “But it’s like a loss leader in any other industry. If you’re Best Buy and you get them to buy one item at cost, maybe you can teach them something about your business.”
Finding a good repair shop can feel daunting, but if you ask around, your peers will probably have recommendations. For a sample, here’s a list of highly recommended repair shops in the United States that I compiled from talking to repair experts I trust:
— In Chicago: uBreakiFix Chicago
— In San Francisco: MacRepair
— In New York: Simple Mac
— In Boston: Mega Mobile Boston
— In Washington: Computer Geeks
— In Austin, Texas: Austin Mac Repair
Fix It Yourself
You can always replace an iPhone battery by yourself. The pros: You can choose the best components for repairs and minimize costs. The cons: Learning repairs can be time consuming, and if you mess up, you have no one to blame but yourself. And again, Apple stores could refuse to service your phone if it sees you have repaired it with third-party parts.
A good place to start for do-it-yourself repairs is iFixit, a company that provides instruction manuals and components for repairing devices. It is offering discounts on battery replacement kits for older iPhones, which cost $17 to $29. Each kit includes a new battery and the tools for disassembling iPhones.
Installing a phone battery can be intimidating. Replacing an iPhone 7 battery, for example, requires eight tools and 28 steps. Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, said some customers also opted to buy a battery from iFixit and then take it to a local repair shop for installation.
Carry a Battery Pack
If you don’t feel confident hiring a third-party fixer or installing your own battery, you can always wait for Apple to replace your battery. But since that could take weeks or months, don’t suffer with a sapped phone battery in the meantime.
A better temporary solution is to invest in a battery pack that you can carry around until replacement batteries arrive at an Apple store. Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews products, has tested hundreds of battery packs to recommend a few. My favorite is the Anker PowerCore 20100, which can charge a smartphone every day for a week. Schipper, the Seattle resident, is considering buying a battery pack. In the meantime, she is constantly plugging her iPhone into a power outlet because her battery lasts only two hours a day.
Yet she has resisted what she thinks Apple wants: for her to buy a new phone.
“I was tempted to just chuck this phone and suck it up and spend $1,000-plus and get the iPhone X,” she said. “I said, No, darn it, I have a budget I’m saving up. I’m not going to let Apple push me around.”