Apple’s Battery Mess

One of the issues with today’s technology is that almost every device relies on a battery. Maybe there will be a giant leap in battery technology that makes them effectively obsolete. Unfortunately, it is not likely a giant leap will be found soon. Hence, we are stuck with modern battery technology. Most batteries in today’s technology is based on lithium-ion technology. One of the issues with this technology is that it may no longer be able to provide all of the necessary power to devices. Up through September of 2016, if an iPhone was not capable of providing the necessary power to the device, it may act in strange ways. The most noticeable of these is that the device might end up shutting down. This is an unacceptable solution.

Starting with iOS 10.2.1, which was released in January of 2017, Apple made some changes in order to minimize the instances of iPhones inexplicably shutting down. The change that they made was to reduce the speed of the iPhones in order to reduce the burden on an iPhone’s battery. By doing this, users will still be able to keep using their iPhones. Along with this, if you went to “Settings” -> “Battery” and iOS detected issue with the battery you would see a notice indicating that you might need to get the battery serviced.

All of this came to light due to a set of benchmarks that were run that showed that the speed of the iPhone was noticeably slower. Once these benchmarks were released, it played directly into the narrative that Apple was deliberately slowing down devices to force users to upgrade. This was not the case.

Even though this is not the case, Apple has acknowledged the issue with their approach. At first they released a support article the discusses Lithium-Ion batteries. While this is informational, it did not directly address the cause. In order to help rectify it, Apple has issued an open letter. In this, Apple indicates that they will be reducing the price for out of warranty battery replacements. Currently, it is $79. Starting in late January, this price will be reduced to $29. This will be valid on iPhone 6 models, and later, from late January 2018 to December of 2018.

This is a good step to help those who have purchased an iPhone 6, or later, to be able to continue to use their devices. As the message about the battery states “Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.” This is absolutely necessary and should have been done before.

With this apology and price reduction, Walt Mossberg, former technology writer, had something to say about it in a series of tweets. Or you can read it in its entirety

It is as follows:

It’s natural that, after Apple’s apology and battery replacement discount, people are calling for the return of user-replaceable batteries in phones and other devices. And it may well happen. But one big reason Steve Jobs wanted to get rid of replaceable batteries was to make room for *larger* batteries, taking advantage of the space gained by eliminating the user-accessible battery compartments and covers and user-safe casings. Thinness was secondary. And industry sales figures showed hardly anyone bought spare batteries or kept them charged, and that device turnover was fast enough that degrading batteries weren’t much of an issue. Also, in the case of phones, their processors and other components for years weren’t potent enough to run truly powerful software or tax the batteries nearly as much as they do today. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2020 smartphones with much more easily replaceable batteries, especially since Apple is now calling them “consumable” components.

Mossberg makes a good point, particularly the last sentence “especially since Apple is now calling them ‘consumable’ components.” If this is truly the case, then I would expect Apple to begin incorporating user-replaceable batteries. It would be nice to see a return, however I do not know how likely it is. I am sure that Apple will begin looking the feasibility of replaceable batteries. I do not expect it for 2018, but as Mossberg postulates, 2020 is a possibility.

It is not known what Apple will end up doing in the long run, but it would be nice to see a bit more flexibility. However, with the move to subscription phone subsidies, the need for user-replaceable batteries may be moot and not really an issue. Yes, this is absolutely bad for Apple, but Apple cannot control chemistry and the way that chemicals react. Should Apple have warned users, yes. I hope that Apple learns from its mistake and provides more information to the users. This incident may cause some users to switch to Android, but ultimately I do not think it will hurt Apple sales that much, but time will tell on that. Even with this battery issue, having an iPhone feel slower is still not as bad as having them explode, as Samsung experienced with their Galaxy Note 7, even so, this is not good.