Apple reportedly locking out unauthorized battery replacement

Apple’s troubles with iPhone batteries seem to be a one-step-forward, one-step-back sort of issue. The latest move by the mobile hardware giant really takes the cake, bolts it down, and bakes an ID chip inside. iFixit reported earlier this week that Apple has activated a “dormant software lock” on some iPhones that’s effectively locking out third-party battery replacement.

We’ve seen batteries improve by leaps and bounds in recent years, but even the best batteries wear out over time, and frugal owners know that replacing a battery in an otherwise-good phone is a smart move. But Apple wants control over that whole process in some of its newest phones: the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max.

How Apple is locking out batteries

The iFixit team explains that when an iPhone battery needs replacing, it’ll display a “Service” message in the Settings > Battery menu. If a third-party vendor replaces that battery, even using a genuine Apple battery, that message will continue to display. To make the message go away, an Apple Genius or Apple Authorized Service Provider has to authenticate the battery, iFixit says.

iPhone XS

There’s a microcontroller from Texas Instruments onboard iPhone batteries that communicates health information to the phone. That chip is paired with the phone via an authentication key. If the key doesn’t match due to third-party replacement, you get the service warning without the battery health info. Assuming the replacement battery is in good condition, it’ll work fine regardless of the service warning. The service warning does not affect expected battery life, nor does the replacement cause performance throttling.

This isn’t the first time

If we want to give Apple the benefit of the doubt, we could say this protects iPhones. If the battery is from a shady source, it shouldn’t be communicating with the iPhone. That’s just conjecture, though, and this is a user-hostile move. It’s part of a pattern, too. iFixit notes that Apple has locked out all third-party battery monitoring apps. More broadly, this is a repeat of the issue with True Tone and auto-brightness in iPhone screens replaced by third parties.

Even just on the battery front, it’s been one thing after another. The iPhone 6S would randomly turn off at half-battery. And then there was the whole thing with battery-related throttling. Apple is notorious for keeping a tight rein on its hardware, but this stuff is all bad business for us, the users. Apple has not yet commented on the issue.

13 Comments
    • psuedonymous
    • 2 weeks ago

    Given the trouble that knockoff batteries cause (at best a massive reduction in battery life and battery longevity, at worse actual fire), I can see the desire to authenticate batteries as Not Crap and able to safely sustain required currents for both charge and discharge.

    But that comes with the demand that Apple actually supply either their own battery stock for sale to end users at at the very least repair centres, and/or provide specs and certification for other battery manufacturers to conform to. And [i]that[/i] is where Apple not just drops the ball, they spike it into a pit of punji sticks, shred the remains, burn them, and recycle them as firelighters. Apple are notorious for controlling replacement parts with an iron fist, to the point that authorised repair centres cannot even keep spares in stock but must ship faulty components to apple before replacements are dispatched.

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    • not@home
    • 2 weeks ago

    As someone who has replaced batteries and charging ports on several mobile devices, and who would otherwise have to drive 2 hours to the nearest Apple store, I think this is ridiculous. Good thing I never bought into the Apple Cool Aid.

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    • Josh Pozzolo
    • 2 weeks ago

    THANK YOU APPLE FOR NEW BATTERY

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    • usacomp2k3 (AJ)
    • 2 weeks ago

    I’m ok with this too, as long as their pricing stays reasonable. I wish they would have a toggle for default max charge which the user could set to 80% though. For Li-Ion, it’s not healthy to keep recharging to 100%. Similar to how Tesla cars only charge up to 80% unless you specifically tell them to fill all-the-way to help maintain longevity of the battery.

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      • cygnus1
      • 2 weeks ago

      While, I do agree that there is evidence that shows that charging Li-ion to 100% is not great, charge cycles are generally talked about as the worst thing for a Li-Ion battery in regards to degrading performance. Tesla can’t do anything about the charge cycles, because you’re going to drive the miles you’re going to drive and that’s just how it works. But for me, I’m of the belief (because I haven’t seen any actual data to say otherwise) that because charge cycles are worse for the battery than sitting at 100% while the phone is on and being powered by the charger, I keep it on a charger whenever I’m sitting somewhere long enough. From that perspective, any electron powering a phone that didn’t come from the battery is better for the batteries longevity.

      if there’s any remotely intelligent BMS happening inside the phone, what the user sees as 100% is actually less than the real full capacity of the battery.

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        • cygnus1
        • 2 weeks ago

        thought I deleted that last sentence. Not being able to edit comments in this comment system sucks

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          • Josh Pozzolo
          • 2 weeks ago

          EDITING IS ON THE LONG LIST OF FIXES NEEDED FOR THE SITE.

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            • fyo
            • 2 weeks ago

            Is sticky caps-lock on that list as well?

        • grimdanfango
        • 2 weeks ago

        I’d be interested in hearing the lowdown on this too, mostly for laptops. I tend to keep my Dell XPS plugged in as often as I can, running on the same assumption that if I’m not using the battery, I’m not wearing it out.
        …but sometimes I get the vague impression that when it’s plugged in, it uses a little battery, then starts charging, then stops and uses a bit more.

        Surprised nobody has done any clear and in-depth public tests of this, considering how prevalent lit-ion batteries are in the modern world.

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        • fyo
        • 2 weeks ago

        The performance characteristics of Li-ion batteries are well established and detailed in any number of papers in various academic journals. There’s even a journal dedicated to power sources called, rather imaginatively, Journal of Power Sources.

        Regardless, the main culprits in decreasing battery capacity are: very deep discharges, high rate discharges, high rate charges, high operating temperature (particularly during high rate charge/discharge), full height charges.

        Basically, the worst thing you can do to your battery is use it ;-).

        The worst AVOIDABLE thing most people do to their battery is sticking it in a fast-charger before they go to sleep at night. And if they are putting it on a (hot) radiator, that’s just piling idiotic on top of stupid.

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    • tanker27
    • 2 weeks ago

    I’m ok with this. The last two times I went to Apple for battery issues one cost me 60 bucks and the other I got a free-full-phone replacement. /Shrug

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      • tanker27
      • 2 weeks ago

      If you’re gonna downvote at least say why! 😛 Do you think ATT or Verizon would have done the same? Do you feel their Customer service is better?

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        • fyo
        • 2 weeks ago

        I didn’t downvote you, but your (very anecdotal) post contains little to justify Apple restricting the rights of consumers and the Right to Repair.

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