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Your right to repair stops where Apple's liability begins

iPhone XR hero image
iPhone XR hero image (Image credit: Android Central)

I'm a big believer in the right to repair. I like to tinker around with my old truck, I love to make small improvements to my house, and I'm the guy who isn't afraid to take his phone apart and swap the battery if it needs it. Working with my hands is just a thing I really enjoy, and saving some money whenever I can is too.

But I also think Apple isn't completely wrong when it comes to disabling its battery health stats for a phone that's had a third-party battery swap.

Apple is calling out third-party repairs as "unauthorized repairs" and nobody likes seeing that.

In case you didn't know, that's a thing now. Apple's iOS has its own method for keeping track of an iPhone or iPad battery and can give you some useful information about it when you take a peek under the hood in the settings. But if you've had to change the battery for any reason and didn't take it to an authorized Apple Repair Center, Battery Health is disabled and you'll get a warning that your phone has had an unauthorized repair.

On the surface, this looks really bad. It's like Apple is trying to say its technicians at the Apple Store are the only people capable of correctly swapping an iPhone battery when it's actually really simple to do if you have the right tools. Anyone who can turn a few screws and pry a few parts can swap the battery in an iPhone; there is no reprogramming or decision-making involved. Pull out the old, drop in the new. It's pretty audacious for Apple to say a qualified phone repair shop didn't do it right.

But that's not why Apple is doing it. The real reason is the same as always — money.

Batteries are dangerous

Note 7

Image credit reddit user crushader

There's one thing every expert agrees can be dangerous: lithium-ion batteries, like the ones in our phones.

Batteries can and do explode. They might not explode the way you think when you hear the word, but they can burst into a ball of hot gooey mess and catch fire, propelling that mess through any cracks in a phone's case and onto your person. The fluid and gas that escapes a bursting battery also can cause other things to catch fire and we read about people and property being damaged by phone batteries exploding every single year.

Imagine hot lava in a tin-foil bag and you have an idea of how dangerous a phone battery can be.

We have a great example of all this with the original Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Even with all the testing and engineering that went into the phone and its battery, reports of it bursting, exploding, or catching fire were numerous enough to force a full product recall. Samsung is really good at this sort of thing, yet it happened. And it can happen again because of the inherent danger of lithium-ion batteries.

When a battery goes bad and causes harm, someone has to be responsible. It might be the person who was using the phone improperly or it could be a part that failed. Apple doesn't want to be held responsible for third party repairs or knock-off batteries, which are a bigger deal than you might know.

More: What makes a phone battery explode?

Fakes are big business

Everyone uses a smartphone and almost everyone likes to save money. That's led to big business of manufacturing and selling fake "authentic" parts.

In the case of the iPhone, it is especially troubling. Apple overbuilds the iPhone and supports it for a long time with software upgrades. That's a whole conversation for another time, but it also means that people keep them longer. Since the battery in any phone starts going bad from the moment its first turned on, swapping the battery is common. It's also really easy to do as mentioned above, so a phone repair shop isn't going to turn you away if you ask it to change your iPhone battery.

Battery swaps can be done fairly easy on many phones and it's not hard to be "qualified" to do them.

Apple can ensure the authentic parts its repair centers use are really authentic. Third-party shops have to rely on the vendor that supplies them and as we can see in the video above, fakes not only have the proper logo but can also pass an electronic test of authenticity. These batteries may be just as good — or better — than an OEM Apple battery. But they might not be. Apple doesn't want to be held responsible if a bad battery with an Apple logo explodes — unless it was truly made by Apple's manufacturing partners.

Reputation matters, too

Rene hits upon a key point in Apple's decision in his video — Apple does not want to see headlines about exploding iPhone batteries.

By letting you know that the battery you just had installed isn't guaranteed by Apple, you just might want to talk to someone at the Apple Store. There's a good chance the person you had install that battery is just as capable as anyone at the Apple Store and it could also be a genuine OEM battery, too. But Apple can't be sure of that unless it looks itself.

Apple doesn't want to see the words 'iPhone' and 'explode' in the same headline.

Samsung survived the bad press the stemmed from the Note 7 disaster and has changed the way the industry looks at battery technology. Better engineering and testing benefit the company building phones as well as the consumer; less chance for something to catch fire in our pocket is always a good thing. Apple doesn't want to have to go through the same scenario. No company does.

This isn't just an Apple thing

Today we're talking about Apple and the iPhone but any company that builds phones could do the same thing. And frankly, I think they should.

I would not be surprised to find out that Samsung started warning customers that the battery in its phones couldn't be verified as genuine if a third party installed it. Every company has the right to protect its reputation and its customers, and our right to repair can't step on that.

I like to fix things, but I understand where Apple is coming from.

If I have a thing I love using, I'm not afraid to try and keep it alive by repairing it myself or finding someone else to do it if I'm not able. But I can't expect General Motors to be responsible for a custom ignition in my truck nor can I expect Apple to be responsible for a third-party battery in an iPhone.

In a perfect world, Apple would make testing equipment that can absolutely verify OEM parts as genuine available to more qualified technicians and I'd really like to see that happen. Until then, Apple warning of "unauthorized repairs" isn't stopping anyone from repairing anything — it's just covering its own ass.

Perhaps more Android manufacturers should do the same.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I'd trust Louis Rossman any day over Apple Repair.
  • So sell the replacement battery and let consumers perform the replacement.
  • "Apple's not trying to stop you from swapping your iPhone battery." There's a lot of truth in this article in general, but you're 100% wrong here. Apple definitely IS trying VERY hard to stop you repairing your phone and replacing your battery.
  • How so? Everything works exactly the same, you're just told that Apple didn't do the swap.
  • Why are you making sense Jerry, we want a fanboy/girl outrage.
  • Might wanna wipe your face, you seem to have something brown on your nose...
  • They actively fight right to repair legislation from being pushed. They're probably the second most hostile US company towards users servicing their own equipment after John Deer.
  • @Fuzzylumpkin - Not sure how this is fighting right to repair legislation. This does not affect the device at all, it is a warning for the users, especially for those consumers who buy used devices. We get companies like iFixit (who are not a neutral party btw in this) pushing their own agenda.
  • Any battery swap resulting in an incident would be easy to verify. If it was authorized, the Apple Store would have a record and the user would probably have a receipt. Was "risk" their reason for disabling touch ID on phones that had damaged sensors replaced? The encrypted FP data wasn't stored in the button itself, was it?
  • But I don't own an iPhone...
  • The other odd thing is that I've replace lots of batteries myself, including on the very difficult HTC M8. Some of the batteries did indeed turn out to be fakes (I have ways of testing by software after the install, but aside from false temperature reading and shorter life, there were no issues). Perhaps Apple is packing things even tighter now and leaving no margin for error?
  • Dang... I just noticed how huge those bezels are on the iPhone XR!
  • If I decide to swap a battery on my device it's MY responsibility, and not Apple's. Warranty is void when I open my device anyways, so keep those lame faulty battery messages away from my business.
  • People are litigious. This is Apple preemptively cutting off avenues of people suing them when their phones light up because they got a fake battery.
  • All apple cares about is selling new phones to their drones. In the case of batteries (and forcing obsoletion), it feeds right into their hands.
  • If that was true, they wouldn’t have lowered the price of battery replacements, which in turn ranked their sales.
  • Why are you going against the narrative that Apple is bad? That's the problem on forums and sites like this one. Most can't be objective, they can't help themselves.
  • You know, when you really think about it, the whole "Apple forced obsolescence" thing doesn't add up. Their phones are supported with software/security updates for around 5 years, and they offer battery replacement for fairly "cheap" (at least compared to buying a whole new phone). Any Android phone is going to become obsolete/unusable much sooner than an iPhone, and I say this as an Android user.
  • It's utter ******** and every single reader here knows it. Apple just wants your money! Many of us Android users have an Apple iPad or perhaps a family member with an iPhone. I hope this new policy bites them in the ass. Can you even imagine having to take your car that's filled with dangerous petrol or battery to ONLY the dealerships? F no!!! Come on.. Call this what it is and leave it at that. Batteries should be swappable anyway. Jobs never wanted anyone but Apple making money on their products. He did not want users to be able to "tinker, modify or repair" on their own.
  • Yet another fundamental difference between Europe in America. This isn't an issue here.
    Apple is legally forced to provide 2 years of warranty and battery problems or degradation fall under that. They *do* try to deny the 2 years of warranty and they've more than once been found guilty and punished in Court for it. But when they don't try to play the smarta*se, they are good to go. If a user replaces the battery before the warranty expires, Apple is exempted automatically as the warranty is void the moment the user opens the back glass (front glass in Apple's case). If the warranty has already expired, Apple isn't responsible for anything that happens over a user repair. So this little intimidation spiel doesn't really work. And if a user takes it to a repair shop that claims the parts are original and they aren't, all this does is give users legal evidence against the repair shop. If Apple thinks they'll profit from this move, they're in for disappointment... And Android OEMs will be even more because the worse Android OEMs make the long term experience, the more likely users are to switch brands. Unlike the iPhone, what Android doesn't lack is diversity in offering.
  • I'm convinced that Apple still has teams of ninjas located all over the world, ready to be deployed to murder...sorry take out... sorry eliminate...sorry "resolve", anyone who opens up an iPhone...👀😱😕
  • While we are on the subject of Apple and batteries, why does Apple prohibit any apps that tell users battery voltage? Because it would reveal that Apple manipulates the percentage display to manage perception of battery life. "iPhones stay at 100% longer!" No, they don't. The actual voltage begins dropping with use, just like it does on Androids, but Androids are honest about the percentage. During testing, we actually had to open iPhones up and physically connect test leads to the battery connectors to get the accurate battery readings.
  • I always enjoy your articles, Jerry....
  • That's all good and well, but if you take a battery out of a brand new factory-sealed iphone and put it into another brand new factory-sealed iphone... it still gives the error... if it was about the batteries, that wouldn't happen, it's the same old thing with apple... $$$ If you put a 3rd or 4th or even 15th party battery a phone, samsung huawei or apple, by all means, throw up an error, but if I put in an official replacement part... don't go telling me it's defective just because I didn't let you charge a fortune for the privilege...
  • What i want to know is...What did we all ever do before all the companies started sealing up their phones? I had many phones over the last decade where i just popped the back off and slapped in another battery...usually a 3rd party one that had more capacity. back then, we didnt have rampant stories of peoples pockets spontaneously bursting into hot goo or flames. it is sad that an "official" manufacturing defect (note 7) is being blamed as the reason we cant use 3rd party batteries. Also, your car analogy doesnt hold water. A car (with the exception of a tesla) doesnt complain every time i start it up if i swapped out the headlights or radio...or even put 3rd party tires or a battery in it.