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
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

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.