Two weeks ago I went to an Apple store and had a new battery put in my iPhone 6S. The very next day I realized how unusable my old battery had been making my phone.
The repair restored functionality that had been seeping away so slowly I hadn’t really registered the loss. Apps now load when I tap them, not when they feel like it. The keyboard doesn’t freeze when I try to reply to emails in Outlook. My phone no longer clings to its charging cable like it’s a hospital drip, and the battery itself has stopped taking surprise nosedives from 40 percent charge down to zero when I have the temerity to go outside in the cold. (Yes, cold weather kills batteries.) The trust is back in my relationship with my phone, but as a result, I trust Apple a lot less.
The only reason I got the replacement was that of the debacle last December when a developer discovered that iOS upgrades were slowing down old iPhones. It seemed to confirm that persistent rumor that Apple throttles outdated handsets to force users to upgrade. The company’s PR department stung into action by the bad press, said that Apple had been slowing down devices, but only to save them from their own worn-out batteries.
Apple explained that wear and tear on components meant it had to choose between giving old iPhones lower performance and more stability (by stopping unexpected shutdowns caused by degraded batteries), or the same performance and less stability. It opted for the former, but without telling customers what it was doing. Cue the outrage and Apple’s apology: cut-price battery replacements and a software update that lets users choose between performance and stability.
It’s a good way to say sorry, yes, but it also shows how badly Apple has been treating its customers — and how it can do better.
Before I got my new battery I was planning to upgrade my iPhone this year. Now I’ll wait until at least 2019. The $ 30 replacement fee saved me hundreds of dollars and stopped environmental waste, so why didn’t Apple tell me about it sooner? I pay for AppleCare, which is supposed to help preserve my phone, but the option to replace its battery was never mentioned to me before December, and definitely not when I’ve gone to upgrade old iPhones in the past.
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘You idiot, why would they tell you?’ … well, you’re right. I know companies aren’t my friends and that no major smartphone manufacturer makes performance-saving repairs part of their sales pitch. Most of the industry runs on slim margins and high sales volume, so they need you to upgrade. Apple’s omission isn’t a surprise.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not bad, especially for a company that makes a huge profit on each phone it sells; that touts its green credentials whenever it can (Apple’s latest ads claim the iPhone is “zero waste”); and that prides itself on customer satisfaction. As the company said in its apology note: “We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones for as long as possible.” So why not make repairs easier?
Again, you can laugh at me for being naive. But what do you have to lose by at least being angry about this and demanding change? Do you really think Apple deserves more of your money?
Apple’s response to customers’ annoyance has been laudable for the industry — but it also shows they could be encouraged to do more. Smartphone technology has plateaued, and the trend is for us to hang on to our phones for longer. This means repairs and replacements are going to become increasingly worthwhile. Apple should be more upfront in telling its customers what they can do to keep their current handset alive, rather than only pushing them towards an upgrade. This is a company that claims it always has its users’ best interests at heart, so why not prove it? It’s allowed users to turn off throttling in older phones and introduced battery service warnings, but December’s outrage shows this isn’t enough, and the company’s battles against the “right to repair” movement are the opposite of helpful.
Changes to how Apple advertises battery replacements would encourage us to think about our smartphones differently. Not as disposable items (an approach that’s causing huge environmental damage) but as something closer to a car; a useful object that can and should be maintained. When it announced its battery replacement scheme last December, Apple said it wanted to “regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions.” I think there’s more it can do.
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