Multiple outlets report that Apple has changed its policy regarding repairs to iPhones with third-party battery replacements. These reports say that Apple will now fix iPhones even if the device has a non-Apple battery inside. And since batteries are perhaps the most essential repair for a mobile device, this is a big deal not only for iPhone owners but also for the broader right-to-repair movement.
Earlier this week, French tech site iGeneration was the first to identify changes to Apple’s repair policy, which it says went into effect on February 28. Citing “an internal document obtained… from three reliable sources,” MacRumors corroborated that report as well as the details therein. Both outlets say that Apple has instituted a new policy whereby iPhone owners with third-party batteries will be eligible for repairs at Apple Stores as well as Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs). Previously, technicians were told to refuse service on iPhones with non-Apple batteries.
If the reports are correct, iPhone owners with third-party batteries can now take their devices to the Genius Bar or an AASP and get other components (like the display, logic board, microphone, or camera) repaired. If it’s a battery-related repair, Apple or the authorized technician will reportedly replace the third party battery with an Apple one. The technician would also have the discretion to replace the entire phone in the event of broken or missing battery tabs are broken or missing or if there’s excessive adhesive. In other words, it looks like Apple will still repair your device if you got a sloppy repair job from a third party.
It’s hard to know exactly what Apple’s reportedly improved repair policy means because we still don’t know all of the details. We reached out to Apple for confirmation on the earlier reports and will update when we hear back.
In the meantime, a conversation with Apple Support did suggest that some changes had been made. The representative said that Apple did recently change a policy that would allow the Genius Bar or an AASP to replace third-party batteries for out-of-warranty devices. The rep also said that a screen repair on an iPhone with a third-party battery “would be up to the technician inspecting it.” Presumably, a technician would not want to work on a phone that contained a battery that looked like it might explode. Some have suggested that safety and security are reasons why Apple doesn’t want to repair iPhones with third-party batteries.
There is a bigger picture involved here, though. Even a little bit of movement on the Apple repair front must be pretty exciting for folks right-to-repair activists who have been fighting for years for little policy changes like the reported third-party battery thing. First of all, if this battery news is true, it would represent yet another major concession made by Apple in the broader fight to give consumers more control over their devices. It was two years ago that the company said third-party screen replacements would no longer void iPhone warranties, which was a huge deal for the clumsy cracked-screen crowd.
But batteries are almost a bigger deal, since they’re inherently prone to degradation and, eventually, failure over time. Apple, rather embarrassingly, made this fact glaringly clear, when it secretly throttled older iPhones to prevent their aging batteries from causing unexpected shutdowns. Following weeks of controversy, the company eventually decided to slash the price of out-of-warranty battery replacements from $79 to $29 for certain iPhones, though some customers were forced to pay for more expensive repairs before getting the cheap battery replacement. All of this very public drama drew attention to the fact that iPhone batteries don’t last forever, and it’s safe to assume that this got more people thinking about battery replacements.
This begs the question of whether or not Apple wants people to replace their batteries. Apple has admitted that these cheap battery replacements put a dent in iPhone sales, so you’d think the company would want to keep a policy that discouraged battery replacements that did not put money in Apple’s pocket. However, the new repair policy—if the reports are true—would give iPhone users more options for cheaper replacements with fewer consequences, which would, in turn, discourage people from buying iPhones even more. What’s that all about?
Here’s an absurd hypothesis: maybe Apple is actually listening to its customers. The explosion of third-party options is proof that people want choice when it comes to repairing their devices. So maybe Apple is trying to provide iPhone users with a better overall experience, one that doesn’t trap them into repair options so unappealing that they might consider ditching iPhones altogether and getting one of those sick new triple-camera Samsung phones. Maybe Apple is looking down the barrel of an uncertain future and doing what it can to stay as rich as possible.