Apple, batteries, and customer service

I got the battery in my iPhone replaced last Sunday, and after a week of use I can say without reservation that it was a big success. Before the replacement, a normal day of use at the office would put the battery well below 50% and I’d usually have to recharge sometime during the evening; now it’s typically over 80% when I get home, and I don’t even think about recharging. This success is tempered, though, by the poor advice Apple gave me before doing the replacement.

I tweeted about this on Monday, but I think it’s worth discussing in more detail. Let’s start with a bit of history.

My phone is an iPhone 6s bought phone shortly after it was released, probably in October of 2015. About a year later, Apple announced a [free battery replacement program][2] for a certain set of 6s phones made in September and October of 2015. My phone fit in that window, so I got the replacement, even though I hadn’t had the sudden shutdown problem the recall was meant to address.

I was pretty happy about getting the new battery. The original was still giving me plenty of life, but I’d decided I wasn’t going to get an iPhone 7, so I figured a new battery would keep my phone going strong at least until the next phone was released in Fall 2017.

When September 2017 rolled around, I decided to take a pass on the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. After all, I had a phone that worked fine with a battery that was still less than a year old. I could wait until the next generation.

Then came the blowup about sudden shutdowns on many phone models and, what was more controversial, Apple’s throttling of performance to avoid those shutdowns without telling its customers it was doing it. At the time, I didn’t think my phone was being throttled, and I was still getting a full day of use with capacity to spare. But that didn’t last much longer, so I decided to take advantage of the $29 replacement program.

With stories of long waits at the Apple Store as everyone rushed in to get their batteries replaced, I put off getting my own replacement until I couldn’t stand it anymore. I made an appointment for last Sunday.

The Apple Store employee (not sure if he was technically a Genius or not—are all Store employees called Geniuses?) looked at the phone’s Battery Health in Settings, saw that the Maximum Capacity was 81%, and told me the battery replacement wouldn’t do me any good. “You won’t see any difference,” he said.

I was sure he was wrong but didn’t say it in so many words. I told him I wanted the replacement anyway because I could no longer get through a day without recharging. Maybe the replacement wouldn’t fix that, but I wanted to give it a try.

He said he’d certainly do the replacement if that’s what I wanted; he just wanted to make sure I knew it wasn’t likely to help. Apple didn’t want me spending money for no reason. Background processes were the more likely culprit. Did I mind if he looked through my settings to see if there were some things that could be changed to improve battery life?

Of course I let him and of course he found nothing. I’d been through that exercise myself several times. He did say—and this was the one time I was tempted to laugh in his face—that my Auto-Lock setting of 5 minutes was too long and would really kill the battery. I told him I’d used that Auto-Lock setting on every iPhone I’d owned over the past ten years and it had never been a problem. I still wanted the battery replaced.

An hour and a half later I had my phone back with a new battery—with, I noted with some disappointment, only a 17% charge—and it’s now behaving exactly as I expected and exactly the opposite of what Apple told me to expect.

I say “what Apple told me to expect” rather than “what an Apple Store employee told me to expect” because I don’t think he was making up his own advice to pass along to customers. I think this is Apple’s official advice. And it’s wrong. I ignored Apple’s advice because I knew how I used my phone, knew that I didn’t have many background processes running, and knew that the battery life had decreased significantly over the course of a few months even though my usage hadn’t changed. I wonder if other customers are living with short battery lives because they listened to Apple.

I should point out that anyone with an eligible phone who wants a new battery will get one for $29. That’s Apple’s policy. But the policy is being undercut by poor advice based on a single number that comes out of the Battery Health setting. Which is beta software. The mixed message is not good customer relations.