Texas Instruments has been drawn into a dispute over battery replacement in the latest iPhones.
Verified on an iPhone XS running both iOS 12 and the iOS 13 beta, swapping in a new genuine Apple battery from another iPhone XS resulted in the “Service” message popping up in the Battery Health section. This was followed by an “Important Battery Message” telling saying it’s “unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery.” This limits the battery life information availabnle in the iPhone, although it doesn’t affect the operation of the battery nly the monitoring.
Justin Ashford, who runs ArtofRepair and is based in Shenzen in China, says the battery replacement issue only currently affects the latest iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max models and is a result of a secure code in a custom version of the Bq27546 fuel gauge from TI.
“If we look the original chip used on the original battery we find something very interesting. This is the Bq27546 fuel gauge is for all intents and purposes is the identical chip to the SA27546 [in the iPhone],” said Ashford. “This leads into a huge right to repair issue. The next batteries or phones that come out we could be facing a real lock out.”
While the fuel gauge provides the code, the new implementation goes a step further. Now even genuine batteries cannot use the battery health feature unless it is replaced by an Apple authorised repairer.
“By activating a dormant software lock on their newest iPhones, Apple is effectively announcing a drastic new policy: only Apple batteries can go in iPhones, and only they can install them,” says Craig Lloyd at repair specialist iFixit who verified the implementation.
Next: Battery replacement challenge
“Apple is locking batteries to their iPhones at the factory, so whenever you replace the battery yourself—even if you’re using a genuine Apple battery from another iPhone—it will still give you the “Service” message,” said Lloyd. “Presumably, their internal diagnostic software can flip the magic bit that resets this “Service” indicator. But Apple refuses to make this software available to anyone but themselves and Apple Authorized Service Providers.”
The replacement battery will continue to work perfectly well and doesn’t throttle the iPhone’s performance on a healthy battery. But users won’t be able to easily see the battery health and know when it’s time to replace it. “To make matters worse, as of iOS 10 Apple has blocked third-party battery health apps from accessing most of the battery’s details, including cycle count, which is critical information that tells you whether or not your battery is on the brink of degradation,” said Lloyd.
This is an ongoing trend, and Apple is making repair increasingly difficult, he says.
“You bought it, you own it, you should be able to fix it. It’s that simple. Pairing batteries to iPhones is a gross overreach,” he said. “It’s trivial for manufacturers to lock down parts and tie them together, making it easy for them to prevent anyone repairing a device other than themselves for the sake of profits.”
TI declined to comment, but Apple responded with a safety argument.
“We take the safety of our customers very seriously and want to make sure any battery replacement is done properly,” said the company in a statement. “There are now over 1,800 Apple authorized service providers across the US, so our customers have even more convenient access to quality repairs. Last year, we introduced a new feature to notify customers if we were unable to verify that a new, genuine battery was installed by a certified technician following Apple repair processes. This information is there to help protect our customers from damaged, poor quality, or used batteries that can lead to safety or performance issues. This notification does not impact the customer’s ability to use the phone after an unauthorized repair.”