Apple's tricky battery replacement program, and what you can learn from it

In 2017, consumers were shocked to discover that Apple had been slowing down iPhone devices with overused batteries. As a result, a series of legal suits began, and Apple introduced a $29 battery replacement program. We at You Exec investigated the nature of this program and our findings lead us to consider it to be a "hokey" solution aimed at selling more devices. As we investigated, it became apparent this program had a dual purpose.

Much can be learned from Apple's smart PR and workstream to convert iPhone users seeking a $29 battery replacement into an $800 purchase of a new iPhone 8 or X. Here is how Apple does it:

 

The program as advertised

Apple advertised a $29 no-questions-asked battery replacement program. If you call their support phone line or go to an Apple store, you will be led to believe that they will replace your battery within thirty minutes. As a result, Apple users were delighted when the program was announced and flocked to get their old iPhone batteries replaced. Likewise, the PR and media communications of this program were nothing but positive.

However, we at You Exec began to receive many complaints from our readers, and so we decided to investigate further to figure out exactly how the battery replacement works and to try and identify Apple's ultimate goal. The following article is our experience of replacing the battery of an iPhone 6. All the statements below are our opinion only.

 

One-week wait for an appointment

One of our writers, who will remain anonymous, had an old iPhone 6 that performed slowly, so we decided to take up Apple's new battery replacement offer with his phone. For the purposes of this article, let's call the writer Brian.

Brian walked into the Apple store located in Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and was greeted by a sales representative, who requested Brian schedule a Genius Bar appointment first—the next available date was one week out. While at the store, Brian was encouraged to look at other devices for a possible upgrade.

 

Two-week wait for the part

One week later, Brian went back to the same Apple store only to be told that the spare battery needed for the replacement was not in stock and that he needs to wait two weeks for the part to be available. This news was shared with him after the one-hour battery diagnostic test he had to run at the store to ensure that his phone's battery was, in fact, the problem. The test had to show that Brian's battery was at fault, otherwise Apple would not replace the battery. The tests indeed revealed the battery was at fault.

At the Apple store, the sales representative noticed that Brian's iPhone screen had a small hairline crack on the upper left corner—and he was advised that the battery replacement might not work because of the tiny crack.

Brian was offered the opportunity to get the cracked screen fixed at the store if he wished to continue with the battery replacement when the spare battery arrived. Disgruntled, Brian walked away despite being encouraged again to look at the new iPhone models.

The next day, Brian was pleased to receive an email that the spare part had arrived earlier than expected at the Apple store and he could now just walk in and finally get his phone repaired. Now, let’s remember that Apple is a company focused on operations and supply-chain management, which is really the crux of any hardware business. It thus seems somewhat bizarre that our writer was told that the spare part would take two weeks to arrive when he was at the store—causing him to feel despair for a new phone—yet, the part actually arrived the next day! Smelling something fishy, Brian walked to the Genius Bar the next day with a bit of skepticism.

Much to his surprise, he was greeted by a very happy Genius Bar technician who took his phone off him and promised him a new battery in less than two hours. This was again at the Santa Monica, Third Street Promenade Apple store. Despite the two-hour wait to get the replacement done, Brian cherished the opportunity to be phone-free while walking around in the sunny Los Angeles weather.

Every thirty minutes Brian checked with the Apple store to nail down how long they would take to replace the battery. However, what just started out as a $29 battery replacement, now included a $120 screen replacement as well, and went from being a simple thirty-minute swatch to a week-long event.

 

Screen cracks

From Brian's test, and as can be seen in the photo below, changing the iPhone 6's battery does not require a crack-free screen. This is because the screen's platform can be separated from the phone's body without removing the screen or its protective glass cover.

Once the iPhone 6's body screws are removed, the screen platform is easily elevated without the need to cover or protect the screen's protective glass. That is, what Brian was told at the Apple store is entirely incorrect.

 

Corrosion

Brian returned to the Apple store and soon two hours turned into three, but still no Genius Bar technician could be found. Plenty of sales team members asked Brian if he was being helped, but no-one could tell him how much longer the battery replacement would take. After three hours, Brian complained and demanded his phone back. At this point, a Genius Bar technician showed up explaining that the phone in question had "a lot of corrosion" and the battery could not be replaced. To satisfy all Apple customers who wet their phones, the Genius Bar technician offered our writer a $399 unit replacement. That is an iPhone 6—refurbished or new, who knows.

The way this conversation was phrased, it seemed as if our iPhone 6 was beyond repair because the corrosion was so bad that the battery either (1) could not be removed, or (2) the newly replaced battery would be a liability as it could melt and further damage the phone. That is, it sounded as if our iPhone 6 was in pretty bad shape.

 

The replacement

Shocked, our writer was further displeased since the Apple store had removed a magnetic adapter he had glued to the back of his phone. Also, the offered $399 unit replacement did not come with the guarantee that the new unit would perform at an acceptable speed. And further still, Genius Bar unit replacement items are not returnable—that is, had Brian bought the unit, he would not be able to return it within thirty days.

 

Recap Brian’s experience

On top of the constant upgrading encouragement in store by sales team members and even being charged an extra $120 for a screen replacement, Brian had to wait:

  • One week for the appointment.
  • An hour for the battery "diagnosis" test.
  • An extra day for the spare part, thinking it would take another two weeks.
  • Three hours phoneless, while the "corrosion" diagnosis was made.

And now he was offered a unit replacement for $399 that was not even returnable. All the while, Amazon, Best Buy, and other retailers advertise an identical iPhone 6 for the same price with an included thirty-day return policy.

 

Our corrosion test

Brian, our writer, knew the "corrosion" excuse was "fluff" so he took the same "corroded" iPhone 6 to a hole-in-the-wall battery replacement store near UCLA. Below are the photos of the "corrosion" once the phone was opened:

As you can see, the phone was not corroded at all. All the battery plugs and connections looked like new. The only sign of corrosion was the two "litmus" sensors that Apple has inside the phone to identify if water has ever entered into your phone. These "litmus" tests typically turn red with time as humidity alone can trigger them (see the red circles in the photos below.) The "litmus" test shows two small white areas that turn red if they come into contact with water or humidity. For example, the steam from a hot shower a few feet away is enough to turn these sensors red.

Ultimately, Brian got his iPhone 6's battery replaced for $50 cash in about thirty minutes at the same small electronics store that took the photos above. And yes, after the battery was replaced the phone was about five times faster.

 

Cracked Screen Test

It is perfectly possible to replace the battery of an iPhone 6 that has a cracked screen. The screen module basically "flips" away from the phone when the unit is opened. It does not make a difference if the screen is cracked or has a hair-line crack to replace the battery. That was basically another up-sell tactic or excuse to charge an extra $100 for the screen repair.

 

What we can learn from Apple

1. A process can be advertised by the outcome of a minority, but the same process can be designed so the majority of users are guided to a different path.

2. When a new process (i.e., battery replacement) is launched, the PR is more important than the process itself.

3. The more hoops a consumer has to jump through, the more likely s/he is to be persuaded toward a different path.

4. Blame it on the consumer. Unfortunately something the consumer did made the phone unrepairable. The lesson: use information asymmetry to guide the consumer through the maze you design.

5. Use time to your advantage:

  • A one week wait for the appointment.
  • A two week wait for the replacement part.
  • The sudden arrival of a part for the replacement.
  • Performing the software-only battery test at the store and not at home.

Use each delay of process in your work stream to your advantage, just because something can be done at home or early does not mean that is the optimal solution.

6. You can draw your own conclusions, and extract the consumer tendencies that Apple must be aware of for them to create such a complicated program.