Usually software updates are designed to bring new features for users. With iOS 12 and iOS 13 betas, Apple appears to have gone the other way. According to device repair experts iFixIt, Apple has used its most recent versions of iOS to activate a previously dormant software lock that restricts iPhone owners' ability to replace the battery in their device.
Apple's Battery Health feature — first introduced after the company was accused of slowing down and limiting the processing power of older iPhones in order to squeeze more life out of the battery — will warn users when it's time to replace the battery with a warning message that reads "Your iPhone battery may need to be serviced." That message remains until the user gets the battery replaced, at which point it typically goes away. However, with the new software lock, the message hangs around indefinitely unless you specifically get the battery replaced by Apple or one of its Authorized Service Providers. If you try to replace the battery on your own or take it to a third-party repair service, something a person would typically do to save money, the "service" message will remain — only this time, it will warn, "Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple battery. Health information not available for this battery."
For now, this issue only affects owners of the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max. The service warning that appears is mostly more of an annoyance than a hindrance to the overall function of the iPhone, but it's a pain for people looking for repair alternatives. You'll still be able to use the device almost entirely the same way as you normally would. However, any time you visit the Battery Health menu, you'll be presented with the same ominous message about the authenticity of the battery. Apple's battery lock also cuts you off from receiving any information about the health of the battery, which certainly can be an issue. The Battery Health feature gives a detailed breakdown of what is draining your device and how you can get more out of a charge. That insight is gone if you aren't using a battery installed by Apple.
Per The Art of Repair, iPhone batteries have a microcontroller on them that provides information to the device, including information about battery capacity, temperature and time remaining before the charge hits zero percent. On newer iPhones, that chip has an authentication feature that is used to pair the battery to the iPhone. If the battery doesn't have access to the authentication key, it won't recognize the device and will produce the service message that do-it-yourselfers see after performing a battery replacement. iFixIt theorizes that Apple and its authorized repair shops have software that links the battery and phone, clearing the service indicator and giving you full access to battery health information.
Apple's decision to activate this lock and restricting the ability to replace the battery without going through an authorized source is just the latest example of Apple restricting repair options for its products. Apple has gained a reputation for being hostile to DIYers and repair shops that might offer services on the cheap. Apple would rather keep companies within its own ecosystem, making them go directly through the company to get fixes, allowing it to control both the products and the prices. Last year, the CBC reported that third-party repair shops often offer fixes at a fraction of the price of what Apple charges. In many cases, this is because the shops are willing and capable of making small repairs that Apple wouldn't. Instead, Apple often chooses to replace an entire part rather than trying to repair the existing one — a tactic that makes the repair process profitable for the company while costing you considerably more.
The CBC captured Apple employees telling people that repairs that third-party repair stores would make for a small fee simply aren't worth fixing. In one instance, an Apple Genius Bar worker said a common issue affecting the display on a MacBook would require a $1,200 repair — a price similar to that of simply buying a new device while a third-party retailer could have made the fix for under $150. While people can choose to simply have the repair done at a third-party shop, getting the necessary parts can be challenging. Apple also has strict limitations on aftermarket parts, and making these kinds of repairs outside of the company's purview often voids the warranty on the device.
Apple certainly isn't alone in this practice. Electronics manufacturers have made a habit of trying to keep repairs in-house whenever possible, creating an additional line of revenue for themselves when things go haywire on their devices. The issue extends from consumer devices like iPhones to fields like manufacturing and agriculture. In one of the more absurd examples of restricting repair capabilities, a farmer reported that a $225,000 Case tractor that he bought suffered from an issue that regularly made an alarm go off, buzzing for 10 consecutive minutes at time before finally stopping. The problem stemmed from a problem with a part that the farmer never used, but he couldn't do anything about it without going through Case. The company used a special diagnostic tool that the farmer couldn't access and charged for the repair.
In recent years, there has been some push back against these restrictions from consumer groups. The "Right to Repair" movement has advocated for laws both at the state and federal level that would give people the ability to modify their devices on their own without voiding the warranty. The issue has gotten national attention from two Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. A number of states are currently considering legislation that would open up repair opportunities for consumers, though lobbying efforts from companies like Apple and Microsoft may win the day. The companies argue that do-it-yourself repairs are dangerous and the laws may expose technology that would allow counterfeiters to make knockoffs. It's also likely that if these measures go forward, companies will just seek new ways to try to restrict repairs. Apple already has used proprietary screws that require a special tool to interact with just to keep people from getting inside their devices. Expect more tactics like that to materialize as companies try to control your access to your own devices.
At its core, the case for Right to Repair is simple. You bought your device. You own it. You should have the right to use it how you see fit, including making necessary repairs without forking over hundreds of dollars to the manufacturer. Until you have complete control over your own device, you're essentially paying a steep fee for something that, at the end of the day, still requires the manufacturer's permission to make sure you're using it the way they approve