Thinking about pulling the trigger on that iPhone battery replacement that Apple is currently offering, but concerned about roughing it without your phone for an extended period of time? So was I.
Editor's Note: Apple's discounted iPhone battery replacement program ends on Dec. 31. After that date, out-of-warranty battery service costs will rise. Refer to our guide if you want to know how to get yours before it's too late.
I bought my iPhone 7 in December of 2016. After a little less than a year and a half of use, I noticed the battery life began to take a sharp downturn. The iOS 11.3 update confirmed my suspicions, with the new Battery Health tool telling me my iPhone was working with just 88 percent of its original capacity.
That may not sound too serious, considering Apple only recommends servicing batteries that have fallen below 80 percent. However, since joining Tom’s Guide last September, I’ve always been on the go — commuting to the office hours every day and using GPS to help me traverse New York City for various events. My data plan feels a hell of a lot less luxurious now that I’m rarely on Wi-Fi. After Mobile World Congress, my colleague Caitlin McGarry swore off traveling with me ever again unless I brought a backup battery.
In other words, it’s been a challenging few months for my trusty iPhone 7, and they’ve only accelerated the slow death of its battery. I had been debating cashing in that $29 replacement for weeks, but I assumed there would be a wait. So I didn’t get around to it until I happened to be within feet of an Apple Store one day.
If you haven’t been keeping tabs on the iPhone battery saga since it began late last year, here’s what happened. Apple admitted it had been throttling performance on iPhones with degraded batteries. Devices running iOS 10.2.1 — which includes every model from the iPhone 6 onward — were programmed to automatically limit clock speed to extend longevity on a charge and stave off random reboots, which are common during times of stress on the processor.
The only problem? Apple didn’t tell anyone what was going on behind the scenes. As a consequence, in January the company discounted out-of-warranty battery replacements from $79 to $29 until the end of 2018 for affected products. Unsurprisingly, rather long wait times were reported right out of the gate, with firms like Barclays citing delays ranging from two to four weeks due to short battery supplies for certain models. Apple also added Battery Health in iOS 11.3, which allows users to both monitor the state of their phone’s battery and deactivate automatic throttling if their handset has lost 20 percent or more of its capacity.
Anyway, back to my story. I told the representative I wanted to see about getting my iPhone 7’s battery swapped. Given that my phone was only down 12 percent down from a fresh unit, he recommended I wait until later in the year to get a better bang for my buck. And I almost did — until I thought to myself that come November, there could be a lot of people like me who had done the same, and needed those new batteries right now.
I told the rep I wanted to go through with it, expecting to set up an appointment sometime in May. To my surprise, the answer to the question “how long will it take” was a matter of minutes, not weeks.
Long story short, my iPhone 7 was back in my hands with a new battery in less than two hours. Wandering the mall alone without a phone was a strange experience, especially when I was told to return to the Apple Store to pick up my device by a specific time, and they were in possession of the only way I could easily check the clock. (Perhaps this is just an Apple plot to goose smartwatch sales.)
To my surprise, the technician didn’t even remove my handset’s matte screen protector, which I appreciated. Granted, Apple had no reason to, and my iPhone 7 is in pretty good shape, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned if the plastic film would survive the surgery.
I was also worried the rep would give me a hard time for requesting a battery exchange because my phone hadn’t crossed the 80 percent threshold yet, when iOS begins throttling performance. Technically under Apple’s program, owners of iPhone 6 devices or newer are eligible for one discounted out-of-warranty replacement until the end of 2018, no matter the condition of the original battery. But I was never pressured against ordering the service — just given a sensible recommendation to put off the upgrade until later, which I chose to ignore.
The moral here? Everyone (Tom’s Guide included) is reporting on wait times for iPhone batteries, with data from surveys and insider sources. But the only way to really know how long you’ll be left phoneless is to ask your local Apple Store yourself. If they warn you of delays lasting days or weeks, there’s never any harm in checking elsewhere. You may just be pleasantly surprised.
Oh, and another recommendation: Before you make that trip, back up your iPhone. I had lucked out and by chance connected my phone to my Mac to sync music a few days earlier (streaming services be damned!) If you don’t, Apple isn’t liable for any data loss your iPhone may experience when it’s under the knife.
Photo Credit: Shaun Lucas/Tom's Guide