Consumer group questions iPhone battery replacement

IPhones must be mailed to Apple for battery swap; all data disappears

A Los Angeles-based consumer watchdog group that filed a lawsuit against Apple Inc. in 2006 has called on the company to spell out the iPhone's battery-replacement policy to prospective buyers.

In a letter sent Friday (download PDF) to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson, the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights (FTCR) asked that iPhone battery issues be disclosed in all advertising, before retail sales close and during activation using iTunes "to ensure that no customers are misled concerning the performance and effective cost of the unit." The letter also urged Apple to provide replacement batteries free of charge throughout the life of the iPhone.

When FTCR founder Harvey Rosenfield wrote the letter, details were still sketchy about iPhone battery replacement. For example, he noted that the battery was "apparently not user-replaceable." Later Friday, Apple posted additional details of the iPhone's battery -- including tips on extending its lifespan, as well as the procedure for and cost of replacing a battery -- on its Web site.

Although Apple doesn't specifically say that the battery can't be replaced by users, early examinations of the iPhone's innards confirmed that it would be nearly impossible., which conducted one of the first iPhone "tear-downs," noted that the battery is soldered to the device's logic board; a second tear-down by photographed the battery's leads in a closeup that clearly showed the soldering.

Under the iPhone's standard one-year warranty, Apple will replace the battery free of charge if it drops below 50% of original capacity. This month, Apple will begin selling an $69 extended warranty that stretches the hardware repair coverage, battery included, for an additional year.

FTCR, however, noted that many users will likely need to replace their iPhone batteries before their two-year contracts with AT&T expire and perhaps after the one-year warranty is defunct. "Unlike the iPod, the iPhone is obviously intended and marketed as a device to be utilized for a broad range of business-related purposes, and on a constant basis," wrote Rosenfield in the letter to Apple and AT&T. "A customer who recharges the iPhone every night, as most cell phone users do, may therefore require a battery replacement within 10 months." Apple has claimed that the iPhone battery will handle 300 to 400 recharges.

To replace the iPhone battery, owners must pay $85.95, then ship the device to Apple. The normal repair time, Apple said in a brief FAQ on iPhone battery replacement, will be three business days. Users, however, will receive a data-free iPhone in return. "The repair process will clear all data from your iPhone," Apple's FAQ stated. "It is important to sync your iPhone with iTunes to back up your contacts, photos, e-mail account settings, text messages and more. Apple is not responsible for the loss of information while servicing your iPhone and does not offer any data transfer service."

The program is similar to the one offered to iPod owners, which charges $65.95 to replace a battery and returns the unit sans music and video about a week after Apple receives the device.

Batteries in virtually every other cell phone, smart phone and mobile device can be replaced by the user or in a visit to the mobile service provider's retail store.

The FTCR has history with Apple. In 2006, it filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, accusing the company of not offering dissatisfied iPod nano buyers a full refund after its screen became scratched.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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