iPhone

Apple’s iPhone Battery Replacement Program

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I’m sure all of you have heard by know that Apple is offering reduced iPhone battery replacements for iPhones that are an iPhone 6 or newer:

  • iPhone 6/6 Plus
  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 6s/6s Plus
  • iPhone 7/7 Plus
  • Even the iPhone 8/8 Plus and iPhone X (but only if the battery is truly degraded)

It is normally $79 to have an iPhone battery replaced out of warranty and now Apple is doing it for only $29. If you are someone that holds on to iPhone for 2 or more years before upgrading then I highly suggest you take advantage of this limited time program. Apple is offering these $29 iPhone battery replacements through the end of calendar year 2018. Right now there is a pretty large rush on these batteries, which means there is a wait. So don’t expect to just walk into an Apple Store and have them be able to replace your battery. In fact, I have some personal experience with this...

My Dad, sister and I were in Vegas this past week (I was there for CES). My Dad was passing down his iPhone 6 to my sister (since he recently got the iPhone X). Let’s just say he uses his iPhone a lot, so his iPhone 6 battery was pretty much shot. So he wanted to get the battery replaced before handing it down. My Dad doesn’t have any Apple Store anywhere near where he lives (the closest one is over 3 hours away) so he figured he would take advantage of being near an Apple Store while in Vegas and get the battery replaced. He made an appointment with Apple specifically for a battery replacement a couple of weeks in advance. But when we got to the Apple Store we got a couple of surprises. First, Apple did a diagnostics on the iPhone. Maybe I missed it, but everything I read early on about this battery replacement program was that Apple was replacing the battery irregardless of whether the battery was showing a degradation in performance. Turns out that is not the case. Not a problem, the diagnostics showed his battery was shot. The problem was that Apple didn’t have any batteries in stock and it would take a few weeks before they could get one in. Well, we weren’t going to be in Vegas for several weeks and my Dad doesn’t live close to another Apple Store so that wasn’t going to work. But then Apple did what they normally do...they went above and beyond. They went ahead and replaced the entire phone for the cost of the $29 battery replacement.

I am sharing this experience because I’m sure there a lot of you out there that are also thinking of taking advantage of this battery replacement deal. If so, just be aware that making an appointment is just step 1. You have to go in and have a diagnostics run on your iPhone and then once it is determined that your battery is in need of a replacement you will need to wait for a battery to become available. This is also the case if you take your iPhone in to a Apple Authorized repair center. One of my co-workers had the same experience at a local place here in Melbourne, Florida (their online appointment made it sound like the appointment was for the battery replacement instead of it being just the diagnostic test). So be prepared to wait in line for a battery. Although, some smaller repair centers actually have batteries in stock so you might just get lucky.

Also, if you aren’t having battery issues right now I suggest you wait until later this year. Get the most time out of your new battery and avoid the current rush on these cheap battery replacements. Make yourself a calendar reminder for Oct or Nov of this year to get your iPhone in for a battery replacement. iPhone batteries will last about 2-3 years on average, so waiting until later this year means your iPhone battery life will be extended out 3-4 years from today.

Apple Intentionally Slowing Down iPhones

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By now I’m sure you have heard about this story, either in a short blurb on the news or second hand through a friend or family member. It’s true, Apple has been intentionally slowing down iPhones, ever since a software update from early 2017 and it impacts iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and iPhone 7. Now that the “link-baity” garbage is out of the way do you want to know what has really been going on?

”I knew it, Apple just wants to force people to upgrade”

Conspiracy theorists all over the world rejoiced when this news finally broke. At long last Apple has finally admitted to slowing down iPhones through software just so people would be frustrated and pay to upgrade to a newer iPhone. Except, that’s not what is going on. But let’s start with how this story broke, because that is the real story here. A developer, John Poole, published a study that looked at how benchmarks (lab-based performance tests) on specific iPhone models vary depending on the version of software running on the iPhone. After further testing he was able to pinpoint the performance “slow down” to the iOS 10.2.1 update which was released in January of 2017. Finally, after enough news outlets covered this story Apple made an official statement:

"Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

"Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We've now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future."

So What Does This Mean?

Lithium ion batteries will degrade over time. After about 500 charging cycles (about 2 years of use for the average user) an iPhone’s battery will only be able to charge to 80% of its original capacity. There are all sorts of safe-guards built into smartphones so that if they get too hot or too cold or if the battery conditions are just right the operating system takes action to proctect the hardware. If you live in a location that gets really cold or really hot you have probably encountered your iPhone literally shutting down to protect itself.

In this specific case, Apple has added a safeguard into the iPhone operating system to slow down the iPhone’s processor slightly as a way to avoid having the iPhone completely shutdown due to an aging battery and the spikes and all-around “flakiness” that comes along with it. If you have ever owned an “elderly” iPhone you know exactly what I am talking about. You are plugging along at about 20% battery and then all of the sudden your iPhone turns off and it is out of power. What Apple has done starting with iOS 10.2.1 keeps this from happening. But in order to keep this from happening Apple has to slow down the iPhone’s processor, only slightly and only for short periods of time. To the average user this “slow down” will be minimal but noticeable. It is most notable when performing a performance benchmark test where you run the processor at maximum speed for long periods of time (which is exactly how this new “feature” was discovered).

Why is Everyone So Upset?

I agree with what Apple is doing, but they really blew it when it came to messaging. Apple is notorious for being tight-lipped about everything and this issue was no exception. If Apple had just come out when they released iOS 10.2.1 and explained what they were doing and why, then all of this negative press and wailing and gnashing of teeth would not have been necessary. But they didn’t. In true Apple style they kept this information internal and it took concrete proof published by a developer to get Apple to admit what they were doing.

But that is where the negative aspects of this story end. What Apple is actually doing with the iPhone is A GOOD THING. Be honest, if you are browsing a web page and a site takes 1.25 seconds instead of 1.35 seconds to load is it the end of the world? No. If you are out with a group of friends and one of them drops to floor having a heart attack and you reach for your iPhone to call “911” and it shuts off because the battery has dipped down below 20% ? Yes, that is a big deal. So I would argue that what Apple has done is actually allowing users to keep using their old iPhones longer, which goes totally against the conspiracy theory that Apple is just doing this to sell more iPhones. If you don’t like having a slightly slower iPhone then spend the approximately $80 to get a new battery installed and get a couple more years out of your iPhone without any performance impacts.

What Apple should have done is been more open about what they were doing. Apple should also give users the option to “opt out” of this automatic processor throttling so that all the performance obsessed people out there that seem to think that intentionally slowing down the processor is the end of the world can choose to run their old lithium ion battery in their phone into the ground and live the all the consequences from doing so. As usual this entire story is just an over-reaction. Hopefully Apple will learn from this and start being just a little more open about what they are doing. In this case, what they are doing is a really good thing and they need to be taking credit for it instead of flack.

12/29/17 Update: Apple has come out and addressed concerns over their actions and lack of communication with the following message:

To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.

  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.

Apple has also created a new page dedicated to explaining what happens to aging lithium ion batteries here.

Series 3 Apple Watch & Enterprise iPhones

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Even though I called both Apple and AT&T before buying the Series 3 Apple Watch to pair with my work provided iPhone I still got a surprise. In the week or so leading up to the release of the Apple Watch Series 3 there wasn’t a ton of information about how exactly the new Series 3 Apple Watch would be making and receiving phone calls. Turns out the new Apple Watch is using a form of wi-fi calling. In other words, the watch is using cellular data to make a phone call in the same way your iPhone can when it doesn’t have a cell signal but is connected to wi-fi. But in order to make all this happen (and in fact in order to even setup the Series 3 with cellular data) the iPhone you are pairing your new Series 3 Apple Watch with must have the wi-fi calling feature enabled. Each cellular company calls this feature something different (on AT&T it is called NumberSync). If you have a personal account with AT&T (and I assume with the other cellular providers as well), enabling this feature is very simple and doesn’t cost anything. But if your iPhone is on an enterprise account (provided by your employer) then this may not be an option your employer can enable. Turns out if you dig hard enough you can actually find this guidance on Apple’s support pages:

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So since I can’t enable NumberSync on my work provided iPhone I’m not able to use my Apple Watch Series 3 with my work iPhone. I just wanted to share this others out there in case they were thinking of doing the same thing. Make sure you check with your work IT department to see if your work provided iPhone can be configured properly to work with a Series 3 Apple Watch before you buy the Apple Watch.

The True Cost of Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program

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Last year right around this time I bit the bullet and signed up for Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program (in fact I wrote a blog post about it). But back then I was only guessing what my then new iPhone 7 Plus was going to be worth on the used market a year or two years later. But now I know exactly what it's worth, so now the question is was the Upgrade Program a smart move? Here are the numbers:

If I Had Purchased the iPhone Outright:

If a year ago I had just paid cash for my iPhone 7 Plus, here is how much owning that iPhone for a year would have costed me...

Initial Purchase Price: $849.99 plus Apple Care Plus $129 = $978.99

Trade in value as of today:

This is a bit tricky since the money I can get for selling my used iPhone varies quite a bit. On the high end if I were to sell it on Amazon as a used device it would sell for about $700 and after paying Amazon $65 in sales commissions that would leave me $635. On the low end if I were to sell my iPhone to a service like Gazelle I would only get $350. So taking the average value between the two I come up with $492.50.

So if I have purchased my iPhone 7 Plus outright the total cost of 1-year of owning the phone would have been $486.49

Cost of Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program

This one is really easy to calculate, it is simply my monthly payment x 12 months, or $41.58 x 12 = $498.96

Which Was The Better Way To Go?

So since I went with Apple's Upgrade Program it ended up costing me an extra $12.47 over the span of a year compared to the cost if I had just bought the iPhone outright and then sold it on the used market. That is about as close to an even proposition as you can get. Except it is a little more complicated than that. For one thing it takes some time and effort to sell your used iPhone, package it up and get it shipped out. There is also some risk when you sell your used device. You could end up with someone who buys your iPhone that later claims it was damaged or broken and requests a refund, and while Amazon is great for getting the most money out of selling your device Amazon is not seller friendly (they protect the buyer and sometimes the buyer takes advantage of that). There is also no guarantee that your device will sell quickly, which means you have now purchased a new iPhone and you have not yet sold your old iPhone to help pay for the new one. Then what about the condition of your device? My iPhone 7 Plus was dropped once and has a ding in the bottom corner (doesn't effect the screen but it is still a blemish). It also has a couple of very light scratches on the screen. I've carried it around for the past year without a case because that's what I wanted to do. I was able to do that because I knew if it got a ding or a few scratches it wouldn't matter. As long as it was fully functional and didn't have a cracked screen or water damage Apple would allow me to trade it in for a new iPhone. Then there is the convenience factor. With Apple's iPhone Upgrade Program I will pre-order my new iPhone just like everyone else and my new iPhone will be shipped just like everyone else's except for one difference. Before my new iPhone arrives Apple will ship me a postage paid box to return my old iPhone to them in. So when I get my new iPhone in the mail I simply wipe my old phone, put it in the postage paid box Apple sent me and I'm done.

So for me it is still a very easy choice, the iPhone Upgrade Program is the clear winner. Even if I was able to get a couple hundred dollars more for my used iPhone and the Upgrade Program ended up being $200 more expensive, the combination of getting an unlocked iPhone, convenient trade in and not having to worry about keeping the iPhone pristine so I can resell it make the Upgrade Program a great fit for me. However, if you don't travel internationally and you wouldn't normally buy Apple Care and don't mind going through the effort of selling your iPhone then you may want to consider saving a little money and buying your next iPhone outright instead.

Do You Need to Own an iPhone to Use an Apple Watch Series 3?

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There are a lot of confusing, misleading and in some cases down right inaccurate headlines and articles out there with respect to the new Apple Watch Series 3 that Apple announced yesterday. Many of these articles are leading people to believe that you no longer need to own an iPhone for you to use your Apple Watch and that is simply untrue. So below are a few key pieces of information you need to know before you even consider buying an Apple Watch Series 3:

What phone number is associated with the Apple Watch Series 3?

Just like every version of the Apple Watch before it, the Apple Watch Series 3 MUST be paired with an iPhone to even be setup as a functioning watch. So you must physically be in possession of an iPhone to setup an Apple Watch Series 3. That iPhone must be an iPhone 6 or newer phone in order for it to be compatible with an Apple Watch, so be aware of that limitation as well. During the setup process your new Apple Watch Series 3 will copy/clone the cellular number associated with the iPhone you are pairing the watch to and the Apple Watch will now associate itself (from a physical phone number perspective) with the phone number assigned to that iPhone. So if you make a phone call from the watch the person you call will see the phone number associated with iPhone it is paired with (they won't know if you are calling from your watch or the iPhone). So the simple answer is that the Apple Watch Series 3 takes on the cellular number of the phone it is paired with. The Apple Watch Series 3 has what is called an electronic SIM (or eSIM) which means there is no physical SIM card you insert into the watch like you do your iPhone. The functionality of the eSIM is built directly into the Apple Watch Series 3 hardware.

What can the Apple Watch Series 3 do while away from the iPhone?

The simple answer is that the Apple Watch Series 3 can do quite a bit while physically separated from the iPhone it is paired to. For one, the watch can make and receive phone calls without the iPhone. Below is a list of other things that can be done with the Apple Watch Series 3 without being in range of the iPhone:

  • Make and receive phone calls
  • Send and receive text (SMS) and iMessages
  • Use Apple Maps for directions
  • Find My Friends tracks your location using the Apple Watch GPS rather than the iPhone automatically as soon as the watch is out of range of the iPhone
  • Other messaging apps like Snapchat will work
  • You can stream Apple Music
  • You can use Siri (and Siri now talks back to you using the Apple Watch speaker where it didn't before)
  • 3rd party apps are able to use cellular data from the watch, so depending on the app you may have a lot of other functionality available to you while away from your iPhone

How much will a monthly data plan on the Apple Watch cost?

So far the big 4 cellular companies (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) in the U.S. are all saying that the monthly fee for cellular data connectivity to their networks will all run you $10 a month. You must already have cellular service with one of these companies in order to add the Apple Watch Series 3 onto your existing account. In my case I am with AT&T and have a family data share plan so for $10 a month I can add the Apple Watch Series 3 and it will share our pool of 15 Gb of data per month. If I didn't have a shared data plan my $10 a month would get me 1 Gb of data dedicated strictly for the Apple Watch (again this is with AT&T so check with your provider for the full details).

Can you use the Apple Watch Series 3 as a stand alone smartwatch for a child?

The smartwatch market has huge hole in it right now with respect to a high quality highly functioning smartwatches for kids. There are a ton of "kid friendly" smartwatches on the market but I have yet to find one that is even worth considering and most of them are targeted for young kids (like 8 years-old or younger). I don't think getting a younger child a cell phone is a good idea. It's great from a connectivity and safety perspective, but until the child gets into high school I would argue that a cell phone is more hassle, cost and responsibility than they are ready for. But if all you want to do is be able text or have a 30-second voice call with your child a smartwatch would be a perfect fit (if a good one actually existed).

So when Apple announced the Series 3 Apple Watch I was really hoping they were also going to also introduce the ability to setup the watch as a standalone cellular device with its own phone number so it could be used by a child as a stand alone smartwatch. But that didn't happen. But not all hope is lost (at least not for me).

I mentioned I have an AT&T family share plan. I have 4 iPhones and one iPad Pro on that plan but I also own (or use) a 5th iPhone that is provided to me by my employer (this iPhone is NOT on my personal AT&T plan). The unique thing about my work iPhone is that I do not use it as a phone. I use it for work email and work calendar and a few work related apps but the phone number associated with that iPhone is not used or even given out. I also do not receive text messages on my work iPhone. All communication with me for work purposes is done through my personal cell phone (all except for email). So this puts me in a very unique situation where I have an iPhone that is on AT&T and the number associated with that phone is not being used. So if I bought an Apple Watch Series 3 and paired it with my work iPhone, the watch would take on the number associated with my work iPhone. Nobody has the number associated with that phone so it would be like a brand new number that my daughter then could use for her Apple Watch. But what about the $10 a month data plan that I would need to get for the watch? Is the data plan connected to the account associated with the phone number on the iPhone? Tricky question.

So I called Apple and talked with their customer support. They were not able to answer my question directly but they consulted with their cellular department and came back and said that while the eSIM in the Apple Watch Series 3 will take on the phone number of the iPhone it is setup and paired with, the data plan associated with the Apple Watch is something that is left up to the individual carriers to manage. So I needed to call AT&T.

I called AT&T and talked with their customer support. I was very specific about my question and in fact asked it several different times in slightly different ways and the answer was the same each time. As long as the phone number the Apple Watch takes on is an AT&T cellular number I can have a separate data plan on the watch from the plan that governs the cell number associated with the iPhone. Because AT&T has a feature called NumberSync AT&T is able to separate the data plan from the physical phone number cellular plan of the iPhone. So I can buy an Apple Watch Series 3 and set it up and pair it with my work iPhone. The Apple Watch will now make and receive phone calls using the number associated with my work iPhone (which is fine because nobody uses that number and nobody knows that number so this will be phone number only used by her Series 3 Apple Watch). I can also sign into my work iPhone with my daughter's iCloud account, again because I don't use that iPhone for any other functions than reading work email and work calendar items (and we use Exchange and not iCloud). AT&T has assured me that simply setting up the watch with the iPhone will not activate a data plan for the watch, it will only associated the watch with the phone number of the iPhone. I can then call up AT&T and they can activate a data plan with the Apple Watch and attach that data plan to my existing family share plan.

Disclaimer...I do not trust that information I received from AT&T is accurate. While I do think what they have told me is possibly correct, I have been burned by AT&T support people not knowing what they are talking about in the past. Even on this phone call the AT&T support person was saying that they may need to send me a physical SIM card for the Apple Watch because "they don't yet know what kind of SIM the watch will use"...and we know that isn't true. Apple explained yesterday at the product announcement that the Apple Watch Series 3 uses an eSIM which is physically built into the Watch hardware and not a physical SIM card at all. So I am totally expecting to buy an Apple Watch Series 3 for my daughter only to find out that the AT&T person I talked to didn't know what they were talking about. But Apple has an excellent return policy so I am willing to give it try.

So in summary it appears that I will be able buy an Apple Watch Series 3 for my daughter and she will be able to use it completely independently of my work iPhone (with the exception of setting it up and the occasional software update). But I am only able to do this because of the very unique way in which I use my iPhone for work purposes, which is strictly as an email and calendaring device. This frees up my work iPhone to serve as a surrogate device for my daughter's Apple Watch. I doubt there are a lot of other people out there that use their iPhone in this limited way, but if you do you may be able to use the phone number of that iPhone as a way to use an Apple Watch Series 3 as a true stand alone device. I'll write up a follow-up blog post once I get the Series 3 Apple Watch and let you all know how it goes. I'm not holding my breath...

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