Apple "Breaking its Promise" Over Battery Replacements, says BBC's Watchdog

By Tom Pritchard on at

Watchdog is one of those classic BBC TV shows that we couldn't ever possibly live without. Like Crimewatch was before it was unceremoniously cancelled. It's been responsible for many investigations, including that time it looked into dodgy plug sockets that cause actual changes in the law. Now it's back with a new investigation set to appear on TV tonight, regarding Apple supposedly not sticking to its promise of replacing iPhone batteries in the wake of the throttling controversy.

According to the consumer rights programme's investigation, a number of people are being turned away from Apple stores when they try and get their batteries replaced. Why? Apparently Apple is telling them they can't get the free replacement unless they pay for other repairs that are unrelated to the issues associated with throttling and battery slowdowns.

In case you forgot about this, towards the end of last year accusations started being thrown at Apple claiming the company was deliberately slowing down old iPhones. That's nothing new, and rumours of that had been circulating for years, but these turned out to be true. Apple confirmed this, and claimed it was part of delivering a good user experience. As it explained, because batteries degraded over time there would eventually be problems if the phone was running at full-throttle - so it slowed them down without telling anyone, supposedly to prevent the devices from switching off unexpectedly.

The company immediately went into apology mode to try and downplay accusations of planned obsolescence, offering users a single cheap (or free if it was still in warranty) replacement battery throughout 2018 with no questions asked. CEO Tim Cook also promised that users would be able to turn off the throttling in a future iOS update, and the company claimed that hardware advances meant the iPhone 8 and X would never suffer those issues.

Now Watchdog viewers have been reporting that nothing is quite as it seems, with Apple repairs asking for money to repair seemingly inconsequential things before it will consider honouring the discounted battery replacement. Apple claims that terms and conditions state some damages have to be repaired first, telling the programme:

“When it comes to iPhone battery replacement, if your iPhone has any damage that impairs the replacement of the battery, such as a cracked screen, that issue will need to be resolved prior to the battery replacement. In some cases, there may be a cost associated with the repair.”

However neither Watchdog nor dispute resolution lawyer Matthew Purcell of Sanders Law could find any mention of that clause. What's more one viewer reported that Apple insisted he pay £200 to fix a dent in the chassis before they'd replace the battery, and another was told his microphone and speakers were faulty and needed a £250 repair first. He claimed both components were fine, which was verified by a Watchdog team, and the phone was taken to a third-party repair shop who replaced the battery without having to go anywhere near the allegedly faulty parts.

Mr Purcell told the programme:

“I think consumers are getting annoyed because at a time when Apple should be rebuilding trust, it seems like they’re putting barriers in the way of people getting their phones repaired.”

If that's true, then Apple's just gone and dug itself another hole to get out of during a time when it's supposed to be apologising and showing customers it's acting with the best intentions. The full investigation will air tonight on Watchdog Live at 8pm on BBC 2.