Caixin
Nov 22, 2016 05:55 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

Apple's Limited Battery Replacement Fails to Satisfy

(Beijing) — The Chinese internet exploded with complaints Monday over Apple Inc.'s worldwide but very limited plan to replace the batteries on iPhone 6S devices that suddenly shut down.

Tens of thousands of comments on the issue flooded Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, with most complaining that the offer to install new batteries in what the company described as "a very small number" of 6S devices was unfair.

"Does the iPhone 6 not qualify? I got a low battery warning on a full battery today, who are they kidding by saying, 'a very small number'? Are they trying to just brush us off?" complained one Sina Weibo user, referring to the iPhone 6S' predecessor model.

Another user who calls himself Erranbuer was upset because his iPhone 6S suffered from the same problem but was manufactured in January, making it ineligible for a new battery. "What about the phones that don't happen to fit the criteria for replacement? Apple owes us an explanation," he wrote.

Apple's move comes after China's consumer rights watchdog investigated the iPhones' unexplained shutdowns. But the tech giant is asserting that the shutdowns affect only a portion of phones made in September and October 2015.

The batteries of iPhone 6 devices and larger-screened "Plus" versions of the iPhone 6 and 6S are not eligible for replacement.

Apple is asking owners of iPhone 6S phones to provide the serial number, marked on the back of the phone, so the company can determine if the battery is eligible for a free replacement.

This move addresses an inquiry from the China Consumers' Association on Nov. 14 regarding abnormal switch-offs in iPhone 6 and 6S models with plenty of battery life remaining. Users complained to the association that the shutdowns were triggered by cold weather, and that the phones could not be revived without connecting them to a power source.

Replacing only a small batch of batteries is a clever way for Apple to downplay the shutdowns, said Jin Di, research manager at IDC China.

"Admitting that problems are limited in scale helps to prevent escalation, and by implying an innocent battery glitch, Apple is able to get away with an impression that there are no other serious defects," as battery performance naturally deteriorates with use, she said.

Nicole Peng, research director at Canalys, estimates that 33 million iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices have been sold in China.

"It seems this is a preliminary plan. There's no way that the scale of the plan will satisfy Chinese consumers at this stage," she said.

Another reason the number of replacements is small may be because Apple wants to experiment and find out if batteries are the cause of the shutdowns, said an analyst who asked not to be named.

An authorized Apple retailer in Beijing told Caixin that replacement phones will not be provided during the battery replacement, which might take from three days to two weeks depending on the number of requests. "First we need to stock up on batteries, and that will take three days at least," the retailer said.

Contact reporter April Ma (mafangjing@caixin.com); editor Ken Howe (kennethhowe@caixin.com)

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