The iPhone is a pretty slick feat of engineering. There is undoubtedly a lot of technology packed into that slim device in your pocket, but sometimes things break or wear out. When that happens, there's a range of options for getting it fixed, from the buy, or perhaps, your local gadget shop

Of course, if you're really ambitious you can repair it yourself. I've made a variety of repairs and upgrades to Apple products over the years. I've replaced more than one iPhone display, a MacBook Pro hard drive, iMac and MacBook Air memory, and even a Titanium PowerBook SuperDrive (back when Macs actually had CD/DVD drives). 

The thing is, Apple doesn't want you to repair devices on your own, especially when it comes to your battery. The company would much prefer you take it to one of its own service locations, or to one that it authorizes. 

If you don't, the company takes issue. Apple recently started displaying a warning in the battery health indicator in your iPhone's settings when it detects that a battery wasn't installed through Apple's official repair channels. That is true even if the battery is a certified Apple unit but isn't installed by an authorized technician. 

Repairing Your Own Device

Those who favor the ability for users to repair their own devices, like the repair site iFixit, have criticized Apple for the move because it can confuse iPhone users who aren't sure if the warning indicates a problem with the new battery or their device. In addition, devices with unauthorized batteries will no longer display their battery's current health status. 

That's because the battery has a small microprocessor that monitors battery charge levels, charge cycles, and temperature, and sends that information to the iPhone to allow it to keep track of the overall health of your battery. Only Apple and its authorized repair centers are able to configure this controller.

There are a variety of theories as to why Apple is so picky about how you get your device repaired, and there are good arguments to be made that the company is too restrictive when it comes to fixing your device yourself. There is even a push for Congress to get involved and pass "right to repair" legislation that would prevent companies from penalizing consumers who use unauthorized repair services or repair them on their own. 

Lithium-ion Batteries

But here's the thing, Lithium-ion batteries, like those in iPhones -- and every smartphone, for that matter-- are basically a constant chemical reaction. They've also been known to catch fire, or even explode when they're defective or aren't handled well. 

Apple recently recalled a whole slew of MacBook Pro batteries over concerns that they're a fire risk. So yes, Apple is kind of picky about how their batteries get repaired or replaced.

Here's what the company said in a statement to iMore about this recent move:

"We take the safety of our customers very seriously and want to make sure any battery replacement is done properly. There are now over 1,800 Apple authorized service providers across the U.S., so our customers have even more convenient access to quality repairs. Last year, we introduced a new feature to notify customers if we were unable to verify that a new, genuine battery was installed by a certified technician following Apple repair processes.

This information is there to help protect our customers from damaged, poor quality, or used batteries that can lead to safety or performance issues. This notification does not impact the customer's ability to use the phone after an unauthorized repair."

Does Apple make money when it repairs your battery (or device in general)? Of course it does. But in the case of batteries, I genuinely don't think this is some big conspiracy to generate cash for the company. I'm not suggesting that argument is without merit, just that there's a far bigger issue for the company.

All to say, there's a difference between repairing your display and replacing your battery. Only one of those might explode on an airplane. That's not even unheard-of at this point. 

Protecting the Brand

Apple might not technically be liable if one of those unauthorized batteries caught fire, but it would absolutely take a hit to its brand. Can you imagine how quickly people would stop buying iPhones if they started to catch fire in people's pockets? Just ask Samsung.

No, the real reason Apple is discouraging users from replacing their iPhone battery themselves isn't greed. It's that Apple is-- above everything else-- a brand, and it has an extraordinary interest in protecting that brand.

Apple's brand is the most valuable in the world because its products just work and consistently delight its customers. Exploding batteries don't delight anyone, and the company would rather not take any chances. That's not all that unreasonable when you think about it that way.

Still, Apple will allow you to carry on if you choose to DIY. Your phone will still work fine-- you'll only lose access to the battery health indicator features, and you'll just have to live with the warning buried deep in the settings of your device.    

Published on: Aug 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.