Know when it’s time to replace your iPhone battery

Apple posted details of its iPad battery replacement service earlier this week. Mind you,the iPad isn’t even expected to hit the stores until April 3rd. Perhaps Apple has learned something from the battery life backlash that continues to plague its iconic iPhone.

“The iPad’s typical use scenario is sans power cord, whereas the power cord travels with the laptop,” says Aaron Vronko, CEO of Raid Repair, which services broken iPods and iPhones and replaces worn-out batteries. “It’s the biggest device to be used off the power cord most of the time. That makes the battery a huge factor in the success of this device and how it’s received by its audience.”

Apple’s iPad $99 battery replacement service is a bit of a misnomer; Apple will replace the entire iPad, not the battery.

Already, the iPad battery has come under fire. The iPad’s 10-inch LCD display requires a battery that’s more than five times the capacity and size of the iPhone 3GS battery. The screen alone consumes roughly 2 watts per hour, Vronko says, and will drain the large battery in 12 hours by itself.

Apple, which claims the iPad has a 10-hour battery life, doesn’t want the iPad to face the kind of vitriolic complaints regarding battery life that the iPhone has endured since its debut.

Bad News: Your iPhone Battery Is Dying

Every time you go through a charge cycle on your iPhone, you’ll permanently lose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute of battery capacity. Typically, you’ll get 250 to 500 charge cycles before a lithium ion battery has outlived its usefulness, Vronko says.

(A charge cycle covers the entire capacity of the battery. For instance, if you drained a third of the battery and recharged it, and then used two-thirds of the battery the next day and recharged it, this would still be considered a single charge cycle.)

Using your iPhone in extreme temperatures—below 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above 95 degrees—will degrade the battery capacity faster, he says. Also, you shouldn’t regularly run your iPhone battery completely down before recharging it. Doing these things will shave maybe a minute and half off the total battery capacity per charge cycle, Vronko says.

However, it’s a good practice to run the battery dead before fully recharging it once a month to keep the chip on the battery and the chip on the device that measure the current flowing back and forth in sync . This is one of Vronko’s six tips for cleaning and caring for your iPhone.

There are ways to improve battery life of a single charge cycle. Here are three tips for getting more juice:

1. Disable power-hungry features such as Wi-Fi, Notifications and Location Services.

2. Buy a battery pack, especially if you plan on taking your iPhone to places that don’t have a ready power outlet like, say, a golf course.

3. Get it tested by an Apple Genius, because anecdotal evidence suggests there are a lot of iPhone 3GS lemons with poorly performing batteries on the market.

Time to Replace Your Battery?

Eventually, though, you’ll need to replace your iPhone battery.

Vronko says the battery-replacement demand curve starts with a 10-month-old iPhone. “That’s when we get the first run of customers,” he says. These customers are often heavy iPhone users who may have lost up to 30 percent of the original battery life—and 70 percent of the remaining battery is not good enough for them.

Next, Vronko sees a pick-up in demand for battery replacement with 12-to-15-month-old iPhones. The peak age for battery replacements is 18 months.

Rapid Repair charges $20 for just the iPhone battery, although you’ll have to be brave enough to put in the new battery yourself. Or it’ll cost $50 for the battery and Rapid Repair to do it.

For do-it-yourself folks, swapping in a new battery on an iPhone 3G or 3GS isn’t terribly difficult. The units have tiny screws for removing the outer shell, and the battery has a pluggable module. This wasn’t the case with the original iPhone, which had a battery that was soldered to the unit.

Vronko hasn’t seen the iPad yet, although he figures battery replacement won’t be easy given the iPad’s unibody design. Another sign is the fact that Apple itself plans to replace whole iPads rather than batteries.

“My guess is that the iPad is going to be more difficult for end users to open up the case without damaging it, in order to replace the battery,” Vronko says.

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for in Silicon Valley.


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