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How to Tell if You Need a New iPhone Battery


It wasn’t that long ago—December 2017—that Apple admitted it
was indeed slowing down iPhones over time on purpose. Ostensibly,
this was to make sure you didn’t want to throw your phone against a wall after
an OS upgrade because the batteries inside were becoming a real drag on
performance and sometimes causing unexpected shutdowns. Apple throttled the
battery output to the CPU down on older iPhones so the battery would last a
little longer and shutdowns would cease.

The slowdown in performance was discovered when replacing a battery put
older iPhones back to full performance. Which would have been a good
thing—if the general public had been told about it upfront.

In response to that
kerfuffle
, Apple offered $29 replacement batteries for select older iPhone
models throughout 2018. However, Apple did not stop throttling
older iPhones. The difference is, it’ll actually tell you about it now. And
by tell, I mean, you can go looking for the info in your iPhone’s battery
settings.

Is your iPhone’s battery capacity bad enough that it needs a
replacement? That can be a scary process for your expensive life-line to all
connectivity, especially if you’re quarantined at home. And it isn’t cheap. It
costs $49 for older iPhones or $69 the X, XS, XR and 11 models, if you go
through Apple
.

It could mean relinquishing your iPhone for days. Apple Stores could do it during a lunch hour, but who knows when
they’ll reopen
? Same likely goes for any
third-party fix-it shop; if you do go to one, make sure they wash their hands.
Or do it yourself—iFixit sells
iPhone Battery Kits
, including tools for $29.99 for iPhone 8/8 Plus, with
more expensive options for the X, XR, and XS Max ($44.99) and XS ($84.99).

iFixit Kits

Before you decide, make sure to dig into the data about your
iPhone’s battery to determine if the replacement is even warranted. Rest
assured, if you hang onto your iPhone long enough, it will be warranted
eventually.

Beware of ‘Performance Management’

In iOS 11.3, released in March 2018, Apple added Battery Health
in order to save face amidst legal battles related to BatteryGate. (Eventually,
Apple
agreed to pay everyone affected
by it $25 each, part of a class-action
lawsuit; total cost to Apple in the end will be between $310-$500 million.)

The Battery Health option exists to provide the smallest
modicum of transparency about the capacity of an iPhone’s battery, and if iOS
is crippling iPhone performance. Supposedly, iOS will only throttle the power
to the CPU if your battery is below 100 percent capacity and it has
one unexpected shutdown.

In iOS 11.3 or later go to Settings > Battery.
At the bottom, Apple now includes lovely bar graphs showing your iPhone
battery-charge levels and screen activity over the last 24 hours or 10 days.

iPhone battery settings

You
can also see the full battery usage per app. That’s a nice way to determine if
some app is in the background sucking up all the juice, but mostly it’s about
activity time. (You can toggle back and forth between Activity and Battery Usage.)

Battery Usage by App

Above
those, tap Battery Health. This is the area of importance.
Next to Maximum Capacity is a percentage of how much your
battery can currently hold in comparison to when it was brand new. The lower it
is, the worse things are for all the lithium-ion inside holding the power.

Peak
Performance Capability 
is the one to watch. It might say “Your battery is
currently supporting normal peak performance.” That means it is, as Data
used to say on Star Trek, functioning within
normal parameters.

Battery Health panel on iPhone

However, it might say “This iPhone has experienced an
unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary
peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from
happening again.”

That last bit is a flowery way of saying “we throttled the power to
your CPU for your own good.” Thankfully, the option should be right there
for you to disable performance management.

Disable Peak Performance Capability

Be aware that if the phone has another unexpected shutdown
that iOS blames on the weak battery getting sucked hard by the CPU, it’ll apply
performance management throttling all over again.

You may also see a message that says your iPhone battery’s
health can’t be determined, or that it is so sufficiently degraded that now is
the time for you to replace it. That generally won’t happen until the maximum
capacity is lower than 80 percent after 500
complete charge cycles
 (read more about that in
our story about battery myths
).

With the iOS 11.3 update, Apple locked apps out of looking
at the battery capacity or charge cycle number. Way to keep it transparent,
Cupertino. However, for more details on what’s happening inside the iPhone,
download an app like Lirum Device Info Lite. It doesn’t look at battery info,
but does chart the ups and downs of your iPhone chip’s performance under This
Device > CPU > CPU Actual Clock
 (versus the CPU Maximum Clock;
you want to see the same number for both). You’ll be able to see performance
changes in real time.

If you want to do any of this on your iPad or even the iPod
touch—you can’t. Battery Health is only available on iPhones, because Apple
isn’t throttling iPads and the iPod touch. However, the charts displaying
charge levels and screen activity are available.

If you’re interested in counting exactly how many charge cycles your
iPhone (or iPad or iPod touch) have been through, that’s not easy to find but
there are desktop apps that can help. CoconutBattery 3 for macOS or the $35 iBackupBot for Windows can pull data from an iDevice
connected to a PC and display the “cycle count” number, among other
data. At anything over 500 charges, your iPhone battery has seen better days;
for iPad the number is more like 1,000 cycles (it has a
bigger battery).

Decide to Upgrade

So what’s the criteria for getting a new battery? Certainly,
consider it if you see the performance management kick in too often or the Lirum Device Info app displays a significant downgrade in the CPU Actual Clock
number. Definitely upgrade if the iPhone’s own Peak Performance Capability says
your battery health is “significantly degraded.”

If you’re brave and/or cheap, get the iFixit battery replacement kit
option. Otherwise, you may have to live with the problem until the 2020
quarantine comes to end, or until you mail-order your next complete iPhone
upgrade.

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