Wolverton: Apple admits to bigger iPhone shutdown problem

Apple quietly acknowledged Tuesday that the unexpected iPhone shutdown problem it admitted to last month is affecting more devices than it previously announced. I, for one, am not surprised.

In a statement on its Chinese support website, Apple said a “small number of customers” whose phones aren’t eligible for the battery replacement program it announced last month have also have reported having shutdown problems. It also indicated that it believes the issue may be due to a software bug rather than the battery problem it says has affected those phones it has offered to repair.

That there’s a problem with iPhones that aren’t eligible for the battery replacement program isn’t news to me. I’m among that “small number of customers” that’s been having the same unexpected shutdown troubles but whose phone was manufactured outside of the replacement program window.

“In an effort to gather more information, we are including additional diagnostic capability in an iOS software update which will be available next week,” the company said on the Chinese support site. “This will allow us to gather information over the coming weeks which may potentially help us improve the algorithms used to manage battery performance and shutdown. If such improvements can be made, they will be delivered in future software updates.”

Apple representatives did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

But the company appears reluctant to admit that there’s a broader problem with its phones or its software. Apple didn’t offer to replace the batteries of the new group of phones. And in discussing the problem in its statement Tuesday, it suggested that the shutdowns may actually be a feature, not a bug.

“Some of these shutdowns can occur under normal conditions in order for the iPhone to protect its electronics,” the company said in the statement.

IPhone users have been complaining for months now that their phones were shutting down without warning, even while showing that they still had a significant amount of charge left in their batteries. Last month, Apple acknowledged the problem, but said it was confined to “a very small number of iPhone 6s devices” manufactured between September and October of last year. Blaming the problem on a defect in the batteries in those phones, the company offered to replace the batteries free of charge.

But some users whose phones fell outside the range have complained that their phones have been affected by similar troubles.

Last month, my phone — an iPhone 6s — started acting weird. One day it froze up while I was on a call. I could continue talking to my friend, but I couldn’t get the screen to turn on. I couldn’t check the time, view my fitness tracking program or even hang up the call on my end.

The next day, the phone simply died while I was out on a dog walk — with more than 60 percent charge left. A few days after that, it died with around 40 percent charge left. One day, while out for a walk and using just two apps — one to track my walk and another to listen to a podcast — the phone’s battery drained from 90 percent to 10 percent in the course of an hour.

To address the battery problems and to try to prevent the shutdown issues, I had to charge my phone two or even three times a day and put it on “low-power” mode nearly constantly.

After about a week of this — and after hearing about the replacement program — I took my phone into Best Buy, an authorized Apple service center, on Black Friday. Unfortunately, the Best Buy service technician told me he couldn’t do anything for me, because my phone wasn’t part of the group that was eligible for the replacement. After running what tests he could, he said he couldn’t find anything defective on my phone’s battery.

He said he could replace the battery, but I’d have to pay for it. Alternatively, I could go to the Apple store to see if the company’s own technicians could do anything more for me.

There was a long wait to get an appointment at the Apple Genius bar. After nursing my phone through several unexpected shutdowns and dealing with rapid battery drains on a daily basis, I finally got in to see a service technician on Saturday at the company’s store at Oak Ridge mall in South San Jose. The technician said he’d been seeing a lot of people coming in with battery problems.

He confirmed that that my phone wasn’t officially eligible for the battery replacement program. But after running some tests — and noting that it was still under warranty — he replaced the phone free of charge.

I was lucky; for me, that solved the problem. My new phone hasn’t had any unexpected shutdowns, and its battery is lasting me through the day on a single charge.

If you’re experiencing the unexpected shutdown problem, I recommend you go straight to the Apple store. Even if the company officially is only to replace the batteries in a small number of phones, its service technicians seem to understand there’s potentially a bigger problem here.

Photo: Apple CEO Tim Cook introduces the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus during a media event in San Francisco in September 2015. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)


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