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Last week I discovered that Apple will happily replace the battery of out-of-warranty iPhones, even those as old as my first-generation SE. The fifty-dollar service charge offers an attractive alternative to the price of an entire, brand-new phone, but I felt much more interested by the chance to squeeze a few more years’ use out of this marvelous device. I have no desire to upgrade.
Six years ago I downgraded from a shiny new iPhone 6 to my well-worn 5, unable to cope with the newer model’s size and weight. As I wrote at the time, the phone had long since become an extension of my body, with the specifics of its physicality absolutely part of the fact. Apple nonchalantly but profoundly changing its mass and dimensions gave me an extremely modern but very real crisis of personal composition, a Ship of Theseus problem I hadn’t prepared for.
I never did change my tune about any of this stuff! I have only upgraded my phone once since writing that article, moving to the John Gruber-blessed iPhone SE in late 2016. When its battery inevitably became old enough to drain out within an hour or two of daytime use, I resolved to let the phone see me through the entirety of the Trump administration—after which I’d eject it from my life, perhaps like a biblical scapegoat, carrying the troubles of 2020 on its dented, discarded frame.
When we at last reached that happy milestone together, I did look around, skeptically. There is a new phone carrying the “SE” name, even heavier than that iPhone 6 I couldn’t abide in 2015. Apple’s smallest, lightest offering is the brand-new iPhone 12 Mini: about as heavy as the 6, and lacking the thumbprint-scanning technology that Apple abandoned for face-scanning before the pandemic struck. I didn’t want any of these.
Thus did I find myself in conversation with a fellow SE fan recently, sharing the pain of having these fantastic old phones with spry brains but senescent batteries. Since the iPod days, Apple has famously regarded batteries as an internal organ, not something for customers to tamper with, and of course they would rather tempt you with the latest year’s models when any machine’s battery starts its inevitable decline.
The conversation prompted me to finally scope out the iPhone SE battery-replacement landscape, fully expecting to nose around gray-market chop-shops, hopeful I’d find one operating in New York City during the pandemic. Imagine my reaction when the first search-engine hit belonged to that apple.com support page, with an invitation to bring my little phone to a nearby store and budget an hour or two for its rejuvenation!
And that is just what I did, and I couldn’t be happier about it. My SE runs the very latest iOS revision as well as any of its younger, larger cousins—and now it can finally do so while sitting in my pocket all day until its bedtime charge, just like old times.
Apple has a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for encouraging a disposable mindset among its customers, and for valuing novelty and fashion over long-lived practical value. But I write this article in early 2021 on the 2012 MacBook whose battery I replaced in 2018, a service that Apple was pleased to extend onto my phone—as soon as I had worked up the gumption to ask, anyway. I feel grateful that the company does continue to quietly support their older, still-excellent models, even if they’d always prefer that you bought a new one instead.
If you rely on an iPhone SE—or another older iPhone model, whenever you happen to read this—do consider rolling into an Apple Store to schedule a battery replacement, as alternative to trading up for the latest model. For a few dozen dollars, really does feel like youthful vitality brought back to a withered limb.
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