iPad 2 with dead/swollen battery - Apple refuses to fix it and wants to charge $240 for replacement

I will admit that I've been a bit of an "Apple Fanboy" for a long time now. Today I am afraid, this relationship has finally come to an end.

Let me explain: I've been an "early-adopter" Apple customer for about 29 years, starting with my first Apple IIe in 1983, first Mac in 1984, etc. (in the last 18 months alone, I've purchased: 3 iPhone 5, 2 iPhone 4S, 1 15" MBP w/ Retina, 2 new iPad2 March 2012, 1 Apple TV, 1 Time Capsule 3TB, 2 Mac Pro, 1 MBP 15" Aug 2011, 1 27" Thunderbolt display, etc.). As such, I have followed Apple's products and also product recalls over time and know that Apple normally stands by its products to the extent that systematic battery failures, like they occurred in the MacBook Air were met with a well-designed recall program that provided customers with a battery replacement plus a replacement of the top case if that was damaged by the swollen battery.

I was, therefore, very surprised about the turn of events today:

I had purchased a new iPad (3rd generation) in March this year and pre-ordered it on the day it was announced. Since then my iPad 2 has been sitting in a drawer of my desk, and I was recently approached at our Rotary Club by our exchange student from Germany on whether I had a tablet computer to donate to him. Obviously I felt that the iPad 2 would be ideal for such a donation, but when I tried to charge it this morning, it showed the following symptoms:

  • It would not start without the power adapter being plugged in
  • When plugged it, it showed a 100% battery charge
  • However, when removing the plug, it immediately shut down, so the battery is clearly no longer functional
  • I left the iPad plugged in, but noticed that after a while the top glass started lifting up at the right edge - very likely due to an expanding battery
  • The iPad 2 is entirely unusable in this state and it is just 19 months since I had bought it and a little over six months since I last used it
Here is a photo of the iPad 2 atop my barograph where the lifting of the glass can be seen on the right edge just a little bit to the left of the volume buttons:

2012 11 05 13 32 22

I figured that since battery issues such as this one are well-known and documented, it would be an easy appointment at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store Northshore Mall in Peabody today.

You can imagine my surprise, when the genius I was assigned to politely listened to my story and then informed me that my only option was to buy a new replacement iPad 2 for $240 (i.e. at some discount compared to the new price).

Even though the iPad 2 is obviously out of warranty, I was expecting this to be a free replacement due to the systemic nature of battery issues in various Apple products (including many cases documented for the iPad 2 in the Apple Support forums) and due to the fact that in case of such systemic issues a recall is mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. In the worst case, I was expecting to be charged about $40-50 for a new battery if this was considered a border-line case because I left the iPad 2 in a drawer for 6 months.

But being asked to pay $240 when all I wanted to do was donate the iPad to a Rotary exchange student felt like an inappropriate reply. Therefore, I asked to speak to the manager and was kept waiting for 10 minutes. After that time a certain Mr. Kevin Alumbaugh came out and introduced himself as the manager on duty and politely listened to my story again, only to offer me the exact same choice. When I suggested to him that (a) this case was similar to the swollen battery issues in the MacBook Air and (b) he should perhaps look at my purchase history with Apple and (c) consider to be more open to the potential that this might also be a systematic issue and warrant a free replacement as well as sending the device to Apple's QC department, he changed his tone, became rather confrontational, and started berating me about several things:

  1. He questioned how I could know that this was a battery issue even though I had clearly explained all the symptoms and the fact that the glass started lifting off when I attempted to charge the battery. The fact that published images of various gadget blogs also clearly show the battery at the right side of the case where the top glass lifted off on my iPad apparently did not factor into his consideration.
  2. He berated me with the words "maybe that's how you run your business, but at Apple we treat each customer the same" when I pointed out that he should maybe consider that it is in general not such a good idea for companies to upset their early-adopter customers.
  3. He explained that Apple could not open or repair the iPad, so even if the battery died after 18 months, the only option is to throw away the entire device. According to Kevin, Apple was being extremely generous to me to offer a $240 replacement path even though my warranty had already run out, rather than forcing me to upgrade to the latest model.

At no time did he offer any alternative path than for me to pay $240 for a refurbished replacement iPad 2.

I ended the conversation at that point, asked him for his business card (which indicated that he was actually from a different Apple store at Pheasant Lane in NH), and advised him that I would reconfirm his position with Apple PR before blogging about it tonight.

Since then I have emailed Apple's PR team and asked them to confirm whether the following points are indeed Apple's official position with respect to an iPad 2 that no longer works due to a dead battery and shows clear signs of an expanding ("swollen") battery including lifting off of the to glass at the right edge:

  • Apple does not consider iPad 2 battery issues to fall under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and refuses to engage in a product recall of such units
  • Apple is not interested in having the device sent to quality control in order to investigate further whether or not a product recall is warranted
  • Apple does consider it an extremely generous offer when they ask a customer to pay $240 for a refurbished replacement unit only 19 months after the original purchase
  • Apple finds nothing wrong with the idea that after 19 months a tablet device has to be thrown away just because a battery has failed

Sadly, I have not received any response to my inquiry from Apple PR by the time I published this to the blog.

Clearly, just a little over one year after Steve's passing, the company has lost its way and is now demonstrating an arrogant and presumptuous posture towards customers. Combined with the various 3rd generation iPad issues with LTE, iCloud, etc., the restore issues when migrating from iPhone 4S to 5, the recent Maps disaster, increased criticism of the closed eco-system, and extensive and ever-increasing competition in terms of tablets from the Google Nexus, the Amazon Kindle Fire, and the Microsoft Surface, this could be early signs of the decline of Apple.

UPDATE: Several days after posting this to my blog I received a phone call from Kristin Gitlitz, manager at the Apple Store North Shore Mall and she told me that she would like to take another look at that iPad. I was traveling in Europe on a business trip during that time, so I made an appointment with her on Sunday, November 18. After running some battery tests on the device and having a technician open it up, she confirmed that it was a battery issue and promptly told me that there was a $99 fix available rather than the $240 replacement. Furthermore, she agreed to provide that fix for free as a compensation for all the trouble I previously had to go through. Well done, Apple. Thank you for restoring my faith!