Dear Apple, I Got an iPhone Lemon!

Poor battery life frustrates some iPhone owners, while analysts criticize Apple's lack of response. So what's causing battery drain? And what should you do about it?

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Wed, July 15, 2009

CIO — In the early days of automobile manufacturing, some cars coming off the factory line just weren't up to snuff—but were sold to consumers anyway. They simply didn't perform as well as others or more easily broke down. Lights flickered and hinges squeaked. They were called lemons.

Such history of lemons led to consumer protection legislation, called lemon laws, forcing manufacturers to either buyback or replace defective cars. Manufacturers, apparently, weren't taking the initiative to address consumer complaints. They had turned a deaf ear.

All of which brings us to Apple. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests there are more than a few iPhone 3GS lemons in the market. Apple's own user discussion boards have been filling up with consumer complaints over the iPhone 3GS battery life. Readers of stories about iPhone batteries continue to air their complaints in comment sections or e-mail them to editors.

[ Check out the iPhone's three big problem areas. | Learn how to prevent the iPhone from overheating. ]

Yet these consumers are repeatedly and publicly shot down by Apple loyalists who insist in online comments that, among other things, battery drain is caused by users' technical ineptitude. Or they blame the media for making a mountain out of a molehill. As for Apple? There's nary a sound out of Apple headquarters in Cupertino, which hasn't responded to a request for an interview for this story. Advice from Apple gurus in Apple Stores also varies widely, iPhone owners told me.

Market researcher Gartner doesn't have access to data that could verify or debunk the iPhone lemon, but analyst Ken Dulaney, who covers the iPhone, says he is aware of the battery issue. "At this point, the only one who can bring clarity to this is Apple," which isn't talking, he says. "One complaint is all it takes to smoke out how Apple relates to its customers, how it tracks down problems and what it does to resolve them. This is just as important as to whether there is a problem or not."

While consumers look for ways to breathe life into iPhone batteries, says Dulaney, CIOs supporting iPhones in their enterprises better take notice. Other problems will surely crop up, and CIOs will need Apple to step up and respond to them quickly and methodically, he says. "If Apple won't handle these correctly, woe be the CIO who commits to build applications on the iPhone," Dulaney says.

Case of the Dead Batteries

Battery life is a major factor in the purchasing decision of any smartphone. That's why Apple touted improvements of the iPhone 3GS battery at its Worldwide Developers Conference last month: The iPhone 3GS would deliver 9 hours of use on Wi-Fi, 10 hours of video playback and 30 hours of music on a single charge—about a 30 percent upgrade to the iPhone 3G.

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