Battery Adventure with my Series 4 Watch

This started four months ago.

I noticed my watch battery wasn’t lasting as long as it once did. Instead of going to bed at 11pm with 40-50% battery, I would run out at 10pm, then 9pm. I started to see the red glyph on my watch that says it’s disconnected from my phone more often, at peak 10-20 times a day.

I began to troubleshoot:

  1. Unpair my watch & restore from backup
  2. Wipe phone & restore from backup
  3. Unpair my watch & setup as new.

Nothing has brought my watch anywhere close to back to normal.

I’m not using a lot of apps on my watch. I have a couple complications I use from 3rd party apps (Carrot weather mostly!) and they update infrequently.

I am trying to determine what I can do to bring my battery life back to where it was for the first six months of life. I have no idea how to do this, and strangely, neither does Apple.

My Support Journey

Back in May when I first noticed this, I went to Apple’s Carnegie Library location in DC to get this fixed. Diagnostics were done, nothing was found, and I was offered their only service option: we can send it out for a week and get it serviced. No loaner, no replacement unit, just an all expenses paid week for the watch at the Austin service depot. Too much, I thought. I could deal with a 10% alert at bedtime.

Now that alert arrives at 8pm.

In June, I shattered the glass on my iPhone and had that repaired, while I waited in a comfortable atrium working on fast Wi-Fi. 90 minutes later, I had a good as new phone. Even if I’d bent the case or done more damage, I would’ve left the store with a working phone under my AppleCare+ arrangement with Apple. Service units exist for the iPhone, why not for the Watch, too?

Two weeks ago, I started to poke at this again, knowing full well the complications the beta cycle would add to my support experience. I asked informally at the store if they had advice while picking up another repair. They advised the app would be a good way to approach this.

I used the Apple Support app and got a responsive and polite but ultimately unsuccessful support engineer who tried to help but was unable to do so, despite diagnostics and support efforts. They didn’t want to leave me unhelped, though, and arranged a callback from someone who could help with devices that had the beta installed.

I spoke with the phone support agent and repeated the process, but got no further than being asked if I could send them the watch for a week. Instead, I arranged with the phone support agent to go to the store for the diagnostics instead, since at least there I’d have a person who could tell me what was up.

Today was the visit to the Carnegie Library store, back where I started. I sat with a Genius for 20 minutes who confirmed I was having a problem, but couldn’t explain it, or help resolve it any further. I was offered a mail-in repair on the spot, no loaner. I could call if I wanted to setup an advance replacement for $30, but the only way to do that was over the phone.

My Self-Diagnosis

There’s a clear, demonstrable and repeatable problem with my watch. It doesn’t stay connected to my phone all the time, even when it’s close by. This is the symptom, there’s an underlying problem with the bluetooth stack on one or both devices that is causing dropouts in the connection. I cannot repeat this with my AirPods, Car stereo, or bluetooth speaker, but I am getting odd latency on my Tile reports.

I don’t have the tools to diagnose this, as far as I can tell, and apparently neither does Apple. What they do have, as device manufacturers, and the makers of the software that runs them, is unlimited latitude to make things right by switching devices out. They have opted not to do that, citing a lack of damage.

I have a broken watch, or a broken phone. I’ll find out in ten days when my new phone arrives. I am frustrated that the diagnostics cannot explain what’s going on with the disconnects between the Watch and the iPhone.

What Apple Watch Means To Me

Apple Watch has been my constant companion since the Series 0. I owned the first Apple Watch, then the Series 2, and now a Series 4. While I find it awkward to wear a watch — I’m no horophile(1) — the taps on my wrist have allowed me a greater freedom to be in touch with my profession while being distinct from my phone. I can keep distractions at bay in meetings, but still be reachable for emergencies. I can keep focus on my clients without losing track of an emergency. I’ve written at length about how my Apple Watch saved me thousands of dollars at the emergency room and cardiologist this year. Apple is definitely right when they call it their most personal device. So, why won’t they treat it like that in their stores? Why not support trade-ins for repair on the spot? There is an incredibly healthy refurbished market for these units that Apple participates in, after all.

Apple talks a big game, and often delivers. I was delighted with the video that lead off the iPhone 11 announcement event, and I was doubly delighted that Apple understands how to market how helpful the Watch is as a product. Apple says: Give people wonderful tools and they will do wonderful things. They are right. I can do marvelous, magical, incredible things with the technical Apple sells.

When it stays healthy.

  1. You might think this would be chronophilia. A quick Google set me back on the right path. Whew. Glad I checked.