What's up with these cracks on my wife's iPhone 3GS?
November 14, 2012 7:58 AM   Subscribe

So my wife sent me a picture of the back of her old iPhone 3GS, which she uses to listen to Internet radio through the stereo at work. She said, "It looks like something is fighting its way out of the case." Can anyone tell me what's going on?

My first thought was that it fell off of its usual (high) shelf, cracking the hell out of the backplate when it smacked the floor, and someone replaced it without telling her. But I want to make sure it's not, say, an indicator that the battery has gone bad, is swelling, and is on the verge of exploding and sending shrapnel flying through the room. A Google search turned up lots of cracked backplates, but I didn't see any that looked like this.
posted by Mothlight to Technology (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a side-on or end-on shot? It's hard to see how much it's bulging from that angle.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:01 AM on November 14, 2012

Lithium batteries swell up just before they fail.
posted by ryanrs at 8:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

My guess is that the battery is swollen. I understand this can happen if the phone overheats, which can happen if the phone is in a case.
posted by SillyShepherd at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2012

It does look like the battery swelling, and a swollen/leaking battery is not for messing around with.

(I had a Macbook battery swell up in a similar way once, and Apple replaced it free out of warranty, so that's worth a try.)
posted by Catseye at 8:11 AM on November 14, 2012

A Google image search for swollen iPhone 3GS seems to confirm that it's the battery.
posted by inturnaround at 8:11 AM on November 14, 2012

Yes, the battery is fighting its way out of the case. I've personally seen a 3G/3GS where this happened. In the one I saw, I don't think the battery ever exploded, but you should probably look into replacing it since it's not likely to last much longer.
posted by Nothlit at 8:11 AM on November 14, 2012

This is probably redundant at this point, but here's the profile shot. A few months ago a friend borrowed this phone and it spent some time in a very hot car, so I'm guessing this is a result. I'll tell her to decommission the phone for now and we'll see whether it's worth trying to get the battery (and backplate, I guess) replaced.

Thanks for the quick help!
posted by Mothlight at 8:17 AM on November 14, 2012

Yeah, definitely the battery. In the 3Gs, the battery is glued to the inside of the back plate.
posted by jamaro at 8:17 AM on November 14, 2012

Oh, the replacement battery sounds like a fun mini afternoon project. I wonder if we could use the same old backplate. (Assuming we're not worried about cosmetics.)
posted by Mothlight at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2012

BTW, this type of battery failure counts as a defect. Apple may replace the phone depending on how long you've had it and if you have Applecare.
posted by ryanrs at 8:28 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, this is a serious failure & Apple will probable replace the phone, no questions asked.
posted by pharm at 8:40 AM on November 14, 2012

Anecdotally, I had a MBP do the swollen battery thing (after being left in a hot car for an extended period), and Apple replaced the battery free of charge at a Genius Bar, no questions asked.
posted by woodvine at 9:52 AM on November 14, 2012

I had a MB Air with a swollen battery and the Apple Store fixed it right up, including replacing the casing and other stuff, even though it was out of warrantee. So def bring it in there.
posted by saul wright at 10:35 AM on November 14, 2012

Back it up, *then* bring it to an Apple store.
posted by bink at 11:43 AM on November 14, 2012

There is a very slight possibility that the battery will catch fire, so stop using the phone (and don't put it near anything flammable) until it's fixed.
posted by cnc at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2012

A battery this swollen is nothing to mess around with. To the Apple Store, pronto! Back it up, but don't delay.... and meantime, don't put it in the pocket or leave it near something flammable.

if you've ever seen a lithium battery catch fire, you won't dawdle!
posted by drhydro at 4:00 PM on November 14, 2012

The Apple Store was very nice about it, but I don't think they had seen this problem before. We were escalated to what I assume was a high-level Genius. He promised to take it apart and have a look and disappeared into the back. Unfortunately, the service manual apparently recommended that he NOT open the phone under the circumstances. Because the phone is out of warranty, he offered to swap it for a new 3GS for a $150 fee. End of story. Thanks, all, for the advice!
posted by Mothlight at 8:37 PM on November 14, 2012

I would push back pretty hard on that Mothlight. A battery really shouldn't fail in that fashion & it's indicative of a fault that was probably present when the phone was manufactured. Apple should replace the phone.
posted by pharm at 4:48 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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