Looking inside a (fake) iPhone 5S battery

Considering how popular the iPhone is, there’s always going to be some counterfeits out there. I’ve been out buying various iPhone batteries to build a database of each generation’s characteristics, but one model has eluded me so far: the iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C’s battery that I bought appears to be genuine (but with its own issues), but none of the iPhone 5S batteries I’ve bought so far (4 of them at the time of writing this blog post) were genuine. All of these fakes look like a genuine battery at first glance, but all of them share a few common traits.

Battery teardown

The fake battery sports the usual iPhone battery information, complete with some dot-matrix printed data and a data-matrix barcode. It’s labeled with a capacity of 1560 mAh and 3.8 volts nominal voltage.

Comparison between real and fake iPhone 5S battery

Comparison between real and fake iPhone 5S battery

The connector itself has two points for soldering the connector to provide durability. However, with the fake batteries, they are not soldered down. The two spots on the ends of the connectors are dark with a small point visible inside it (that point is the reinforcement pin on the connector). If this connector is installed in an iPhone, it will probably not come out without either damaging the battery’s connector, or worse, leave the plastic connector piece inside the phone, requiring tweezers to remove.

Connector lifted off with a hobby knife

Connector lifted off with a hobby knife

iPhone 5S and 5C battery pinout

iPhone 5S and 5C battery pinout

Removing the black protective tape reveals an iPhone 4 battery fuel gauge board. The connector is soldered to this board, with four solder points visible.

iPhone 4 battery PCB with soldered-on flat flex connector

iPhone 4 battery PCB with soldered-on flat flex connector

Pulling out the PCB  reveals another characteristic of these fake batteries: the positive terminal is cut short, with another metal section being clumsily spot-welded to the stub on the cell.

Note how the battery tab is poorly welded to the PCB.

Note how the battery tab is poorly welded to the PCB.

Battery fuel gauge data

The battery fuel gauge requires proper programming to accurately indicate the battery’s charge status. Because of this, each iPhone battery generation has its own specific configuration.

The fake iPhone battery retains the programming for the iPhone 4’s battery, which is a designed capacity of 1420 mAh, using a bq27541 fuel gauge running version 1.25 firmware. The data inside it is often that of a used/recycled battery as well.

This data can be (partially) read out directly from the iPhone with a tool such as iBackupBot, but more data can be read if the battery is read with another tool. I have the EV2400 from Texas Instruments to read this out on a PC, but this data can be read out with a USB-to-TTL serial port, a logic gate (a logic inverter) and a small MOSFET transistor.

I created a small tool that uses this circuit to interface with the fuel gauge and read out its data. Check it out here.

Using my tool, this is the report for one of these fake batteries. Note how it is identified as an iPhone 4 battery. Don’t be fooled by the calculated state of health. It’s not accurate for this battery as the fuel gauge still thinks it’s still inside an iPhone 4 battery pack.


**** START OF HDQ BATTERY LOG REPORT ****
HDQ Gas Gauge Readout Tool version 0.9 by Jason Gin
Date: 9/30/2014
Time: 0:52:24
Serial port: COM26

Battery Identification
========================
DEVICE_TYPE = 0x0541, FW_VERSION = 0x0125, DESIGN_CAPACITY = 1420 mAh
Battery's configuration matches that of a standard iPhone 4 battery.

Basic Battery Information
===========================
Device = bq27541 v.1.25, hardware rev. 0x00B5, data-flash rev. 0x0000
Voltage = 3804 mV
Current = 0 mA
Power = 0 mW
State of charge = 45%
Reported state of health = 0%
Calculated state of health = 99.3%
Cycle count = 14 times
Time to empty = N/A (not discharging)
Temperature = 27.9 °C (80.3 °F) (3009 raw)
Designed capacity = 1420 mAh
Heavy load capacity = 628/1410 mAh
Light load capacity = 673/1455 mAh

Advanced Battery Information
==============================
Capacity discharged = 0 mAh
Depth of discharge at last OCV update = ~778 mAh (8768 raw)
Maximum load current = -200 mA
Impedance Track chemistry ID = 0x0163
Reset count = 11 times

Flags = 0x0180
Flag interpretation:
* Fast charging allowed
* Good OCV measurement taken
* Not discharging

Control Status = 0x6219
Control Status interpretation:
* SEALED security state
* SLEEP power mode
* Constant-power gauging
* Qmax update voltage NOT OK (Or in relax mode)
* Impedance Track enabled

Pack Configuration = 0x8931
Pack Configuration interpretation:
* No-load reserve capacity compensation enabled
* IWAKE, RSNS1, RSNS0 = 0x1
* SLEEP mode enabled
* Remaining Capacity is forced to Full Charge Capacity at end of charge
* Temperature sensor: External thermistor

Device name length = 7 bytes
Device name: bq27541

**** END OF HDQ BATTERY LOG REPORT ****

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Looking inside an iPhone 4/4S battery

A classmate of mine had a couple broken iPhones that he ‘relieved’ of their batteries and let me take a look at them. Being the curious type I peeled away the outer layers of tape to reveal the protection circuit. I spotted a current sense resistor, and  that got me thinking…

… can it be? Yes, I found a bq27541 fuel gauge chip inside the battery! After fooling around with the battery, I found out that the battery is using the HDQ interface.

iphone battery pinoutThe HDQ bus, which stands for ‘High-speed Data Queue’, is a single-wire communications bus used by TI fuel gauges. It’s similar to Maxim’s 1-Wire protocol but runs with different protocols and timing. It operates at 7 kilobits per second (so much for ‘high speed’ right? 😛 ) and a refresh of the data memory in the TI software can take almost half a minute. However, it’s good enough for occasional polling (like every minute or so) since it’s unlikely that the gauge will be read from every second.

The bq27541(labeled BQ 7541) in the iPhone battery runs an unusual firmware version. It’s running version 1.35 and doesn’t match with any release on TI’s website. The gas gauge is sealed so initially it seems like gaining access to the Data Flash memory would be impossible. However, in non-Apple fashion, the gauge’s passwords are left at the default; 0x36720414 and 0xFFFFFFFF for the unseal and full-access keys, respectively (and it’s not the first time Apple’s done this!). Since the firmware version is unknown, I told bqEVSW to treat the chip as if it were the bq27541-V200. I then saved only the calibration, capacity, resistance and lifetime data.

Updating the firmware over HDQ was a nightmare. It took over a dozen tries for each of the two batteries I had, and the update process took 45 minutes (!) to update the bq27541 to the V200 firmware. At one point, it seemed as if I bricked the chip, but a power-on reset of the chip by shorting the cell very quickly 😀 sent the device into ROM mode (ie. firmware-update mode). From there I used bqCONFIG to update the firmware, and it was successful! Now I could use GaugeStudio to interface with the gauge rather than the unsightly bqEVSW software.

bq27541 updated to version 2.00

bq27541 updated to version 2.00

Given how long it took for me to update the firmware of the gauge, I have doubts that iPhones will update their batteries’ firmware in-system. Hell, the iPhone OS ignores the bq27541’s State of Charge readings and substitutes its own. Nice going, Apple!

Now to start going through cell phone recycling bins to pull out dead iPhone batteries for their gauges…