Apple Slows Down Older Phones

The tech giant cops flack over auto-throttling some iPhones as part of so-called better power management capabilities. Is this merely a cynical move to encourage upgrading your device?


Piers Cunningham: Apple computer has been in trouble recently over accusations that it’s deliberating slowing down older phones with a view to forcing people to upgrade to newer models. This has been a story that’s been in the news from sort of late last year, late 2017. Doesn’t seem to be dying down, but they have been some answers offered by various parties, including Apple itself, which I’ll come to a little bit later.

Basically, as batteries get older on your phone, they don’t hold their charges as well as newer batteries do. And can have problems when the charge is low or the temperature is cold. And anyone who’s been skiing or you live in a cold climate, the East cost of North America and also Europe have recently experienced some pretty extremely low temperatures, and this may affect the function of older iPhones. And any phone for that matter, because batteries don’t do well in the cold. The Lithium ion technology’s vulnerable to cold. In fact, that affects even newer phones as well. As the battery degrades over time, then you can expect to have more of an accentuated problem if you’re in a cold climate.

Now the explanation that’s been offered, is that the iPhone 6 and 6S, their processors in those phones try to hit faster speeds, which is what they’re designed to do, but their batteries can’t handle that as they’ve got older and that prompts some phones to switch themselves off or to have other problems.

Now, Apple’s iOS software, starting with last year’s iOS 10.2.1, incorporated a circled better power management capabilities. According to Apple, the operating system is actually designed now to slow down your device to prevent it from shutting down, but only in cases of cold temperature or low battery charge or very old batteries. So, instead of your processor completing a task immediately, it will spread that out over more attempts, to help manage the power consumption.

According to Apple, and as I said there have been accusations this is a deliberate ploy to get people to upgrade, particularly when there’s new products around, the iPhone Ace and the iPhone X are new products launched late last year by Apple and they would love everyone to be switching over to those. Apple says, ‘Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolong the life of their devices. Lithium ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low batter charge, or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components. Last year, we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6S, and iPhone SE, to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve not extended that feature to the iPhone 7, with iOS 11.2 and plan to add support for other products in the future.’

Now this statement from Apple came in response to a report from Geek Bench. They had benchmarked the processor and according to John Paul, the founder of the organization, he said in a blog post that the processor in an iPhone slow down and decrease in performance as batteries age and lose capacity. Paul explained that users expect their phones to work the same, regardless of how the battery is, but his test indicated that isn’t the case.

Another quite loud critic is Marco Arment, he’s an iOS developer who co-founded Tumblr and he tweeted that ‘The reputation damage from secretly slowing down old iPhones, regardless of the reason, will likely linger for a decade.’ So he’s saying this is a pretty big blow to the reputation of Apple. And many people called for Apple to notify users when it started dropping their phones performance, as well as to give them a setting or a control over this, to allow them to decide whether they slow down or not.

So, you know, different attitudes to this. Some people are saying that this is a really terrible thing. I believe that if you go to the Apple homepage, they have dropped the price of replacing … of battery replacements for some of their older phones. And this is in response to the criticism that’s come about because of this disclosure about the way the software updates have actually been affecting the performance of some older phones. You can get a fairly cheap battery replacement now, through Apple. Obviously there are a lot of other companies that do this and that will go a long way to address this issue with slowing down, because obviously the software is designed to pick up on poor battery performance. So, if you’ve got a new battery in there, then it won’t throttle your processor.

Another alternative view on this whole fiasco and this whole controversy, if you like, is from Ben Bajarin who’s an analyst at Creative Strategies. And he reckons that Apple should give users the option. Quoting him, ‘The battery life issue for Apple an iPhones is a fascinating one, because the average life of an iPhone is so much longer than other devices’, he tweeted. ‘It is their attempt, Apple’s attempt, to problem solve for lots of people who hold onto phones for three years or longer.’

So that’s the kind of positive view on this. That Apple knows that there are a lot of older phones out there and they’ve introduced this tweak to their software to actually help those people get better performance in the longer run out of the older phones. So, I’m not sure which way you sit on this. I, personally, I think it’s kind of one of those things that’s been beaten up by the media as a criticism of Apple, a bit like antenna gate and bend gate and some of these other sort of controversies that have surrounded some of the launches or followed on big product launches. There’s still controversy about the iPhone X. But, at the end of the day, as pointed out by Ben Bajarin, these phones last a lot longer than your average Android based phone. They tend to have better longevity, which basically means they’re better made phones. And the software is designed so that you can run, you know, even the most recent … the latest software updates, you can actually still run on older phones that are, you know, perhaps three or four years old. Even going back to the 5S, there about. Certainly the 6 will run quite happily the very latest iOS release.
Now that’s not necessarily the case with a lot of Android phones. The processors or just the way the phones are, the internal workings of the phone, just will not allow them to run … an older Android based phone to run the latest Android software. I think, in some ways, we have to be grateful that Apple does support its older phones in this way. And I personally believe, this is a bit of a beat up and a criticism of Apple. I think it’s very cynical to say that they’ve done this to force people to upgrade or to surreptitiously, you know, give people no choice. They just go, “Oh, my phone’s not working properly, I’ve got to get a new one.”

The lesson that comes out of this for Apple, is that they need to be more open in their disclosure of these kind of tweaks that they make to software, so that people don’t go, “Oh, what’s wrong with my phone.” And end up with these, perhaps, cynical suggestions that they’ve done it to force people to upgrade to newer devices, newer versions of the iPhone. The best way to get around that criticism is to be more open in disclosure and let people know. And also make it controllable, so that you can choose to have this throttling down or not. That’s my take on it.
Thanks for listening.