Apple: We slow down your old iPhones -- for your own benefit

An example of corporate empathy, or of planned obsolescence and marketing pressure? After a Reddit post on slowing performance of older iPhones went viral, independent researchers at Primate Labs conducted their own tests on older models. They determined that the phenomenon was not only real but appeared to be linked to operating system upgrades that most users approve without thinking.


NPR reports that Apple admitted that they deliberately slow the processor speed on older models without notifying their customers. The reason, they claim, is to extend the life of older batteries in those models:

“Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery 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 now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.”

Perhaps that will satisfy some of Apple’s customers, but probably not too many of them. Suspicions of planned obsolescence have already arisen, and Primate Labs’ founder says that’s not an unreasonable assumption:

Explaining how Apple’s approach could feed suspicions of “planned obsolescence,” John Poole, founder of Geekbench parent Primate Labs, writes, “users may believe that the slow down is due to [central processing unit] performance, instead of battery performance.”

Despite the battery being the reason that Apple is slowing the phones, Poole adds, “This fix will also cause users to think, ‘My phone is slow so I should replace it’ not, ‘My phone is slow so I should replace its battery.’ “


On the other hand, Hanlon’s Razor might apply here: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. Apple Insider says the issue is incompetence, not a conspiracy:

As a side-effect of the thread, and consequent reporting of it, the conspiracy theory suggesting that Apple intentionally slows down older iPhones to force purchasing a new device has risen again. It has been conclusively proven that older iPhone hardware with an adequately functioning battery is no slower than it was at launch.

The issue continues to not be a Apple-led conspiracy to force users to buy new hardware. Apple is not slowing down older devices to convince users to buy a new one. If it did, the throttling would be permanent, and a new battery would not solve the issue. …

However, it has been poorly communicated by Apple as to what is going on. In the interest of user transparency, AppleInsider suggested to our sources that Apple implement a customer warning that the device is being throttled because of battery wear.

The problem is even more basic than that. Why didn’t Apple just include an option for throttling on old batteries in these software upgrades? Let the consumer decide whether to throttle performance in lieu of buying a new battery or risk the occasional shutdowns that result from full-speed usage. At the very least, consumers would then be aware of the phenomenon — and who knows? It might just result in more robust battery sales, although that in itself might result in slightly less enthusiasm for new sales of the latest iPhone models.


Failing that, one can’t blame Apple customers who find out they’ve been kept in the dark from thinking that the choice was deliberate, and that the intent was to benefit Apple more than themselves. After all, if it was for the consumers’ benefit, why not brag about it?

As NPR also notes, this has some Macbook users wondering whether this performance issue might also apply to older laptops. I might be one of them, having just complained about these performance issues yesterday to my wife when I needed to use an old back-up while resolving a system-update freeze on my newer Macbook Air. Perhaps Apple might want to get out ahead of those questions this time.

Addendum: This didn’t take long. Let a thousand lawyers bloom!

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