Twitter is going crazy this week off the back of fresh evidence Apple quietly slows down older phones as they age. It seems for the first time, someone had caught Apple red-handed intentionally slowing down phones.
It all started with a post from Geekbench noting a strange trend in iPhone performance around the two-year mark: iPhone CPUs were definitely throttling themselves over time on their own without user consent.
The working theory is this: Apple threw a change into iOS 11.2.0 that under-volts the CPU intentionally as a battery ages.
Instead of telling you about it, Apple does this on your behalf, happily leading you to believe it's slow when it isn't — a fresh battery will get it back up to full speed.
A Reddit user was quick to conclude that Apple does this due to an issue a lot of people have run into called the 'sudden shutdown' issue where devices turn off suddenly at around 40 percent battery due to the voltage being too low.
Taking this at surface value, it seems rather nice that Apple handled a battery problem in the background for the user. The battery lasts longer, sacrifices system performance and ka-pow, magic happens.
What isn't nice is that it doesn't tell you at all that this is going on, and people have reported it being throttled down as low as 500mHz all the time, even with the charger plugged in.
A number of people put this to the test yesterday by performing tests, then heading into an Apple Store for a battery replacement. Boom, full performance:
It does. My 5 month old 6S throttles to 600MHz (should be 1848) even when fully charged and plugged in
— Will Nash (@willnash_) December 20, 2017
Naturally, as the rage careens out of control on social media — nothing is more clickbaity than a phone company intentionally restricting a device's capacity — Apple responds:
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.
Oh, of course! Apple just had our back the whole time, eh? I don't buy this response for a second, and Apple playing good-cop here because users is disingenuous — if it were a 'feature' you certainly should tell your users.
It's difficult to take this PR 'statement' at face value when the company went to a known good-coverage technology site, rather than issuing itself. Apple builds relationships with reporters for years for moments like these — and this wouldn't have gotten the same positive spin if someone just wrote a note on Apple.com.
Techcrunch goes on to say this morsel, dripping in sarcasm:
The gist, as it always is, is that Apple is being super petty and trying to force customers to upgrade their phones by making their old phones run slower. As always, the answer is no. It would be beyond stupid and incredibly short-sighted for Apple to do this and, if it was actually true, would likely lead to tangles of a governmental and legal nature that no company like Apple would ever want to happen.
To insinuate that a company like Apple wouldn't do things that stretch legal boundaries until it's caught red-handed discounts all of the large, public companies busy doing that every day. To pretend like Apple, the most valuable company in the world, wouldn't do something in the interest of its bottom line is borderline ludicrous.
Even giving Apple the benefit of the doubt here that it's protecting the users, it feels gross that they aren't being told that this is happening in the background. Phones shutting down at random is also not normal, even after two years, and it sure smells like a way to avoid a mass recall.
Consider this: if a push notification came up on your screen that your battery was in a poor state and that the CPU is being throttled, you can make a conscious decision to go and replace the battery! Woo-hoo, you just paid $99 and your 2-year-old iPhone might last two more!
Instead, Apple is more than happy to "help" by slowing down the phone — and letting you believe an entirely new device for $700 is necessary to fix it. If this was really in your interest, you'd be able to opt out or know about it at the very least.
Apple does have a feature buried a few levels deep in settings that warns the battery may need to be serviced — but you can find tons of threads where people's devices were actively being throttled and didn't show this warning.
I also find it difficult to believe that the hard-shutdown problem is related too. The iPhone 6s is a two year old device and hard shutdowns due to voltage spikes are not normal even in extremely old products. Claiming that they're "protecting" these users also prevents a recall and "solves" another issue.
Of course, the faithful will say that Apple would like you to know that it knows better and hey, your phone just needs to be slow so why would it tell you? That's bullshit, and you can smell it a mile away.
We've reassured people for years that Apple doesn't secretly slow down their phones but hey, it does now sorta-kinda... but it's in your interest. I don't think that line works on most people.
A lack of setting or user awareness that the battery isn't performing and the system is taking action will be a huge problem long-term: end users now have another reason they can't trust their devices and will be even more suspicious when their old phone slows down.
Good luck with that.