Apple offers an apology for throttling iPhones

Just a week after claiming its actions were in the best interests of users, and that hiding iPhone performance throttling when battery condition deteriorates was the right thing to do, Apple has apologized in a rare backpedal.

A letter on the company's website last night -- right on the front page -- blamed miscommunication for the outrage, and offered an apology:

"We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making. 

First and foremost, we have never ‚ÄĒ and would never ‚ÄĒ do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that."

As others have noted already, the consequences of this misstep are likely to be vast. I know I've personally had a number of conversations over the last week unprompted where I've needed to explain that Apple wasn't slowing down the device maliciously, we assume, but rather to protect the customer. 

Apple's response is¬†extremely¬†good: it's lowering the price of battery replacements and¬†plans better visibility within iOS in 2018. The company explains that the issue is related to voltage peaking, and sudden shutdowns, which it's helping protect users against ‚ÄĒ¬†but that it should've made it more visible in the first place.

But herein lies the issue: it's impossible to say if Apple really did have our best interests at heart. Twitter has been quick to accuse anyone who's skeptical of Apple's response of being unfairly hard on the company, but until proven otherwise we, as consumers, have every right to be suspicious of such moves and the company's initial response is that it didn't need to do anything differently.

The device is yours, and permitting such behavior to become normal discredits how much power you lose over your own hardware if it were widely acceptable. Apple is free to 'help' users as they please, but visibility is important, and claiming that quietly doing it in the background was better for customers is disingenuous. 

I'm also skeptical of Apple's claims that it's due to voltage peaking and sudden shut-offs ‚ÄĒ this is something that other devices are able to handle perfectly normally, and I¬†don't recall any other device exhibiting such behavior in memory. If it is, there's a pretty major flaw in Apple's A-series chipset design from the iPhone 6 onward that it's trying to pin on the battery instead.

As Eric Newcomer put it on Twitter this morning, I believe people have every right to be suspicious of this behavior until proven otherwise: 

"Don’t know if I’ve ever seen a topic with as much motivated reasoning as Apple battery issue. So many fanboys out there who want to view everything through lens that Apple is perfectly customer-centric company. Apple depends on growing profits from single all important product: iPhone. Run by a supply chain expert who is squeezing profits out of what was once a novel idea"

As we discovered with¬†Uber, Theranos, Zenefits and many other companies¬†in 2016, corporations ‚ÄĒ particularly those with massive wealth ‚ÄĒ¬†can and will test boundaries repeatedly when permitted to, or when they believe it's under the shroud of secrecy.¬†

To assume otherwise, even if it appears to be corporate suicide on the surface, offers them a free pass ‚ÄĒ and even if you like a company¬†a lot¬†I¬†promise you at some point it'll happily test how far it's able to walk into that grey area.

Apple did the right thing here in the end, and I don't necessarily believe that it had malicious intent, but I do believe that Apple had every reason to happily do this in the background without user consent until it needed to come clean.¬†Tim Cook's Apple is¬†very good¬†at squeezing money out of places that didn't exist before ‚ÄĒ which gives you more than enough license not to take the way this was handled¬†at face value.

The company may have put this right, but I suspect the brand damage to be fairly devastating, as conspiracy theories about intentional slowdowns that have circulated for years now get a new injection of rocket fuel for years to come. What will be interesting to see, however, is if this had a material impact on sales at all over the holidays season, and if people will just replace their batteries instead of upgrading.


Tab Dump

Google kills off the Pixel C
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Uber and Softbank reach a deal
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