Tech giant Apple recently acknowledged that it has been throttling the performance of some older iPhones with cold or aging batteries. Introduced last year for the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, and iPhone SE, the feature is aimed at preventing unexpected device shutdowns, the company said.
With the release of iOS 11.2 earlier this month, Apple has now extended that protective slowdown feature to the iPhone 7 as well.
Some iPhone users have long suspected that Apple was intentionally slowing down older devices, while others have blamed the problem on glitches in new releases of the company's mobile operating system. In the wake of Apple's admission, some customers are criticizing the company for not being more transparent about how it handles device performance.
'Something Was Wrong'
Details about Apple's throttling strategy began emerging last week after a user on Reddit described problems with a slow iPhone 6s.
"My iPhone 6S has been very slow these past few weeks, and even after updating multiple times, it was still slow," the user named TeckFire wrote. "Couldn't figure out why, but just thought that iOS 11 was still awful to me. Then I used my brother's iPhone 6 Plus and his was . . . faster than mine? This is when I knew something was wrong."
After checking the device's performance with the processor benchmarking service Geekbench, TeckFire replaced the battery of his iPhone 6s and checked again to discover the performance of the processor had improved markedly.
In a subsequent statement about the issue, Apple said, "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."
Apple added, "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."
Concerns about Planned Obsolescence
John Poole, developer of Geekbench and founder/president of Primate Labs, published an analysis of iPhone 6s and 7 performance issues in a Geekbench post on Monday. His review showed a single performance peak for devices running iOS 10.2 and 10.2.1, but multiple peaks for devices on iOS 11.2.0, indicating that some phones running that operating system had measurably slower processor speeds.
Apple's performance slowdown, Poole said, adds an unexpected third option for users with older devices: instead of seeing their phones shut down unexpectedly or receiving a notification that their phone is in low-power mode to preserve battery power, they see their device performance slow without notification or explanation.
"While this state is created to mask a deficiency in battery power, users may believe that the slow down is due to CPU performance, instead of battery performance, which is triggering an Apple introduced CPU slow-down," Poole wrote. "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.' Poole added that this will likely feed into the "planned obsolecense [sic]" narrative.
While Apple's strategy makes sense, it's one that should have been explained better upfront to customers, Jonny Evans said in Computerworld today.
"The problem is that the company failed to be transparent until someone figured out what was going on," Evans said. "Such lack of transparency always has consequences: People cannot help but begin to wonder what other things the company might be being opaque about."