Apple has been put through the ringer this week on what will hopefully be their last “controversy” of 2017. The charge? Intentionally slowing down aging iPhone models. It turns out there is truth to this old trope, but not for the reason you would think.
It all started last week when one redditor restored the performance of his iPhone 6S to optimal levels after replacing the battery. 1 The original reddit post was copied to pastebin, but here’s the current thread.
I did a Geekbench score, and found I was getting 1466 Single and 2512 Multi. This did not change wether I had low power mode on or off. After changing my battery, I did another test to check if it was just a placebo. Nope. 2526 Single and 4456 Multi. From what I can tell, Apple slows down phones when their battery gets too low, so you can still have a full days charge.
Since then, Apple published this official statement on the matter:
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.
I believe Apple’s intentions were in the right place. There’s no reason to think they weren’t. I believe they always try to put the customer first, which has made them incredibly successful.
That said, any way you spin it, the optics here are terrible. For years, people have speculated about Apple intentionally slowing down older technology when new software updates are released, which has always been refuted with evidence. Admitting the slowing down of old iPhone models for any reason was never going to go over well. In fact, they have already been sued three times since their admission.
This seems like a classic damned if they do/damned if they don’t scenario. If Apple did nothing, the ‘planned obsolescence’ trope moves forward in a different way when you have phones dying at 30% battery for seemingly no reason.
I do question their methods. Apple provides a disclaimer when your battery needs to be serviced, but it is easily missed and hidden away in Settings. They should have made the notice abundantly clear, instead of downplaying it.
Problem with Choice
Should Apple have offered this setting change as a choice? Let’s first consider some of their history on the subject.
Apple has always been accused of not giving customers enough choice (especially on iOS). Lack of customization and utility early on spurred the jailbreak movement, creating choice where there was none. The reality nowadays is an abundance of choice; enough to render jailbreaking irrelevant. Does Apple always offer choice when there should be? I wouldn’t say so, but it’s not for nefarious reasons. Although, it can make choice on iOS sometimes feel like an illusion. 2 Here’s an example:
Outside of Apple Music, they haven’t integrated music streaming services with Siri just yet. Obviously, integrating first-party services is much easier and has advantages (e.g. controlling music via Siri on Apple Watch), but writing an API for other services to play music must be a gargantuan task. Just think of all the variables at play (artist, album, track, composer, genre, etc.) among many nuances. I would expect to see Apple open this up as early as iOS 12 — the timing feels right. Suffice it to say, I don’t think they are completely holding out on Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, and the others.
One more: twelve years into the platform, you still can’t choose ‘default’ apps on iOS. This is probably a decently-sized task as well, but one I feel should have arrived already.
Now, back to the matter at hand. Offering throttling as an option to the user sounds like a very un-Apple thing to do. Apple would never want its customers to deliberately make such a large trade off, but if they were going to do something about it anyway, why not? In theory, it sounds like the choice would be incredibly inelegant. In fact, I wouldn’t expect them to ask the question as a simple yes/no. I would have liked to see something like this:
- Prompt the user about their battery issue and explain the throttling, along with a button to learn more via an option in Settings.
- Turn on throttling.
- Allow user to turn off throttling in Settings, but prompt them with the original notice every time.
The prompt could be as simple as:
This would have been a simple CYA step that could have avoided a lot of this mess. I think Apple needs to think a bit harder about offering choice in new ways, especially in a day and age where devices last much longer than they used to. We’ll see if there is any course-correction moving forward or if they double down.