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Apple “Throttles” Older iPhones

What many consumers have long suspected has now been revealed to have a basis in reality – Apple has been slowing down or “throttling” older iPhones. The theory has long been that Apple has done so in a bid to push customers towards the newest devices.

Apple, for its part, says it introduced this feature only last year and is intended to prevent older phones from shutting down unexpectedly, and has nothing to do with intentionally slowing phones in order to sell new ones. Apple’s position is that since older batteries can’t give as much power as new ones, slowing the phone down prevents the battery from failing and shutting down the device.

“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.”

Processor performance analysis website GeekBench first discovered that software was limiting the performance of iPhones with older batteries. John Poole, the founder of Primate Labs (GeekBench’s parent company) noted that while Apple may have created this feature in order to prevent shutdowns and cover for loss of battery power, users may perceive that their CPU is the issue rather than the battery. Users expect their phones to function as normal with full performance, or to function more slowly but to be aware that their phone is in a low-power mode (such as iPhone’s low battery mode that users can activate manually). However, what Apple has done has created a “third, unexpected state.”

Poole writes, “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.’ This will likely feed into the “planned obsolecense” narritive [sic].”

While Apple should be commended for making a fix to the problem of iPhones shutting down on their own (when users may need them most), the effect may have been to drive users towards new devices. The fact that Apple did not reveal this change until an analytics company discovered the performance differential is not encouraging, and the lack of transparency may cause customers to distrust the company’s explanation. In fact, shortly after the news broke Apple was hit with two class-action lawsuits, accusing the company of “deceptive, immoral, and unethical” practices. This throttling will likely remind many consumers of when the company was found to be throttling the performance of Qualcomm chips found in some phones so they would have the same performance as the Intel chips in others.

As Poole notes, some customers may have replaced their iPhones when the battery was the issue, not the CPU. Consumers may want to look into getting their older iPhone’s battery replaced if they are experiencing slow performance; this may fix the problem at a much lower cost than buying a new phone.

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