A few days ago, an iPhone user discovered that his old iPhone felt slower because the battery was getting old. His empirical findings were later confirmed by a benchmark that seemed to back up that old iPhone conspiracy theory: Apple is indeed slowing down older iPhones just as new models launch. But that’s only a coincidence, caused by the battery’s aging. Then Apple came forward with the final confirmation that it’s been slowing down iPhones to prevent unexpected shutdowns.
Throttling iPhone speed on devices with old batteries is probably the right thing to do. But what I hate most about Apple’s decision to slow down iPhones with bad batteries is the way the company did it.
The lack of transparency here is very annoying. And Apple could have done a much better job informing users, and at least give them the impression they’re in charge of how the iPhone should behave. Apple practically lied to all of us by omission. Quietly throttling an iPhone, which is usually much faster than the best same-year Android rivals, is lying to the consumer. It’s also somewhat insulting, given that most smartphone buyers are adults who don’t need Apple to make decisions for them.
And we’re looking at three lies at least. One: That the iPhone performs great at all times, even when it ages. It’s this percent faster than the previous model when it comes to CPU performance and that percent faster when it comes to graphics. That’s what Apple tells us every year. It should also tell us that performance will drop once your battery degrades.
Two: That that the iPhone’s battery will deliver the same quoted battery life as the phone ages. Well, Apple does offer “up to X hours” estimates on its website, but I’m willing to bet most iPhone users wrongly expect their two-year iPhone to last just as long as it did when they first purchased it. It’s only in the fine print section that Apple warns users that battery issues are expected after a certain number of recharge cycles. That’s really not embracing the issue, and Apple could do better. And that fine print doesn’t mention CPU throttling whatsoever.
Three: That Apple doesn’t intentionally degrade iPhone experience. I’ve been defending Apple for a while on this one, but it turns out I’ve been also lying for at least a year.
I know it because it’s my business to know it: iPhones aren’t perfect. But no smartphone is. They’re tiny computers that require energy to offer us all the neat features we’ve come to take for granted. And batteries degrade in time. Not all people care about these details or even think about them. But most of them will be able to tell you right away if their iPhone feels slower all of a sudden, or if their battery performs worst than expected.
As for developers, shouldn’t they also be aware of the fact their resource-intensive apps may offer a poor experience on old devices?
Why wasn’t Apple ready to share with the world its new battery-and-performance policy when it introduced it last year? Why not inform users of what’s going on? Why not offer them the ability to choose between performance and battery life via a Settings option that would enable or disable CPU throttling? You know, like a more advanced battery saving mode?
This (#Throttlegate?) issue wouldn’t even be a problem for anyone. But Apple’s decision not to explain it to its customers before it was discovered is really annoying. I mean, did Apple seriously expect for it to go unnoticed?
In addition to providing more information about iPhone batteries and how they age, Apple could also offer customers ways for replacing faulty iPhone batteries after a few years of use. Yes, that means you’d have to pay more money to Apple for an old iPhone. But you could just as easily pay more money for an external battery to keep your iPhone charged at all times. But it would also mean Apple would go above and beyond what other smartphone makers do. Because all batteries age, no matter what device they power.
Instead, Apple chose to pretend the iPhone is perfect, by quietly slowing it down and hoping nobody will notice.