Apple has admitted that it actively reduces the performance of older devices. Issued yesterday, the company admitted that through iOS updates it chokes the performance of its iPhones by lowering the battery’s ability to supply peak current to the device’s processor.
Research into battery degradation
Apple’s acknowledgement follows a report published by benchmarking firm Primate Labs, that claimed that older batteries were to blame for the slowing of an individual iPhone’s performance. The analysis, which involved thousands of devices, found that the iPhone 6 and 6S performance were reduced after installing iOS 10.2.1 (released in January 2017) and iOS 11.2 (released in December 2017) in the case of the iPhone 7.
John Poole, Founder of Primate Labs, wrote: “The distribution of iPhone 6S scores for iOS 10.2.0 appears unimodal with a peak around the average score. However, the distribution of iPhone 6S scores for iOS 10.2.1 appears multimodal, with one large peak around the average and several smaller peaks around lower scores. Under iOS 11.2.0 the effect is even more pronounced.”
According to The Guardian: “Experts have long dismissed users’ complaints that their iPhones have slowed down immediately before the release of a new model.” But the analysis appears to confirm the ‘planned obsolescence’ theory – that devices are intentionally stunted after a during of time to push consumers into purchasing newer models.
A planned feature?
Yesterday, following the rumours, Apple confirmed that it throttles the performance of older iPhones, but as a mechanism they claim to protect against problems caused by ageing batteries. Correlating with Primate Lab’s research, Apple noted that the feature was implemented in the iPhone 6, 6S and SE last year through a software update, and on the iPhone 7 as of December this year with the release of iOS 11.2.
The feature is also planned to be introduced onto future devices.
An Apple spokesperson said: “Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices.”
Most modern smartphones use lithium-ion batteries are designed to last at least 500 zero-full charge cycles, approximately two years of typical use. However, battery lives can age in relation to the phone the more they are charged – worsened by topping up your device during the day and charging overnight.
In its acknowledgement Apple told consumers that alongside throttling performance based on battery age, it will also constrict the output of damaged or cold batteries, and batteries that are only capable of holding a lower charge. Any of these reasons, Apple claim, could lead to a lower processing speed, and could even cause the iPhone to shut down unexpectedly to protect vital components.
This could explain the reports of iPhone 6s’ turning off abruptly, despite affected devices claiming that there was around 30-40% of charge left.
An Apple spokesperson said: “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.”
But Poole warned that masking a deficient battery with performance issues could encourage consumers to purchase new devices. Poole said: “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 obsolescence’ narrative.”
Fixing an iPhone’s battery is painless for a professional to do, but the firm charges £79 to replace batteries not covered under the phone’s warranty.