Apple Deliberately Underclock Old iPhones, Claim It’s For The Batteries
Regular readers will know I love to poke fun at Apple for, essentially, being the shady smartphone company thinking they are above everybody else. Apple smartphones are shiny, well made, but have awful software, nasty restrictions, and are difficult to repair. The latest Apple issue? The company deliberately slows down older ‘phones to help maintain battery life.
Far be it for me to accuse Apple of trying to sell customers new iPhones – because of course they don’t need to as each generation of iPhone is the best ever, the iPhone you always wanted, and let’s not talk about the cost. Nope. Instead, Apple have cunningly engineered a way of reducing the clock speed of older smartphones based on the wear and tear on the internal battery. The story broke when a customer was experiencing sluggish performance from the iPhone 6S, but things returned to normal after replacing the battery. After this story broke, John Poole from GeekBench took a long, hard look at the benchmark database to determine the scores of individual iPhone models over various releases of iOS. Low and behind, newer software versions running on older hardware produces lower results. And the difference is much more than we might expect from newer software being heavier on the device. Instead, something else is happening. Apple made an official statement to Matthew Panzarino from the TechCrunch website, and they 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.
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.
Now there is some technical merit behind the statement: as batteries age, their ability to provide power deteriorates. Modern smartphones can go from idle to a high workout very quickly indeed, as LTE and CPU chipsets use minimal power when not in use, but can burn plenty of current when activated. Displays also use plenty of energy too. What Apple are saying is that customers’ old devices might be less able to provide the necessary current and could cause the device to slow down. Apple are reducing the performance of older devices based on the battery wear rather than battery charge, but it appears to be the number of charge cycles rather than anything else. It’s also easy to be cynical because it very much smacks of, “oh it’s time to upgrade to that new iPhone, especially now that yours is old and slow.” It’s of course an absolute coincidence that a new version of iOS containing the performance limiting software is released around and about the same time as a new iPhone model. Thanks Apple.
Perhaps Apple’s custom-designed and high watermark chipsets are responsible, as these could be able to go from idle to high power demand conditions quicker than many or all competitor chipsets? If this is the case, Apple’s chip designers are much smarter than their power management and battery engineers, as otherwise these systems would have been designed to cope with these power demands.
In the Android world, we haven’t seen manufacturers doing something similar to their own handsets (somebody stop Samsung from copying this feature). Part of the reason might be that the smaller the battery, the harder the cells need to work to deliver a given current and voltage, and Android flagships have much larger batteries compared with the iPhone. Another issue may be that the underlying power control hardware is more sophisticated in non-Apple manufacturers. Something else might be that Apple have screwed up in the design of their devices, and are now scrabbling to solve the problem of millions of iPhone 6 and later devices suddenly powering down when asked to launch the Facebook app.
You know, it might simply be Apple’s way of making sure older iPhone devices feel sluggish in the hand, so as to encourage customers to upgrade: and millions have. Clearly, Apple believe their customers are one made of money, and two, well, this article puts it better than a few words here. As I write, there’s at least one class action lawsuit happening against Apple.