Apple admits to slowing iPhones to preserve device and battery

There’s conspiracy theorists jumping with joy today as Apple confirms they have software to throttle the performance of older iPhones which is being seen as the end of the world, but lets take a closer look at this.

For a couple of years now there’s been a problem occurring with older iPhones which saw them shutting down almost inexplicably. Of course many of these people then take their phone to Apple who notice a trend. Turns out, with an ageing battery and a phone in extreme conditions (like heat and peak performance like a processor intensive app) the phone would just throw it’s hands in the air and give up.

Earlier this year Apple updated iOS to 10.2.1 which included a little fix. This fix throttled the peak load performance of a phone to ensure it wouldn’t shut down or cause damage to the device components.

This is not news, it was reported at the time.

However, this week a simple advice post online titled “PSA: iPhone slow? Try replacing your battery!” went viral.

It said: “My iPhone 6S has been very slow these past few weeks, and even after updating multiple times, it was still slow. Couldn’t figure out why, but just thought that iOS 11 was still awful to me. Then I used my brother’s iPhone 6 Plus and his was… faster than mine? This is when I knew something was wrong. So, I did some research, and decided to replace my battery. Wear level was somewhere around 20% on my old battery. 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. This also means your phone might be very slow for no discernible reason. Check your Geekbench scores and see what you get if your phone is still slow!

TL;DR Apple slows down phones with low capacity batteries, replacing it makes them full speed again. Check Geekbench Scores.”

This post was tested, lab tests conducted and turns out he was right, the performance of a device could be dramatically improved by replacing the battery.

Apple responded officially saying “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.”

This is a pretty typical Apple statement in many ways, but it will be interpreted by many over the days ahead, and nothing can erase the “Apple intentionally slows your iPhone” headlines online.

So here’s the facts.

All smartphone batteries degrade.  Drain battery, charge, drain battery, charge – repeat.  This is called battery cycles.  Over many thousands of cycles a battery loses it’s capacity to hold a charge, and that means changes in the output and that takes some adjusting for the device.

Apple is fortunate to be the software maker and hardware maker here, will be interesting to see what tests are conducted on other phones.  Sony for example often talks up their battery smarts, helping to extend and maintain battery life – it’s yet to be seen if any of this is linked to the processor and performance.

Make no mistake, Apple call this a FEATURE – because it is, it’s protecting the phone and actually prolonging it’s life.

The issue is how it was rolled out.  Some say this should be opt in – have a message pop up saying “we’ve detected your battery is not at peak capabilities, would you like to enable a power saver mode” or something like that.

If you want to get the most from your phone, try to look after it, don’t use it in extreme heat, don’t overcharge it – oh, and do NOT charge your phone in extreme heat, that’s really going to kick it in the guts.

If you’ve got an older phone and want the best performance, consider getting a battery replacement done – $119 at Apple Stores, and you’ll find other “mobile doctors” offering the service cheaper I’m sure.

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