Apple admits to deliberately making old iPhones sluggish

My iPhone is getting slow, it’s time for a new one. That’s a common thought if your phone starts to feel sluggish. If you think your old iPhone isn’t good enough to handle newer apps and features, turns out that Apple has indeed slowed down older iPhone models intentionally. This even includes last year’s iPhone 7.

The slowdown issue was brought into the spotlight after GeekBench had discovered performance degradation with older batteries and newer OS. While it is understandable that battery life gets shorter over time, it is surprising that the CPU performance could take a significant hit especially when it’s running on iOS 10.2.1 and 11.2.

As more people started digging, it became clear that older iPhones are forced to run at a lower rate until their battery is replaced. As seen above, an iPhone 6 with a dual-core A8 chip was only running at 600MHz which is less than half of its full potential. After a battery swap, it regained back its maximum clock speed of 1.4GHz.

As you can tell, a throttled processor would greatly affect performance. Usually, throttling occurs if a processor overheats or if it intentionally wants to save power, for example, if you enable battery/power saving mode. Since this happens even on a fully charged device, many believed that this is Apple’s attempt on planned obsolescence.

It seems that such assumption isn’t entirely false as Apple has issued the following statement:

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.

If your old device like the iPhone 6, 6s, iPhone SE or iPhone 7 starts to slow down, all you probably need is a battery swap. While the intention of retaining battery life on older iPhone is good, it could have been communicated better.

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Apple isn’t always transparent about what it does in the background in order to keep things simple for the ordinary user. For example, when iOS 11 was first released, not many people are aware that the Bluetooth/WiFi toggles on the control centre don’t entirely switch off when you disable them. On a recent iOS 11 update, it now pops up a message to let you know that WiFi/Bluetooth is merely disconnected and it’s still running for AirDrop, Hotspot and location services.

The problem with this intentional throttling issue is that affected users may be misled into thinking that their hardware is obsolete and they would need to go out and buy a brand new iPhone. Apple could have made a more prominent warning about the battery degradation and it’s intentionally slowing your iPhone down to squeeze as much battery life as possible. Another better alternative is to give an option to the user whether they want to run on an extreme “low battery” mode or continue running at full speeds.

What do you guys think?

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Alexander Wong