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Apple’s iPhones slowed to tackle ageing batteries

iPhone user
Apple has confirmed
the suspicions of many iPhone owners by revealing it does deliberately
slow down some models of the iPhone as they age.

Many customers have long suspected that Apple slows down older iPhones to encourage people to upgrade.
The
company has now said it does slow down some models as they age, but
only because the phones’ battery performance diminishes over time.
Apple said it wanted to “prolong the life” of customers’ devices.
The
practice was confirmed after a customer shared performance tests on
Reddit, suggesting their iPhone 6S had slowed down considerably as it
had aged but had suddenly sped up again after the battery had been
replaced.
“I used my brother’s iPhone 6 Plus, and his was faster than mine? This is when I knew something was wrong,” wrote TeckFire.
Technology website Geekbench
then analysed several iPhones running different versions of the iOS
operating system and found some of them did indeed appear to have been
deliberately slowed down.

What was Apple’s response?

Apple
has now confirmed that it made changes to iOS to manage ageing
lithium-ion batteries in some devices, since the batteries’ performance
diminishes over time.

Image caption

Apple charges £79 to replace iPhone batteries, and
also covers the work under its AppleCare policies, but other companies
also offer solutions

“Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of
supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, [when they] 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,”
the company 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.
“Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers.”

Why do lithium-ion batteries degrade?

Lithium batteries degrade over time because of what happens during the charging and discharging cycle.
During both those events, lithium ions migrate through the material forming the battery.

Image caption

Lithium-ion batteries degrade with use

Studies using electron microscopes have shown that
each time the ions do this they make tiny changes to the physical
structure of that electrolyte.
The effect is like “rust creeping unevenly across steel”, according to one scientist who has studied the phenomenon.
The
changes effectively erode the material so it can hold less of a charge
and can hamper its ability to provide a steady power supply.
Higher voltages make the erosion happen more quickly, as do higher temperatures.

Should Apple have told customers?

“By
choosing to implement this quietly, it appears more nefarious than it
really is. That doesn’t engender trust,” wrote developer and blogger Nick Heer.
“Apple has long been very good about managing expectations… this is an instance where they blew it. Needlessly, I think.”
Replacing
an old battery in one of the affected models should return the phone to
its former speed. Doing so costs £79 in the UK and $79 (£59) in the
US.
“They should be more transparent about it,” said Chris Green from the tech consultancy Bright Bee.
“You’re
taking away performance that somebody has paid for. If you’re going to
slow down the phone over time, you should explain why it is happening,
so people understand it is ultimately for their benefit.
“But I do see where they’re coming from. By slowing the phone, it does help mitigate the problem of the diminishing battery.”

Analysis by Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

It
is a combination of urban myth and conspiracy theory – the idea that
Apple builds planned obsolescence into the iPhone, slowing down older
models to make you splash out on an upgrade.
Now it turns out to be true – the slowing down part, if not the motive behind it.
Apple’s
explanation that it is all about managing the performance of ageing
batteries seems quite reasonable. After all, the fact that the
lithium-ion batteries that power mobile phones degrade over time is well
known and owners of other leading smartphones also complain of poor
battery life after a few years.
But what will frustrate and anger
many iPhone users is Apple’s lack of transparency. The software tweak at
the heart of this story happened last year and rumours about the
deliberate downgrading of performance have been bubbling for weeks. But
it was only a couple of days after a software developer showed exactly
what was happening that Apple finally came out and explained.
Here
is a company that is – as any journalist can attest – fanatical about
controlling the message about its products. It has also benefitted from
the devotion over the years of customers who are more like fans. But
maybe it is time for Apple to show a bit more honesty in that
relationship.

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Posted by on December 27, 2017.

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