Apple is facing a spate of lawsuits in the United States over reports that it was ‘slowing down’ older iPhones with aging batteries. According to a Reuters report, eight lawsuits have been filed in the US demanding millions in damages from the iPhone-maker. Apple has also been sued in Israel over the same issue with the lawsuit seeking nearly $120 million in damages. So what is the controversy over Apple slowing down older iPhones and is it really throttling performance? We take a look.
First, where is Apple facing lawsuits? What do the petitioners want?
According to a Reuters report, Apple is facing eight class-action lawsuits in the United States. The lawsuits argue that Apple’s admission that it tweaked the performance of older iPhones in order to manage poor battery performance showed that the batteries were defective and the company was not fixing the actual problem.
The lawsuits have been filed in US District Courts in California, New York and Illinois. One of the complaints state: “Rather than curing the battery defect by providing a free battery replacement for all affected iPhones, Apple sought to mask the battery defect.”
Some lawsuits have also argued that since Apple deliberately slowed down performance, users might have mistaken it for the phone getting older and chose to buy a new device while when the real fault was with the battery. The ‘planned obsolescence’ theory regarding Apple products has gained ground with this controversy. The lawsuits claim Apple forced customers into buying new devices, rather than letting them just replace the battery at a lower cost.
According to Reuters, the lawsuits seek unspecified damages in addition to, in some cases, reimbursement. In Israel, the lawsuit filed by two customers demands $120 million in damages and claims Apple “breached its basic duties toward users by failing to disclose that ‘innocent’ software updates would negatively impact their phone use.” The lawsuit argues the software updates slowed the phone and users were unable to browse the web, check email, etc, according to reports in Israeli media.
So what exactly did Apple do to older iPhones? Is it really throttling performance of your older iPhone?
First to give some context to this whole controversy, the issue of Apple slowing down older iPhones with the new iOS updates came to light after discussions on Reddit and a viral post by GeekBench’s John Poole. Pool wrote a post where he outlined the difference in performance on iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, etc after various iOS updates, showcasing a deep fluctuation in GeekBench scores depending on the version of software running on the phone.
The GeekBench is a performance evaluating app for smartphones and used on Android and iOS. Poole argued Apple was deliberately slowing down old iPhones, in order to handle the battery issues seen on Apple iPhone 6s. He said these steps would convince users it was time to upgrade, when the fault really lies with the battery and software updates. Poole’s post was seen as proof of the planned obsolescence theory regarding Apple’s products, that is, Apple deliberately throttling older devices in order to get users to upgrade to new ones.
Apple then responded to the statement saying it was only ‘managing instantaneous peaks‘ in performance on phones with older batteries. Apple’s statement also added this was done to prolong the overall life of the device.
The statement, a copy of which Apple also issued to indianexpress.com, reads, “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.”
Apple’s argument was simple: Lithium-ion batteries degrade over time and are unable to hold the same charge, which in some cases result in the device unexpectedly shutting down. So Apple was choosing to manage ‘peak performance’ that could cause random shutdowns with software updates and thus stop the issue from recurring. With Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s, iOS 10.1.2 update was the one that brought this change in performance; in case of the iPhone 7 it was the iOS 11.2.
Apple says it is only managing ‘peak performance’ on iPhones where the batteries have become older and lost their capacity to hold charge. This feature is only applied in cases of very cold temperatures, a low battery charge, or an aged battery. So if one goes by Apple’s response anyone who buys a new iPhone 7 or iPhone 6s right now, performance should not be an issue because the battery is technically fresh. But overtime, the battery will start to age, and it looks like Apple is adding software enhancements to manage performance on these and the device will slow down.
In Apple’s case, the aging battery did result in random shutdowns with the iPhone 6s. The company had offered also a battery replacement for some users. While the issue went away for some, it did not go away for others even after battery replacement, which explains the software level management.
So what exactly is the issue with Apple iPhone’s battery? How can one ensure the battery does not get damaged?
To be fair, this issue with Lithium-ion batteries affects all smartphones, not just Apple’s iPhones. After a while, say usage of a year or so, you will notice that your smartphone’s battery tends to drain faster that what it did when you just got the phone.
Apple’s support page for batteries does list out steps on how to prolong the life of your iPhone’s battery. The page says, “Your device is designed to perform well in a wide range of ambient temperatures, with 16° to 22° C (62° to 72° F) as the ideal comfort zone.” Apple also says users should avoid exposing the battery to “ambient temperatures higher than 35° C (95° F)” (which sadly is India for most of the year) as this can “permanently damage battery capacity.”
According to Apple, if the battery is constantly exposed to such high temperatures, then the battery will not “power your device as long on a given charge.” Apple’s page also says, “Charging the device in high ambient temperatures can damage it further. Software may limit charging above 80 per cent when the recommended battery temperatures are exceeded. Even storing a battery in a hot environment can damage it irreversibly. When using your device in a very cold environment, you may notice a decrease in battery life, but this condition is temporary.”
If your iPhone starts getting slow after a year or so usage, battery and the software updates are likely to blame. One solution is to replace the battery and in India there are local stores which will do this at affordable rates, but again all of this comes with risks. Authorised battery repair from Apple will cost a lot more in India.