Apple apologised to customers for slowing down older iPhones in a letter posted on the company’s website. The company is also offering a discounted pricing on the replacement battery, which will be available at $29 instead of the usual $79. In India, the price will be Rs 2000 plus taxes, confirmed the company.
The iPhone-maker admits some consumers felt the company had let them down and has gone on record to say sorry, adding there is misunderstanding around the issue of performance and battery. There’s also a new page explaining batteries, iPhones and how it impacts performance. So what exactly is this controversy over iPhones and why has Apple finally apologised? Here’s a quick look at everything you need to know, including what Apple has to say on the battery issue.
Why was Apple accused of slowing down iPhone performance? How did this all of it start?
The issue really began on Reddit where customers with the older iPhone 6s were posting about how the performance of their device had slowed down, especially after recent software updates. Then GeekBench developer John Poole wrote a detailed blog explaining how iOS updates from iOS 10.2.1 were impacting performance of iPhone 6s, iPhone 7, etc.
Poole put out detailed graphs showing how older iPhones had a massive fluctuation in GeekBench scores across various versions of iOS 10 to iOS 11. Poole’s argument: Apple was slowing the performance, done to manage sudden shutdowns which had started on the iPhone 6s. He also argued the company’s steps would actually convince people something was wrong with the performance of their iPhone and they might go for upgrades, when the fault lay with battery and iOS updates. The gist of Poole’s argument: Apple was forcing unnecessary upgrades on users.
Apple then responded to this, saying they were in fact managing ‘peak performances’ in iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone SE and with the latest iOS 11 update, they were doing the same for iPhone 7 series. Apple’s argument was they were doing this to ensure the longevity of the device in question as lithium-ion batteries age over time and are unable to hold charge. This affects the device performance, which was shutting down in some cases. The admission was seen as proof that the company deliberately slowed down older iPhones, and in the US eight lawsuits have been filed over this issue.
What has Apple said now, what’s their excuse for ‘slowing down iPhones’?
The outcry against Apple meant the company is now formally apologising for this whole fiasco. Apple’s letter of apology says, “We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.”
The company also says they have never tried to slow down or degrade the iPhone experience or shorten the life of an Apple product. The letter admits the decaying battery life is the root cause of the problem. It says, “A chemically aged battery also becomes less capable of delivering peak energy loads, especially in a low state of charge, which may result in a device unexpectedly shutting itself down in some situations.”
In order to prevent these random shutdowns, Apple introduced a software update with iOS 10.2.1 (nearly a year back) which would handle “power management during peak workloads.” Apple says the update was pushed to iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE and later to iPhone 7 with the latest iOS 11.2 update. Apple admitted in some cases it would result in slower performance, longer app launch time.
The letter adds, “We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.”
So what is Apple doing to address this fault battery issue?
One, Apple has slashed prices for a replacement iPhone battery to $29. In India, the price will be Rs 2000 plus taxes and Apple has confirmed this to indianexpress.com. According to authorised service providers, the earlier price at Rs 6,500 so this is a significant drop. The replacement program is valid till December 2018 and it will be worldwide, with users of iPhone 6 and above being eligible for the same.
Apple also says it will introduce a new feature in iOS in early 2018, which will give users an indication about the health of their battery. This will help users know if the decaying battery might affect performance. Apple says it will give users “more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery”, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
What is all this fuss about the iPhone battery? Why are they degrading, why can’t they last forever?
Apple iPhones use lithium-ion batteries and the company has a new support page explaining how these work in detail. Apple’s page points, “All rechargeable batteries are consumables and have a limited lifespan—eventually their capacity and performance decline so that they need to be serviced or recycled. As this happens, it can contribute to changes in iPhone performance.”
This is nothing new as Lithium-ion batteries do decay over time and these are now used in smartphones across the world by nearly all manufacturers. If one remembers, in the feature phone age when devices had replaceable/removable batteries, these would decay after a time and had to be changed. Remember, one of the highlights of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 at the time it launched was that it still sported a removable battery. But as phones moved towards non-removable batteries, the idea that battery might be fault is often overlooked.
Apple’s support page points out, “Lithium-ion batteries charge faster, last longer, and have a higher power density for more battery life in a lighter package. Rechargeable lithium-ion technology currently provides the best technology for your device.” However, the battery lifespan is limited and it will have to be replaced after sometime.
The lifespan of battery is affected by how one uses it. For instance, if you constantly expose your iPhone to high or very cold temperatures, the battery lifespan will be negatively impacted. The Apple page says, “A battery’s lifespan is related to its “chemical age,” which is more than just the passage of time. It includes different factors, such as the number of charge cycles and how it was cared for.”
The company has some tips for protecting the battery lifespan. One is if you are storing the iPhone for long term use, the battery should be half-charged. Users should also “avoid charging or leaving iPhone in hot environments including direct sun exposure for extended periods of time.”
As a battery ages it has “high impedance” and cannot draw power as quickly as is required by the system. The page also says, “A battery’s impedance will temporarily increase at a low state of charge and in a cold temperature environment. When coupled with a higher chemical age, the impedance increase will be more significant.”
So how does this power management that Apple claims work? How does it impact my iPhone performance?
Apple’s power management looks at “a combination of the device temperature, battery state of charge, and the battery’s impedance.” Only if all these variables are at work, will iOS try and manage the maximum performance of the system, including CPU and GPU. This is done to prevent unexpected shutdowns, which can be common on phone with an aging battery. Most users might not notice a dip in performance or changes, claims Apple.
However, Apple’s support page also mentions that in cases where “more extreme forms of this power management” kicks in, users will face some problems. These include longer app launch times, lower frame rates while scrolling, backlight dimming and lower speaker volume by up to -3dB. Apple says there could be gradual frame rate reductions in some apps and in extreme cases, even the camera flash could get disabled. Further some apps could crash upon launch. What is not impacted is call quality, video and photo quality, GPS, Location accuracy, sensors like gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer and Apple Pay.
The fix for all of this is simple: If the battery is replaced, which means a newer battery kicks into the iPhone, iOS will detect this and the power management stops. So for those who still want to hold on to their iPhone 6s or iPhone 6, where the device has become really slow, battery replacement might just be the answer.