Apple (AAPL) might be on its way to being history’s first $1 trillion company, but it’s been dealing with a public relations nightmare since it announced last month that it was purposely slowing down older versions of its iPhones.
The admission gave credence to the popular conspiracy that Apple slows down consumers’ phones to force them to upgrade to newer versions. But that kind of forced obsolescence would have put Apple in some serious trouble with regulators and the public in general, if it was true.
What was really happening was Apple was slowing down the iPhone SE, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus to ensure that the extra performance required to handle certain tasks wasn’t pulling too much power from the phones’ older batteries too quickly.
That’s because if the battery was being overworked the phone would experience doing so would result in periodic system shutdowns. But that also meant that the phones were running slower than they had when they were originally purchased.
After a public outcry over Apple slowing consumers’ phones without their consent, Apple announced on Wednesday that it’s working on a software update that will let you disable that slowdown feature.
That might sound like a great move, and one that you can’t wait to test for yourself on your own iPhone. But doing so would actually be pretty stupid on your part.
The rationale was solid, the execution was poor
I’m not going to sit here and excuse Apple’s decision to make major changes to consumers’ smartphones without giving them an explicit heads-up.
It would have been far easier for the company to have done so and explain that throttling its phones’ processors ensured they wouldn’t pull as much juice from their batteries, thus letting consumers use their handsets without any random shutdowns or having to recharge them as often. But even then, it’s likely there would have been some kind of repercussions for the tech giant’s actions.
The problem here is that lithium-ion batteries, which are used in smartphones across the industry, lose their ability to hold a charge over time. The more you discharge and recharge a lithium-ion battery, the more its overall capacity drops. That’s just the nature of their chemical makeup. And since those batteries are cheap and lightweight, we’re stuck with them for the time being.
When Apple released iOS updates for the iPhone 6 and 6s, the company included a feature that recognized when a battery was running out of life and, knowing that certain iOS features needed more processing power that would drain the battery faster and slow the processors’ performance.
The idea was to ensure you still got the same, or a similar amount of battery life from your iPhone despite its natural degradation, while also preventing the handset from randomly shutting down. But Apple wasn’t very clear about the feature. And when researchers and users discovered the performance issue by testing handsets, public opinion hit Apple hard.
Then, in an attempt to deal with the public backlash, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company will release a developer update that gives users the option to turn off the built-in limiter on their own. And while that’s a fine gesture, you’d be pretty unwise to use it.
What’s more, it’s not clear whether iPhone 8, 8 Plus or X owners will have to deal with similar issues when Apple releases its next crop of handsets.
Killing your battery for power
By turning off the limiter that slows down your processor and its need to consume more power, you’ll likely run into those random shutdown scenarios Apple was trying to avoid in the first place. And there’s no doubt that when you begin having these problems, you’ll begin to question their iPhones’ reliability.
What’s more, pulling the power from a battery that’s already degraded means you’ll be discharging and recharging your phone more often, which will impair the battery faster than if you just left the limiter on in the first place.
Instead, what you should do is take advantage of Apple’s $29 battery replacement offer and get a new power plant for your iPhone. When you do that, your handset will recognize that the battery is working at its full potential and no longer need to limit performance for fear of shutting down or sapping power too quickly.
Is it fair that you might need to shell out $29 for a battery for a phone you already spent hundreds of dollars on? Maybe not, but when you realize that lithium-ion batteries are the best option for such devices, and all other smartphone makers already use them, it becomes a bit easier to swallow.
At the end of the day, Apple’s decision to offer a way to block its performance limiter may be a quick solution, but could prove problematic as you turn it off and begin seeing your phone shutdown for seemingly no reason.
When the update hits, my suggestion is to leave the limiter alone, and just deal with the slight performance decrease. And if you can’t stand the change, simply buy the new battery.
Email Daniel Howley at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.