Apple has always taken software optimization and user experience seriously on iOS, but it keeps technical details quiet. It’s a hassle even to find out at what frequency Apple’s custom CPU cores run. It looks like Apple’s commitment to delivering “the best experience to customers” has taken a rather ridiculous turn. The company now admits that recent reports about throttling the CPU speed on older iPhones are true. If your iPhone feels slower, that might be thanks to Apple and its desire to offer you “the best experience.”

This controversy began percolating on the internet about a year ago, when iOS 10.2.1 rolled out to phones. Some owners of the iPhone 6 and 6s noticed their phones became noticeably sluggish after the update, but it wasn’t until the last few weeks that a “fix” was discovered. It turned out replacing the battery would alleviate the slowdowns. Benchmarking firm Geekbench decided to look into the claims, eventually finding very strong evidence iOS 10.2.1 did indeed throttle performance on older iPhones, currently including the 6, 6s, and 7. This is something Apple has been accused of frequently in the past, but there’s never been any proof until now.

With the evidence in the open, Apple had no choice but to issue a statement. Here’s what it has to say on the matter.


  • 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.


So, Apple confirms the issue here is the battery. As a lithium-ion cell ages, it can’t store as much energy, and its maximum voltage goes down. The battery can degrade in iPhones to the point that it can’t supply enough power to the custom system-on-a-chip (SoC) when it’s in high-performance mode. That’s usually when the high-power CPU cluster is active. Without sufficient power, the device can freeze or simply shut off. Apple’s solution is to lower the voltage on the high-power CPU cluster on devices with degraded batteries, which also lowers the clock speed. It says this “feature” will be a part of all its phones going forward.

 

iPhones Li-ion Battery


Many iPhone owners are quite justifiably upset about this. If a phone’s battery degrades so quickly that it can’t power the CPU after a year of use, that’s a serious defect. If the phone is under warranty, Apple should offer replacement batteries, and consumers should know iPhones do this before they purchase one. Apple absolutely should not be quietly throttling performance to keep people from asking questions. Most iPhone users who start having performance issues with their phone will try software fixes and eventually just buy a new one from Apple. No one had reason to think replacing the battery (which is non-removable by users) would solve the problem before this revelation.

Apple says this is about the user experience, but it feels more like saving face. At the absolute least, Apple should be disclosing to users when a device’s performance needs to be reduced due to a degraded battery. Apple probably doesn’t do that because it’s bad PR, but now the cat is out of the bag. Apple should not get a pass on this.