Shortly after Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) released iOS 11, there were rampant accusations that Apple slows old iPhones intentionally. The theory was that the new version of iOS would make your old iPhone slower, convincing you to buy a new one. Apple wins, AAPL stock wins and you have the latest and greatest mobile experience.
That theory was debunked in testing, but new evidence suggests that there may be something to it after all. It appears that Apple slows old iPhones not when the iPhone gets old, but when the iPhone battery gets old and needs replacing.
This is all part of a tangled web of issues that seems to have started with the iPhone 6. Here’s the sequence now that we appear to have all (or at least most) of the pieces of the puzzle.
iPhone 6 and 6s Battery Issues
All through 2016, Apple was putting out fires over the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s battery. Sometimes literally — several fires were blamed on the batteries. More commonly, the iPhones would simply shut off, despite the battery still showing a charge. After a recall of some batteries, Apple released software in February that it says fixed the iPhone battery issue altogether.
With iOS 11, Accusations Apple Slows Old iPhones
The iPhone X had a lot riding on it. The potential upside for AAPL stock should the new flagship smartphone kick off an “upgrade super cycle” was huge. So when many iPhone owners began to complain that iOS 11 — released to coincide with the iPhone X launch — was making their iPhone slower, some people jumped to a conclusion: Apple slows old iPhones deliberately to convince owners to upgrade.
Diabolical, unethical and possibly illegal. And, not true, at least according to comprehensive testing of seven different iPhone models, multiple versions of iOS and over a year worth of benchmark results.
It seemed like case closed, until this week.
Developer Proves Yes, Apple Slows Old iPhones, But Here’s Why….
Because the muttering about iOS making old iPhones slower would not go away, developer John Poole ran a series of tests on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 7, using multiple versions of iOS. He discovered that since Apple introduced the battery fix for the iPhone 6, the iOS (including iOS 11) seems to be checking battery health. If the iPhone battery has lowered capacity due to age, the phone’s CPU is throttled to reduce high power demand. This should prevent the iPhone from suddenly shutting down.
It also explains why the issue doesn’t always show up in testing: if the iPhone’s battery is in good shape despite age, there is no slowdown.
Other developers have since confirmed the theory that Apple slows old iPhones, if their battery is degraded. In one case reported by The Verge, a developer’s iPhone 6 suddenly slowed. He was able to show the CPU was running at a significantly reduced 600 MHz. When the battery was replaced with a new one, the iPhone CPU resumed running at 1400 MHz, restoring performance levels.
What This Means for Apple
To the cynical, Apple’s measures may seem like a blatant attempt to intentionally slow an old iPhone to the point where the owner gets fed up and buys a new one. That theory is supported by the pressure from investors for APPL stock to keep growing in value — despite its reliance on iPhone sales amid a maturing smartphone market. After all, it’s unlikely an existing iPhone owner is going to switch to an Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Google Pixel Phone, even if they’re mad about an underperforming iPhone 6. They’ll probably upgrade to an iPhone X instead, or at least an iPhone 8.
To the Apple apologists, the company is merely doing what it’s always done, ensuring that its products “just work.”
The reality seems to be somewhere in between.
What’s the takeaway from this?
If Apple slows old iPhones because their battery needs replacing, iOS should point out that fact instead of hiding it. Then, the customer has a choice between a $79 battery replacement to fix their existing iPhone, and spending at least $699 on a new iPhone. Some will still choose to upgrade, but its better for Apple — and AAPL stock — in the long term if its customers trust it instead of seeing hidden motives.
The Verge reached out to Apple about this latest iPhone battery report and did not receive a response, so at this point, nothing is official.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.