Mobility

Is Apple purposely slowing down old iPhones? Geekbench founder thinks so

Apple may be limiting iPhone performance based on decreases in battery condition, according to Geekbench's John Poole.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Geekbench data suggests that Apple may be limiting iPhone performance based on the condition of a user's battery.
  • While it could simply be a way to protect iPhones from shutting down unexpectedly, the power throttling may lead some users to believe they need to replace their phone and feed into the planned obsolescence narrative.

Update: Apple has admitted to slowing down older iPhones in an attempt to prevent shutdowns from poor battery conditions. In response to the Geekbench report, Apple issued the following statement:

"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 may be slowing down older iPhones in order to counteract problems with decreased battery capacity, according to Primate Labs founder John Poole.

The news could add fuel to the conversation around planned obsolescence—the idea that tech companies purposely slow down older devices to encourage users to buy new models. Claims of planned obsolescence have hit almost all the big firms, and have reached the status of a major conspiracy theory in many tech circles.

In a recent blog post, Poole, whose company created the Geekbench benchmarking system, set out to detail the data behind a particular Reddit post claiming that Apple was slowing down iPhones with low-capacity batteries. The user was getting lower-than-expected scores on Geekbench, which improved after they replaced the battery in their iPhone 6S.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy template (Tech Pro Research)

Poole examined the issue by plotting performance scores across a variety of iPhone models. The problem he found was that iPhones were slowing down as their battery life decreased, and the issue was widespread enough to affect even the iPhone 7.

Of course, part of the battery issues have to do with the changes that came with iOS 10.2.1, Poole wrote. Apple introduced the update to combat a bug causing the sudden shutdown of iPhone 6 and 6S models.

"I believe (as do others) that Apple introduced a change to limit performance when battery condition decreases past a certain point," Poole wrote in the post.

However, it could have also introduced new problems.

Currently, most modern iPhones either run in full performance, or in limited performance once they enter low-power mode (which the user is notified of first), Poole wrote. The update introduced to fix the sudden shutdown problem could have brought about a third performance mode that users are unaware of.

"While this state is created to mask a deficiency in battery power, users may believe that the slow down is due to CPU performance, instead of battery performance, which is triggering an Apple introduced CPU slow-down," Poole wrote.

This could also prompt users to believe that their phone is slow and in need of being replaced, which could feed into the planned obsolescence hype. It's also worth noting that benchmarking company Futuremark also recently took a look at planned obsolescence data and they found different results. According to their data, there's no reason to believe that Apple slows down old iPhones to force you to buy a new one.

If it seems like the statements made in Poole's post are rather vague, keep in mind that planned obsolescence could be considered anti-competitive and potentially illegal on Apple's behalf. So, making these claims could land someone in hot water with Apple's legal department. Still, as smartphones continue to become such a central part of so many people's lives, examining their potential performance flaws should become a serious concern for users.

Also see

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Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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