Let's Talk Batterygate: Overreactions to iPhone slowdowns

by Uluroo — December 26, 2017

The tech press has been exaggerating what Apple actually admitted to doing.


In case you didn't know, technology pundits across the Internet have been blowing up over an issue that really doesn't deserve this big of a reaction. Apple conspiracy theorists have evidently been proven right. Apple is slowing down old iPhones! And now we have an excuse to be really, really mad at Apple!

Uluroo is going to start by just saying the facts, not anyone's opinions about them. Readers are free to derive their thoughts on this before seeing what Uluroo thinks.

For some time, people have been theorizing that maybe Apple cuts the performance of older iPhones when newer iPhones are released to motivate them to upgrade. This conspiracy theory is not what has been proven. What has been proven — and admitted to by Apple — was first brought up by a Reddit user who noticed that, after a battery replacement, their iPhone 6s scored faster in benchmark tests. A benchmark developer performed further tests and came to the conclusion that older iPhones with older batteries do in fact have lower performance scores. It's worth noting that performance benchmarks actually cause strain on a phone's CPU, so you should expect lower-than-usual scores on any phone under a benchmark test. You may not even notice performance slowdowns in real-life usage.

It didn't take long for the Internet to be up at Apple's throat, and the company has made a public statement about this:

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.

Now you know the facts. Uluroo thinks that Apple's admission to the slowdowns has been horribly exaggerated. For example, Mashable's Damon Beres says:

Conspiracy theorists, rejoice: For once, you were right.

This, in fact, is exactly what the conspiracy theorists have not been saying. Apple's intentions for the slowdowns are good, not malicious, as in trying to force users to upgrade.

Beres thinks that Apple is "betraying users" in two ways: by not telling them that the slowdowns would happen, and by making it hard and expensive for iPhone battery replacements to happen. Uluroo will mention the first "betrayal" later, but the second one is what he wants to discuss now. When a user makes a choice to buy a product, they are choosing to accept the way that product is designed. So despite what people tell you, you do not have a right to tell Apple to design a product that you bought and accepted a certain way. That is completely ridiculous. If you want easy battery replacements, the iPhone is not for you. But don't tell Apple to give you a replacement kit or to make the screws on iPhones easier to unscrew. Or whatever you want it to change. And please don't sue them over it. That's even worse.

But that's obviously not the only article you can find that will tell you how horrible Apple is because of this: Forbes' Gordon Kelly says that "Every iPhone Contains A Nasty Surprise."

Do they have licorice inside? Gross, sticky, unbearable licorice? Oh, no, the problem is actually battery chemistry.

Kelly's first problem is that Apple didn't tell users about the slowdowns. Uluroo can see where he's coming from, but he can also see why Apple chose not to mention it until it was a problem. Not every consumer is going to know this, but batteries, over time, are able to provide less power. That's what Apple said in its statement. As Apple also said, a less powerful battery cannot power as much CPU performance. This seems very basic, and any user who understands that batteries grow weaker over time should be able to understand it.

It will be impossible to ever truly measure the global financial impact this had on customer spending or the environmental impact of these unnecessary upgrades.

BINGO! And that's because you cannot prove that any unnecessary upgrades actually happened! You have no idea whether iPhone upgrades were because of poor performance or anything else. Hang on to this thought.

Kelly seemed really ready for the battery chemistry argument, though.

This is the big one and used in most apologist articles: inescapable physics. But the reality is there’s no reason lithium-ion batteries should degrade so quickly.

Uluroo likes the "apologist" title. He should add that to his Twitter account.

Looks like Uluroo was right about this, though. Let's rewind to February, when TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino mentioned that an iOS issue was causing a lot of iPhone 6 and 6s users to experience — this is where it gets interesting — unexpected shutdowns, one of the reasons Apple itself claimed to have implemented the slowdowns. So regardless of how other companies' batteries perform, Apple has proof that there was a very real problem before the iPhone slowdowns and that Batterygate is a bug fix, not a problem.

Ewan Spence of Forbes also has a bone to pick with Apple over this.

For me the biggest issue is Apple deciding to obscure the issue and the solution.

Apple did not obscure the issue. It was a public bug that was then fixed. And the solution is kind of obvious, especially given that the consequences of not implementing it could be damage to the device. If you can concede that lithium-ion batteries cannot permanently supply the same power, then it should be obvious to you that you must lower the processor speed to prevent the device from shutting down, or worse, blowing up. Apple was right to make the move it did. A PR issue like Batterygate is way more manageable than a bunch of iPhones starting to explode.

The biggest thing that the tech press has been missing is that this is not about older iPhones versus newer iPhones and upgrades versus battery replacements. The performance throttling only happens after an iPhone reaches a certain level of battery degradation, and it only slows the phone down under certain conditions to prevent device damage and unwelcome shutdowns. Apple does not do this to all old iPhones. It only happens when it's needed. The slowdowns are not permanent. Apple only implemented it last year because of a bug. If you have an older battery, Apple doesn't find the risk of damage to the device not to be worth the performance increases in those conditions. Despite what pundits say, knowing that makes Uluroo trust Apple, not distrust it.

And now, we come to the most completely ridiculous part of this whole situation, even if you think Apple should have been more public about the whole situation (which Uluroo does think would have helped). Now, someone has decided to start a class-action lawsuit over this. And Uluroo isn't talking about the normal lawsuits, which you may have heard about. He means the one that is literally suing for 999 billion dollars.

Uluroo already doesn't understand why this is something to be so annoyed about. Suing for nearly a trillion dollars really seems like crossing the line.