Misplaced Misgivings: Pretending there's a problem

by Uluroo — January 2, 2018

Apple recently posted an apology for the lack of communication over iPhone speed throttling, and that apology has inflamed some people even more — particularly because Apple plans to continue the throttling after the consumer outcry. Clearly there is no logical explanation for why Apple had to slow iPhones down in the first place, and we all have good reason to be mad at Apple.

Writing for BGR, Chris Smith says "I don’t want the iPhone to be the fastest phone if Apple’s just going to throttle it in a year." What an attention-grabbing headline! You've gotta get those clicks somehow, and obviously, being right is not the way to get clicks. Come on, people, it's 2018. This is the Internet. Accuracy doesn't sell. Just snappy headlines.

Apple did the right thing last week, addressing its own iPhone slowdown mess by apologizing to users and offering battery replacements that are significantly cheaper than before. That said, as a long-time iPhone user, I still have issues with Apple’s apology, especially given that Apple plans to keep throttling iPhones for the foreseeable future.

Well, um, yeah. This is because Apple didn't apologize for slowing down iPhones. That was not the problem. The real problem was that Apple didn't make it clear to consumers what was going on. That's what Apple apologized for.

I don’t want the iPhone to be the fastest phone available if Apple plans to slow it down after a year of regular use.

[Spit take] What? After one year?

... it looks like Apple plans to keep slowing down any phones with old batteries. Even the iPhone 7 was included in the list of affected devices and it’s just one generation old.

This is your evidence? Come on. Apple did say throttling for the iPhone 7 was included in iOS 11.2, but there are no benchmark tests to show that the 7 actually was being throttled. What Uluroo is saying is that the feature is there so the phone is ready when it gets older and/or the battery gets defective and degraded. So far, there is zero proof that it's actually happened yet. Apple already said that the slowdowns only happen under specific conditions — like extreme temperatures and poor battery health — and not regular usage.

Chris, unless an iPhone 7 were used to death for the past year, there is no reason to believe that it meets the conditions required for performance throttling to start — and even if it did, that certainly wouldn't be regular use. It appears that the 7 got the throttling feature so it would be ready when the time comes to use it. And what's with the comment about "any iPhones with old batteries" being slowed down? Nowhere does Apple say this.

It’d be great for Apple to give users a way to decide for themselves whether they want to slow down the iPhone, or not. I know I’d hate for my iPhone X experience to deteriorate after just a year... I’d like to be able to control how I use the device until that actually happens, even if I’d have to deal with unexpected shutdowns as a consequence.

It seems that Chris does not understand when the throttling actually happens — if the device's battery health is poor, or in extreme temperature conditions. The former certainly wouldn't happen after a year of normal use. And imagine a message in iOS saying, "Would you like for your phone to randomly shut down if you're in extremely cold weather and you try to play Asphalt 8, or can you deal with a bit of lag to make sure your device doesn't get messed up?" The combination of events needed to cause a slowdown to happen is so unlikely that it seems obvious to Uluroo that Apple didn't give users the choice.

And keep in mind that the throttling does not happen in regular usage, and Apple said the level of throttling depends on how much is needed, so not everyone will even notice the throttling. Also, the phone returns to normal under regular usage conditions, so Chris's claim that a phone will be throttled after one year of normal use is unfounded.

But no matter what Apple says in the documentation it posted online, it’s absolutely clear that people do notice their iPhone getting slower than usual. That’s why there have been “conspiracy theories” for all these years, and why this whole ordeal was discovered in the first place.

First, the conspiracy theories from before early 2017 are false. Apple said that the throttling feature was introduced in iOS 10.2.1 as a bug fix for users who noticed random shutdowns and, oh, look, reported these to Apple because they found them annoying. Second, any users who noticed their phones slow down outside of the aforementioned conditions of extreme temperatures or poor battery health were instead experiencing natural device aging. Third, the actual evidence of throttling — benchmark tests — is flawed because benchmark tests themselves can cause throttling to happen, making them inaccurate when looking for a throttled device's normal performance.

Why then have the fastest, most powerful mobile processor inside new iPhones every generation if those devices will be throttled in a year or so?

Um, maybe because the vast majority of said devices will not need throttling in just a year?

It’s not like iOS releases and future apps will be any less demanding.

Bingo! We've hit an important point. [Uluroo's tone grows serious, and he stares intensely into the camera.]

[Then he starts laughing hysterically because he can't hold this serious face.]

Chris is absolutely right that future versions of iOS will be more demanding. There's evidence of this in the fact that the latest releases have become well-known for being a scourge of battery life — even with a Smart Battery Case, yesterday Uluroo's iPhone 7 ran through the case's battery, and the phone itself dropped to under 20%. This is something that Apple needs to fix.

Enter speed throttling. Because iPhones often aren't running the software they were designed for (the iPhone 6 was designed for iOS 8, the 6s for 9, etc.), they experience some bugs and performance hits because they're on the latest iOS version. An iPhone 7 running iOS 11 doesn't have the same stability as an iPhone running the final version of iOS 10. Because of how these phones perform on newer software versions, under some conditions, throttling is necessary to level out performance peaks and prevent unexpected shutdowns.

Android phones, however, don't have all the same problems as iOS devices. They are generally designed for a version of Android and stay on that version for much longer — this is the fragmentation for which the platform is notorious. But because of this fragmentation, devices often are running the more refined, less buggy versions of Android, and throttling doesn't need to happen to compensate for the more advanced software. If you simulated the Android predicament of staying on one software version for a long time on an iPhone — say, by keeping an iPhone 7 on iOS 10 — throttling would be far less necessary.

What I’m really saying is that I never want to think about whether or not this extremely powerful computer in my pocket can actually take advantage of the latest app innovations as it get older.

Your phone's ability to take advantage of the latest software is the reason it needs throttling in the first place. And you will rarely notice the effects of this throttling. It only happens under extreme conditions.

What are we so mad about again?