Apple has confirmed that it does deliberately slow down the operation of older iPhones, and says it is doing so to avoid the devices from shutting down because of aging batteries.

Apple says it’s doing this to protect your phone. As the lithium ion batteries in the phone age, they can’t handle processing demands at the same capacity, which causes the phone to shut down unexpectedly. It released an update to stop those unexpected shutdowns, which also means that the phones work a little more slowly.

But the revelation — or confession — that Apple is purposefully decreasing phone speed fed into a conspiracy theory that’s been circulating for awhile on “planned obsolescence.” After new products are released, the theory goes, Apple purposefully messes with your iPhone, frustrating you and forcing you to shell out money to upgrade.

The data on Apple slowing down older iPhones doesn’t necessarily mean the conspiracy theory is true. A relatively recent change to its operating system prompted the slowdowns. But the system update demonstrates why the conspiracy theory keeps circulating: It took an independent investigation by an expert Poole and a viral Reddit post to get Apple to admit what had happened.

Poole’s data got a lot of buzz, and finally Apple responded:

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 basically confirmed Poole’s results and Redditors’ theories. “With this large of a sample size, I’m confident the numbers we have produced are accurate, and also the fact that Apple has verified,” Poole said. “It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling that we didn’t screw up our analysis.”

Photo: iMore.com / iPhone 6

Case closed?

To many, Apple’s admission seemed like proof of the company’s grand conspiracy to force people to keep buying new phones. But Apple’s explanation, and Poole’s, suggests the opposite — a slower phone is better than a glitchy one that suddenly shuts down. It’s more likely that people would end up replacing a phone that constantly shut down than a phone that’s a little slow.

Poole said the battery explanation is legitimate. Lithium-ion batteries age over time. That wear and tear makes them less capable of meeting the power and processing demands in the same way as a youthful iPhone. This is also intensified with the iPhone, which has a particularly speedy processor — which puts even more stress on the batteries.

Yet Apple had not been forthcoming about slower speeds until this week, and, as CNN points out, the company doesn’t regularly notify you if your iPhone 6 battery is in poor health. (The company did alert some iPhone owners and replaced batteries for certain iPhone 6 users whose shutdown issues couldn’t be fixed by the software upgrade.)

Apple also announced the fix to the shutdown glitch early in 2017, and aging batteries were assumed to be the cause. But it didn’t mention anything specifically about slower phone speeds. That shadiness feeds the rumor mill that Apple is subtly trying to nudge you to get the shiny new iPhone.

 

That conspiracy existed long before Poole’s analysis. Google searches for “slow iPhone” spike around the time a new model comes out. In 2013, Catherine Rampell wrote in the New York Times that after the iPhone 5 came out, she “noticed that my sad old iPhone 4 was becoming a lot more sluggish.

The battery was starting to run down much faster, too. But the same thing seemed to be happening to a lot of people who, like me, swear by their Apple products. When I called tech analysts, they said that the new operating system (iOS 7) being pushed out to existing users was making older models unbearably slow. Apple phone batteries, which have a finite number of charges in them to begin with, were drained by the new software. So I could pay Apple $79 to replace the battery, or perhaps spend 20 bucks more for an iPhone 5C. It seemed like Apple was sending me a not-so-subtle message to upgrade.

Tech bloggers have generally knocked the idea that Apple is torturing you with a crappy phone to get you to buy a new one. But they do say is that newer software upgrades can mess with older phones because the new software is designed for, well, the newest model — the one with the fastest processor and the freshest battery. Usually Apple figures this out, and releases updates to fix as many glitches as possible. But it can’t remedy everything. Or, in the case of the iPhone 6 shutdowns, it has to find workarounds.

Apple’s latest admission probably won’t quell the conspiracies — or please customers. A class-action lawsuit, alleging breach of contract, was filed on Thursday in federal court.

There’s also the fact that Apple doesn’t make it easy to change or replace the battery. (Apple’s battery replacement costs $79 — not cheap, but not the cost of an iPhone X.)

But Poole says, if it were easy to replace, then the iPhone wouldn’t be an iPhone. A replaceable battery would have to be thicker, and the phone would have an obvious battery cover. “I think it’s the tradeoff that Apple makes,” Poole said. “They want the very thin, very light, very sleek phones. And by making the battery non-replaceable they’re able to accomplish that.”

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A Video by Unbox Therapy at the end, describing about it.