In the wake of Apple’s admission that it slows down older iPhones to preserve battery life, there’ve been numerous questions as to whether or not Android manufacturers do the same thing. While Apple and the Android OEMs pursue very different strategies for device updates and improvement, they also rely on very similar technologies for batteries, displays, storage, and power management. Apple may not have moved past using two high-powered CPU cores for major workloads, but it’s been integrating more low-power cores for power savings and efficient operation. If other Android manufacturers were stealthily lowering phone performance to keep their batteries from failing, it would give Apple a leg to stand on when claiming this was simply done to improve hardware longevity.
Unfortunately for Apple, this does not appear to be the case. Samsung, LG, Motorola, and HTC have now all stated they do not slow down phones with older batteries. LG writes that it avoids this behavior because ” We care what our customers think,” while Samsung states: “We ensure extended battery life of Samsung mobile devices through multi-layer safety measures, which include software algorithms that govern the battery charging current and charging duration. We do not reduce CPU performance through software updates over the lifecycles of the phone.”
There’s still a life-cycle argument to be made, here, though I’m not certain how strong it really is. Apple does support its phones longer than comparable Android devices. Sure, plenty of people upgrade every year or two, but you can buy an Apple device and know you’ll receive four OS updates with attendant security patches throughout that time. That’s a significant increase over Android hardware, which makes no such promises, and typically receives 1-2 OS updates.
But part of the reason why this issue has gotten such coverage is because Apple doesn’t just implement this strategy on old devices with a demonstrable loss in power. As someone with an older iPhone that suffers from precisely the “fails with a high reported percentage of charge remaining” that Apple claims drove its own solution, I can understand and sympathize with the company’s justification. There are indeed places and times when I’d much rather have a slow phone than no phone at all.
The iPhone X is a very quick phone. How fast will it be in 12 months? I have no idea and that’s a problem.
But this isn’t a feature Apple turns on when your phone battery hits 50% health, or even 70% health. All accounts indicate the throttling is far more conservative than that, with some users reporting slowdowns when their batteries are at 80-90% health. That’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and it speaks to the larger problem. If I have to replace the battery on my device because the battery can suddenly drop from 50% to 10% in a manner of minutes (and it can), that’s one thing. If I have to replace my battery when the only sign of wear is that I get slightly less battery life overall, that’s entirely different.
This would also be easier to understand if the performance declines were subtle, but in many cases, they aren’t. Geekbench’s initial investigation showed that some iPhone 6s and 7s have been throttled to 44-50% of their base performance. If a smartphone is so ineptly designed that it has to be throttled to 44% of base performance after just two years of use, it’s a fundamental failure on Apple’s part. The lifecycle argument may not completely fall apart on such examination, but it takes a heck of a beating.
Apple claims it doesn’t design its hardware to reduce longevity or harm the user experience. Maybe it doesn’t — but it’s not designing its batteries for longevity, either. Forcing users to buy new batteries, even if they’re temporarily discounted, is not in the best interest of the user. And until Apple starts offering the option to disable this setting, it’s going to look like a further attempt to wring more money out of its customer base.