Apple tends to be a tight-lipped company, controlling the news and the narrative around them and their products whenever possible. However, sometimes that isn’t possible, and the recent customer dissatisfaction and negative press bonanza over their decision to throttle the processors of iPhones with worn batteries certainly qualifies. They responded publicly last week to admit to the practice of slowing phones with worn batteries to prevent usage peaks and shutdowns for the safety of internal components. Even though there are legitimate reasons for their actions, Apple’s admission to adding this “feature” went over like a lead balloon with many users and members of the tech press. Today, they responded again.
First off, Apple released a statement entitled A Message to Our Customers about iPhone Batteries and Performance.
We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.
First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.
From there, the message goes on to give a general overview about how batteries age, and how Apple’s goal was to prevent unexpected device shutdowns. Then, the message turns to addressing customer concerns. Chief among these is Apple cutting the price for battery replacement from $79 to $29 for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later. Apple also committed to releasing an iOS update in 2018 that will give users the ability to actively monitor battery health.
This was a smart response to a story that not only touched off the traditional press feeding frenzy that comes with a negative tech story, but also fed into conspiracy theories that were capable of undermining the company’s credibility with a segment of its customers. Apple couldn’t allow that to continue, so making it clear that they are willing to actively encourage iPhone battery replacements and will give customers all the information they need to know when they are necessary should put this issue to bed for most people. At the very least, these moves should neutralize the “Apple is forcing users to upgrade” narrative.
For those who want more details, Apple also released a more detailed Tech Support document entitled, iPhone Battery and Performance. This article goes into much greater detail on how lithium ion batteries work, how they age and the resulting effects. Then the article goes into a detailed description of how Apple looks at battery performance, and how they analyze the performance of devices with worn batteries.
This power management works by looking at a combination of the device temperature, battery state of charge, and the battery’s impedance. Only if these variables require it, iOS will dynamically manage the maximum performance of some system components, such as the CPU and GPU in order to prevent unexpected shutdowns. As a result, the device workloads will self-balance, allowing a smoother distribution of system tasks, rather than larger, quick spikes of performance all at once. In some cases, a user may not notice any differences in daily device performance. The level of perceived change depends on how much power management is required for a particular device.
In cases that require more extreme forms of this power management, the user may notice effects such as:
• Longer app launch times
• Lower frame rates while scrolling
• Backlight dimming (which can be overridden in Control Center)
• Lower speaker volume by up to -3dB
• Gradual frame rate reductions in some apps
• During the most extreme cases, the camera flash will be disabled as visible in the camera UI
• Apps refreshing in background may require reloading upon launch
Many key areas are not impacted by this power management feature. Some of these include:
• Cellular call quality and networking throughput performance
• Captured photo and video quality
• GPS performance
• Location accuracy
• Sensors like gyroscope, accelerometer, barometer
• Apple Pay
As a technically-minded guy, I appreciate the additional depth in this response over Apple’s more vague statement on the subject last week. Here we can see exactly what parameters they are looking at, and where the impacts of their processor throttling will and won’t be felt. Without this clarification, people were able to liberally apply what Apple was doing to any and all of their problems that might manifest as device slowdown. Having a detailed explanation out in the public domain takes some of that edge off the situation.
Today’s response is consistent with other situations since Tim Cook took the reigns at Apple when users have expressed extreme displeasure about something the company has released or done. Where good old Steve would have come out firing, telling us that “we are holding it wrong” before giving us a back-handed half-apology and free Bumpers, Tim Cook’s Apple is far more contrite when it’s warranted. We saw that when the Apple Maps release went badly and gave the company a black eye. We saw a bit of it earlier this year in Apple’s admission that their neglect of the Mac Pro and pro users in general was an oversight that had to be corrected. Giving users a $50 break on an official Apple repair with Apple parts is good enough for me.
One thing that may continue to bother some users and members of the tech press is the fact that, while Apple is giving us something to smooth the situation over, they aren’t ceding any control over this battery and processor management to iPhone owners. All the explaining in the world won’t convince some Apple users.
One thing that many have requested is the option to turn off this functionality, with an adequate warning of what the consequences might be. Another, more realistic option would be to have a slider that gives the user the ability to alter the maximum amount of throttling allowed. For some, a great deal on a battery replacement won’t be enough, so there will likely still be some complaining after today’s announcement. In other words, it will be just another day in the world of mobile technology.
What do you think about Apple’s announcements today? How about the price reduction on battery replacements and the coming iOS update with enhanced battery health monitoring? Is this enough to satisfy you, or do you think Apple should do more to make up for their aggressive background battery management and internal component protections? Let me know what you think in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.