Apple has announced its plan to release a software update to all its iPhone models to address allegations that the company deliberately downgraded older models to encourage users to buy new phones.
For years, concerns have been raised over the performance of iPhones, which users found to have slowed down each time a new model is released. These performance handicaps gave rise to conspiracy theories that Apple was deliberately throttling older models to encourage adoption of its newer releases.
The problem has been so widespread that in 2014, a professor of economics at Harvard observed that every time a new iPhone was released, a surge of complaints would surface over slowdowns.
Finnish software company Futuremark later assessed and disproved the theory that Apple was throttling older models with software updates. In a study conducted in 2017, the benchmarking firm found that the performance of fresh units of the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 showed minor, but insignificant variations in performance regardless of the operating system they are running on. However, the complaints remained.
A further study by Primate Labs on December 18 discovered that processors in iPhones decrease in performance as batteries age. After the report garnered widespread attention and opened Apple to litigation, the company came clean and released a statement to explain the issue.
On December 20, Apple admitted it slows down older iPhones to offset problems in aging lithium-ion batteries, which also explains why Futuremark found no performance discrepancies in phones running different versions of iOS.
The company stated that older batteries are unable to hold a charge as well as new batteries and can unexpectedly shut down when placed under stress. Apple’s iOS prevents that from happening by slowing down performance—a trade off to having an unstable phone.
The company’s policy of selling replacement batteries for $79 and a lack of transparency regarding the matter made it difficult—if not impossible—for users to know why their phones were performing poorly. To offset the complaints, Apple reduced the cost of replacement batteries to $29 in a public apology to its customers.
On Thursday, Apple says it will release a test version of iOS next month that shows owners their phone’s battery health—a feature long before available in Apple’s Macbook and Macbook Air laptops.
“We will tell somebody we are reducing your performance by some amount in order to not have an unexpected restart, and if you don’t want it, you can turn it off,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday. “We don’t recommend it because we think that people’s iPhones are really important to them and you can never tell when something is so urgent. Our actions were all in service of the user.”