Apple comments on why iPhones with older batteries run slower

Apple is once again in the midst of a ridiculous hubbub about iPhones with older batteries running slower than their newer counterparts. Some people even go so far as to say Apple is trying to force you to upgrade by slowing down your older iPhone on purpose.

Bullshit.

There is a very real reason phones with older batteries run slower than a new battery—the battery is old and isn’t able to offer the device all of the power it once did. This isn’t unique to Apple, this happens to all batteries.

Apple is working to smooth out the power peaks that cause problems for older batteries, which make older devices last longer, but they also work a little slower.

“Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices,” Apple said in a statement provided to me today. “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,” said Apple. “We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.”

Matthew Panzarino summed it up very nicely in his TechCrunch article :

As that battery ages, iOS will check its responsiveness and effectiveness actively. At a point when it becomes unable to give the processor all the power it needs to hit a peak of power, the requests will be spread out over a few cycles.

Apple is not trying to slow down your iPhone so you will buy a new one, they are trying to optimize the battery use in the device so you don’t have unexpected shutdowns and the iPhone will last longer. Pretty much the exact opposite of what people are accusing the company of doing.



  • rick gregory

    Well, yes. I mean, the very fact that this started on Reddit should have been a clue to its veracity.

  • ChuckO

    Android probably doesn’t do this but Android phones also probably don’t last long enough for this to be a problem if they did.

    • Dawn

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  • JimCracky

    Dear people complaining about this battery issue:

    GFU

    Happy Holidays

    • invinciblegod

      You’re a bad person.

  • invinciblegod

    So how about their laptops? Do they slow down too when batteries are 2 years old? If not, then it is not the batteries fault, but the design of the chip/phone. If they do, I guess it’s less noticeable on a laptop?

    • rick gregory

      it’s not anyone’s ‘fault’. It’s a design choice. AS the battery ages it holds less charge. The choices are to keep running it down as if it was new and had its full capacity or to try to lengthen the battery life by varying the clock rate as needed by what the phone is doing.

      Laptops are a bit different in that they can generally be used plugged in while that’s not really true of a phone (outside perhaps of a car environment). That said, I don’t actually know what my MBP does in this regard but it wouldn’t surprise me if it varies clock rate. People thinking the CPU should always be running at max rate forget that much of the time there’s no need for it (right now, my MBP has a few programs idling in the background and this window in Safari open).

      If Apple DID let the CPU just idle at max clock rate you know what would happen? Some person on Reddit would complain that their 3 year old iPhone shut down at 4 hours.

      • lkalliance

        So then this isn’t a “permanent” state, correct? The processor is being slowed down only in moments when the battery cannot meet the top power needs. As the battery ages, those moments will become more frequent, but at any given moment if the battery has the juice available, the phone will run at its full speed. Do I have that right?

        • rick gregory

          Correct. The clock rate varies over time and seems related to both what the phone is doing as well as charge and, likely, max capacity.

          I think “…at any given moment if the battery has the juice available, the phone will run at its full speed” is probably incorrect since, as I just wrote, there’s no real reason to have the CPU running at a high clock rate when its just sitting on my desk or just displaying a Facebook page. Those are low CPU demand tasks compared to, for example, doing some photo editing.

          That said it does seem to run at a higher rate when it has more charge.

          • lkalliance

            I phrased that poorly, thanks for rephrasing.

        • Mostly incorrect according to the letter of what you wrote: You could argue the CPU is being “slowed down” whenever it’s running at less than 100% speed. And any time the CPU isn’t needed at full power, it won’t be at full power. EDIT: After reading your next post, I’m pretty sure you WERE putting aside this optimization. So we’re cool, but I’m going to leave it for other readers. 🙂

          But assuming you’re not counting the idle power savings, the ADDITIONAL cap on max performance is only when deemed necessary. Note, though, that Apple is only able to GUESS the power the device can draw from the battery without the battery failing to deliver. They must guess conservatively if they want the device to not crash. That said, they likely have very good data on this.

          I wonder if future devices will have an extra capacitor inline in order to try to stabilize the draw.

          • lkalliance

            This is getting frustrating. I agree that it’s important to not gloss over the details of how I’m phrasing the question, but I fear I’m not getting at the core of my question cleanly enough:

            Compared to the normal operation of the phone with a new battery, when the battery ages is the performance of the phone’s processor in high-clock-speed activity PERMANENTLY reduced, or is it CIRCUMSTANTIALLY reduced?

          • To keep the phone from crashing, iOS limits the draw on marginal batteries by limiting how much power the CPU will draw. This limit is an estimate, given the condition of the battery. I’m not sure if current charge is taken into account, but I’m not sure it matters either. If you draw power fast enough from even a fully charged battery it might drop out.

            It’d be great if the numbers were perfect and Apple were able to limit it just enough that the battery didn’t drop out under the device, but I don’t think they have the kinds of sensors they’d need on the battery to do that. So they have to estimate worse case.

            There are apps available that show how badly damaged a battery is. I’d suggest trying one of them if it’s a concern to you. Apple and ASPs can also pull this information over Lightning from the phone itself.

            Batteries suck.

          • lkalliance

            So, then once the software has determined that the battery is “marginal,” then it puts a ceiling on the processing power under all circumstances. That’s worse than I thought it was.

          • Yes. Because a marginal battery by definition can’t deliver enough power for the CPU to spin up fully without crashing.

          • lkalliance

            And I’m inferring that what makes a battery marginal isn’t something temporary, but rather permanent degradation of the battery. Which would mean that it doesn’t even need to be a policy, just reality: once the battery has crossed that threshold, you will permanently have lessened peak performance.

            Is it your belief that the software is testing some aspect of the battery, even if imperfect, to determine if it has crossed that threshold? Or is it really just an alarm that goes off once the battery ages to a certain age?

          • Colin Mattson

            Today’s batteries are able to provide extensive performance and health data back to their devices. MacOS, iOS, and Android devices receive this performance data and are able to use it to make actionable decisions like, say, capping the processor load so the system doesn’t suddenly and unexpectedly shut down. (Another very simple one you may have noticed is that “calibrating your battery” stopped being a thing. It’s now done on the fly.)

            An alarm based on calendar age would be totally useless, as my usage patterns may trash my iPhone battery in 6 months while yours would 3 years. Or I got a battery from a perfect lot while yours came from a substandard lot.

          • lkalliance

            Understood. Though I’m not sure a calendar age function would be TOTALLY useless: it would be simpler engineering, which would be less likely to break. Depending on how aggressively you set the cutoff, it would mean that though you may get more users that are capped unnecessarily, you get fewer users experiencing the original problem it’s there to solve.

            The associated question is, would Apple have gone this route? My expectation is “no.”

          • The battery is aware of its capacity and a few other aspects of health. That’s not the same as max draw, but it clearly isn’t just age.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      At a guess, I’d say they aren’t doing this on macs because a) they don’t design the chips on a mac so they aren’t able to fine tune things so much, and/or b) a phone battery is far tinier than the battery in your laptop, so there’s much less “overhead” available for those moments when demand spikes.

      • Mark Cormack

        I’m going with B. My iPad Air 2 feels way less laggy than my iPhone 6. I’m guessing the massive batteries in iPads and laptops negate this issue for a little longer.

      • Meaux

        Part of it is that laptops, iPads and watches are rated for 1,000 recharge cycles, while the ones for phones are only rated for 500 cycles.

    • mat

      Yes, laptops – all – slowdown on battery.

    • Colin Mattson

      Yes, this was implemented on the laptops years before it got rolled out to the iPhones. Multiple generations of Mac notebooks all slow down (in some cases significantly) with a bad or missing battery. Same basic battery technology, same basic battery technology flaw: If you draw too hard on a bad battery, the computer shuts down out of the blue and the user has A Really Bad Time.

      MacOS is, however, much more proactive about telling you your battery is shot. (But even then, seemingly rational people think it’s a scam to sell you a new battery because the computer “works just fine, just slower than it used to.”)

      There is no solution in which Apple wins.

  • lkalliance

    I just checked the Apple Care on my current SE, and it will expire in April of 2018. I’m expecting now to have them replace the battery before it runs out, as that is (I believe) a service that is covered by Apple Care. I wonder if I’ll need to show cause?

    • rick gregory

      You can use an app called Battery Life on the app store to show the wear on your battery. To see CPU clock rate and a lot more, get CPU DasherX.

      • lkalliance

        Thanks for the tip. I just meant that, as we now have it confirmed that as the battery ages you’re likely to see a lower performance ceiling, it makes sense to replace the battery via Apple Care before your policy runs out, even if you don’t yet see the performance hit. Get yourself an extra year or two of a fresh battery that I’ve kind of already paid for by getting Apple Care.

        • Best to check the battery life first. Apple won’t replace it unless it is below 80%. At least they won’t recommend it, so there may be a charge above the AppleCare.

      • lkalliance

        I bet that app is trending right now, lol.

  • rixm

    While the apple trying to make you buy a new phone piece is very likely BS, the “smoothing power peaks” isn’t accurate either. I had a 6, the 11.x (2 I think) update almost turned what was a very usable phone in to a brick. I hadn’t noticed any significant issues in terms of my battery not lasting a full day, never had to top off during the day for the most part (though did plug it in during commuting out of habit more than need) after one of those 11 updates response time for anything on that phone became terrible! Everything was taking 3-5x as long as it had been. The actual phone app would take so long to respond sometimes it would crash, other times it took so long to respond to calls I’d miss them. If I wasn’t already planning to upgrade to the latest iPhone I would have looked for a way to roll it back (I’m not sure this is even possible any longer) Apple should never have pushed this out to gen 6 iPhones.

    • so you’re saying Apple is lying about it? yeah i don’t think so.

      • rixm

        I don’t see “lying” stated anywhere in my post. I simply conveyed exactly what I experienced. I expressed the fact that my phone wasn’t having battery issues and suggested they should have never released this for iphone6 specifically. My iphone6 became just shy of unusable as a result of this software update. you know how those pesky bugs can creep in cough root access no password cough I think they needed to test more and understand the performance impacts to a phone that doesn’t really have the horsepower (based on my observation) to support it. I’d rather they had left my phone as it was, with no discernable issues prior to the update.

        • you dont need to state the word “lying” in your post to suggest theyre lying. instead you said:

          “smoothing power peaks” isn’t accurate either

          …if it isn’t accurate, then theyre intentionally be untruthful, which is deception, which is well within the purview of the word “lying”.

          i take issue with your premise that apple is not being truthful about what theyre doing, which is saying theyre lying. they aren’t being untruthful about it, unless you have some evidence to show us?

          but you dont.

    • Mo

      Congratulations on your first-ever comment using this account.

    • Mark Cormack

      iPhone 6 ran like a bog donkey from iOS11 gold master onwards for me, nothing to do with the point updates.

    • Erik K. Fritz

      Your single example certainly proves the case. Strange, then, that my iPhone 6 is just fine—and I’m keeping up with all updates. That’s gotta be wrong, though, as there aren’t any other variables at play. So, I beg your pardon. Please, share more sweeping generalizations supported by your scientifically rigorous personal experience.

    • Imagine a peak. Now imagine it smoothed. It’s not as high, not as sharp, but goes on a bit longer. That is indeed the difference.

  • freedonuts

    It should be a user decision to decide to live with less battery time or a less responsive UI… But in this case it seems like the real issue is with the voltage regulators and general power management hw causing the hw to simply shut down when ‘unexpectedly’ there is not sufficiently energy for peak performance. The fix is just a workaround for bad design.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      “It should be a user decision to decide to live with less battery time or a less responsive UI”

      That’s 100% against Apple’s ethos, which is that the user shouldn’t have to know or care about such minutiae.

      “The fix is just a workaround for bad design.”

      No, it’s not. Electronic devices aren’t the same as a cordless drill where it’ll keep turning slower and slower as the battery dies. Below a certain voltage and a certain amperage at that voltage, electronics won’t work properly or they will actually break. So by design, they turn themselves off if there isn’t enough juice. That’s not new to the iphone, if you are old enough to remember point and shoot digital cameras, they would turn off really fast if you fed them an ailing battery or a partially charged battery.

      As Apple has ramped the performance of their Ax CPUs up higher and higher, the power demands the chips make have become more and more “bursty” – using a tiny amount of power at idle, then demanding a lot of power for a second or two, then going back to needing just a tiny bit of power. This is really the worst kind of situation for an ailing battery — it can still store a respectable charge, but it can’t deliver power fast enough to meet the demands of the chip at peak draw. So the voltage or the amperage it provides drops, and the phone, in self-defense, shuts off suddenly even though the battery meter claims it’s still at half charge. THis is a separate problem from having an old battery that doesn’t have as much capacity as a new battery. IOW, it’s mainly a problem for batteries which are not just old, but also sick.

      Apple is trying to fix that sudden shut off problem by capping the Ax chip’s peak demand for phones whose batteries show symptoms of being sickly. WHich is a godsend for those people whose phones were dying at 50% charge, but not so much for those people whose batteries were not sick.

      The only problems here are, 1, iOS can’t tell if your battery is sick or not, it can only make an educated guess. Apple erred on the side of being gentle to batteries that don’t need coddling in order to ensure that they solved the sudden shutdown problem for as many customers as possible. Which was the right call, but try telling that to all the angry nerds whose phones are now slower. And 2, in keeping with their ethos, Apple did not communicate to the owners of affected phones that things were being slowed down to protect against sudden shutdowns. Which was the wrong call.

      • Meaux

        Actually, it is related to a design issue. iPhone have 500 charge cycle rated batteries, while their other devices, aside from iPods, have 1000 charge batteries.

        https://www.apple.com/batteries/service-and-recycling/

        • Glaurung-Quena

          And that’s almost certainly because it’s much harder to get more cycles out of a phone sized battery.

          • Meaux

            Yet they manage to fit 1000 cycle batteries in a watch sized battery.

          • my Series 0 AW battery is done, runs super low now and requires service.

          • Meaux

            And? My Series zero still lasts the whole day. Single data points are useless.

          • I’m not quite there yet, but close!

        • My iPhone 6S battery is at about 83% capacity now. Once it hits 80 or below, I’ll pony up the $79 bucks to have Apple replace it. No big deal; seems a fine price to get a warrantied service (with a phone with seals around the edge that I worry about messing up otherwise) that will stretch the phone life another year or two. I can put off deciding between an 8 or an X for a while.

      • freedonuts

        “So by design, they turn themselves off if there isn’t enough juice.” Clearly if there isn’t enough juice, the thing should switch off. The issue is that the throttling being done now was not part of original design. It’s needed because they hit an unexpected issue causing a pretty terrible user experience (phones shutting down with “>10%” left..). That issue is occurring because of a design flaw = bad design. Or you really think all this is working as Apple expected when they designed these phones? Pretty sure this is one of the key reasons why they decided to design their own power management chips: http://appleinsider.com/articles/17/11/30/future-iphone-ipad-may-have-apple-designed-power-management-chips-as-soon-as-2018

    • Mark Cormack

      “t should be a user decision to decide to live with less battery time or a less responsive UI”

      It absolutely shouldn’t.

      • freedonuts

        I actually agree if this was “by design” from day one. But being a workaround for a hw issue, I rather have a faster (“normal”) phone than this crawling thing I have now (basically forcing me to do a battery replacement).

    • It should be a user decision to decide to live with less battery time or a less responsive UI

      reading fail. its not about a a slower UI, it’s about the battery suffering immediate failure to supply needed power & shutting down.

      lets revisit what they said very clearly, shall we:

      “smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down”

      • freedonuts

        And guess where “instantaneous peaks” are mostly needed… Ever looked at Xcode Profiler while doing UI performance optimisation?

    • Are you serious?

      You’re making this out as if you can have better battery OR better performance. That’s not the damn trade off. The tradeoff is that you have a completely unreliable phone, one that will die whenever it tries to draw too much power from the battery OR you can have an OS that blocks that moment and keeps the phone running as bets it can.

      (It’s like none of you guys have ever had a dead car battery before. You know that moment where you turn the key and instead of starting your clock goes back to 12:00, even though you’ve only been parked for ten minutes? Like that. But your cell phone.)

      • freedonuts

        Yes I’m serious and of course that could be a the trade off. Nothing new. Been available on notebooks since ages.

        • No. That’s just ignorance. Drain too fast and suffer, totally unrelated to charge level.

          Seriously, this is utterly baffling. It’s like you’ve never dealt with batteries anywhere else before.

  • Heos Phorus

    that design makes sense, but i still wish there was a „power user“-feature that‘d give me the choice.

    as for „apple slowing things down on purpose to make you buy a new device“. a lot of apple-friends also called „bullshit“ on devices getting slower on purpose, before it was proven otherwise…

    i think, new versions of their OS don‘t get much optimization for older devices. you often can measure a significant loss in battery running time and speed after a version-update, even when there are hardly any of the new features activated on your device anyway. see ios11 or watchOS 4: the mostly visual design changes on older devices should hardly make them slower, or make apps start slower but yet it does (apart from the intentional throttling). they probably just don‘t assign a lot of people to optimize for devices they no longer sell and compensate for a more complex, less optimized OS on newer devices with faster hardware. it also makes the new devices seem even faster, even when an iphoneX on ios11 is just as zippy as a 5s was on 7.

    so older devices getting slower by neglect is at least a useful side-effect, probably even passively reinforced by apple.

    and, yes, sure, old hardware has to die for new one to come out, but the cycles are getting smaller all the time, while there are also less major new features coming out. it also shows in software quality. and, for sure, it undercuts any real effort to make iphones more recycleable or green. that one liam-robot-fig-leaf, working part time won‘t make a dent against millions of discarded and destroyed iphones, and countless millions more produced with newly sourced resources.

  • The Cappy

    I don’t especially have a problem with Apple having done this. But my iPhone still has battery to spare. I still don’t need to plug in every night, but the performance has fallen off a cliff. I’d prefer to sacrifice battery at the expense of better CPU. I’d prefer a setting with a warning. They could even default to the current mode. It’s possible this power management thing is too deeply imbedded in the new code though.

    • That’s not how it works, though.

      This is not about battery life but about stability. This is not about a 10 vs. 12 hour tuntime, but a crash after four hours because the CPU got spun up and the battery failed to deliver enough power to keep it that way, even though there’s still 50% of the battery left.

      Battery technology isn’t just bad, it’s terrible. It sucks.

      • The Cappy

        Maybe. I suspect that the stability problem only appears with marginal battery situation.

  • Prof. Peabody

    Nothing personal, but IMO this site has basically jumped the shark into being just an Apple apologist site. I still read it, but other than re-posts of “amazing” YouTube videos the main content here seems to be defending every single thing that Apple does, every single time.

    In this particular case, Apple is at least a tiny bit at fault for designing the software/hardware integration on such a fine edge when the battery is new, that it needs to be clocked down in later iterations when the battery is older. They should be designing for a “good performance” across time and battery life, not making it seem like a speed demon on the day you purchase it, only to have to be clocked down later on.

    • David Stewart

      So instead of throttling when required, you’d have them throttle everything from the beginning? That’s a strictly worse solution.

    • you’ve always been a troll, on this site and others, so why should anyone give a shit what you think?

      anyway, your supposed attempt at reason is flawed. batteries are of limited lifespan and not an eternal spring of energy. they will fail. they will fail. let that sink in. this power management feature allows them to complete a requested task without failing, thus preventing data loss and squeezing a bit more usefulness out of an expired piece of equipment requiring service. that is a good thing. only a troll believes its a bad thing or that apple is at fault for batteries not lasting forever.

      • I don’t think that’s entirely fair.

        But it’s certainly true in this case.

    • Mo

      I’m curious to know what your Textexpander shortcut for your comment is, because you seem to use it a lot, no?

  • lkalliance

    Thanks to Rick and Steven for answering my questions! I guess I wouldn’t care so much if I weren’t looking at upgrading my daughter’s 5S in a few months. I was considering a 6S, this issue should be a factor in that decision.

    I’ve seen reference to this affecting iPhones 6, 7 and SE. The 6S had the original issue, I understand, of the phone shutting down, and thus it has the free battery replacement program. It sounds like improving this situation would mean new engineering of hardware in several places, so I guess that buying one now, now that Apple knows about the issue, wouldn’t make a difference. The 6S is the 6S is the 6S, and any engineering improvements to mitigate the issue would have been rolled into the X and future.

    • I’m guessing the 6S already has capping if the battery is bad, but there aren’t many bad batteries yet. If/when you do have problems you can swap the battery.

      To give you a couple points of data: * I bought an iPhone SE in June 2016. I’m a developer and this is my main device, which is basically the equivalent of a car being driven like a taxi its entire life. As I check this, the battery is at 86% health. * I replaced the battery in my wife’s 5S a week or two ago. It was at least year and a half older than my iPhone, but was down in the 60s and was starting to turn off at the end of her shift before I could pick her up.

      You shouldn’t have a problem for a couple years.

      Try this app: https://www.batterylifeapp.com

      I’m not 100% convinced of it yet, but it’s the one I’ve been using and it seems accurate so far.

      • lkalliance

        Yeah, I downloaded that app earlier on Rick Gregory’s suggestion. My battery health is at 92%, on my SE I’ve had since April 2016. I definitely use it less than you do (and I’m actually trying to use it less).

        In my mind, if I can get four years out of a phone that I use every day and that I keep up-to-date with the latest iOS, that seems eminently reasonable.

        • It’s possible you’ll need to swap the battery to get a full four years out of it, but it’s not a big deal. Until my wife’s iPhone 5S started crapping out, it never even occurred to me that I could have a phone with a new battery every couple years for $99 (in Canada). I’m going to take advantage of that with my SE some time in 2018.

          • lkalliance

            Yeah, battery replacement is part of Apple Care, I think, but I suspect the battery has to be below a threshold. My girlfriend’s 5c lasted four years, no battery replacement. Slow as molasses at the end, might have gotten more out of it perhaps! Still, that was a good length of time.

  • Simon

    Before judging Apple, I’d like to know how competing phones work with older batteries. Do Samsung phones suffer sporadic shutdowns or get throttled after a year or so? If not, is Apple at fault for designing a phone with too small a battery or too demanding a chipset? I suspect Apple aren’t entirely blameless in this. They decided which battery was sufficient for these phones and it sounds like they decided one year of optimal usage was enough.

    • Colin Mattson

      Most Android manufacturers opt for the “unexpected shutdown” route because it requires zero engineering effort beyond making AOSP run. And when you’re making low-to-no-margin devices, that’s a reasonable choice.

      • invinciblegod

        Proof?

  • lkalliance

    The more I read about this, the more disgusted I get with the response. Per Mathew Panzarino in TechCrunch, Apple even announced they had done…something…in response to the iPhone 6 and 6S shutdown issues and that it had to do with older batteries and it was bundled into iOS 10.2.1. His coverage of the original rollout didn’t drill down into cycle smoothing as part of the reason, but it wasn’t something that was snuck in without announcement.

    One could reasonably say, I think, that Apple fell down on the matter of informing consumers of that practical matter, and I wouldn’t disagree.

    But of course that’s not where it stops: this is just “proof” of “planned obsolescence.” When it’s the opposite! And cries of “planned obsolescence” have been going on since at least iOS 7, and this change wasn’t put in until iOS 10.2.1.

    Perhaps I am an Apple apologist. Or perhaps I would just rather believe that the lot of them–Apple, Samsung, Google, Facebook, Amazon, whatever–are each doing their honest level best to build things and services that people want (and for the most part succeeding!).

  • How is everyone okay with this? Apple offered free battery replacements for iPhone 6s owners earlier this year due to random shutdowns. If your battery was just replaced, will the CPU still be throttled? This also hasn’t been necessary in the past. Why all of the sudden? It just doesn’t add up.