Apple is being slandered for what chemistry cannot fix

Robert Kientz, Seeking Alpha (free reg-wall):

Li-ION is the most advanced, commonly available batteries that are used in portable electronics like laptops and phones. That is because unlike Nickel Cadmium [NiCad], they do not develop ‘charge memories’. And they are better for small electronics than Nickel Metal Hydride [NiMH] because of shorter charge time and higher energy density, both critical for the uses of portable phones.

And:

Li-ION batteries typically fail faster than NiCad because they wear out in less charge cycles, which mean consumers get fewer charges before their batteries will need replacement.

And:

Apple has not designed flaws into its iPhone product with regard to battery management.

What Apple has done is provide software that allows its iPhone users who want to keep their phones to manage their batteries by slowing down the processor during times of lower power and to keep the phones from turning off spontaneously. Contrary to what many have said about this story, what Apple is doing is not abnormal at all.

There are two computer chip manufacturers that you may have heard of, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), that have built advanced power management technology into their chipset designs.

Provocative read. To me, Apple has done an amazing job optimizing its battery technology. Where they’ve slipped up here, in my opinion, is in communications. This would not be an issue of Apple gave users an easy way to tell where their device sits on the battery efficiency curve, made it easier for a user to have a sense of how much better their device would perform if they bought a new battery.

That said, I’m not sure Apple wants to be in the battery swap-out business. If Apple educated their users about the current state of their batteries, I suspect many consumers would develop a habit of updating their batteries, rather than live with a 75% solution.



  • No, no, no. I’m sorry, this is simply wrong. Apple is not being “slandered” for anything to do with chemistry. Apple is being criticized – and rightly so – for not informing users that the performance of their iPhones was reduced. And for not letting users know that they could replace the batteries. The article may contain facts about batteries, but its premise is simply BS.

    • i’ve never before heard that people didn’t know they could replace batteries.

      • Syriac

        Have you heard that the manufacture throttled the processors once the battery was worn out? Never see this before.

        • The Cappy

          Rebuttal fail. KM said Apple didn’t let “users know that they could replace the batteries”. M basically said that wasn’t true. And you… changed the subject.

      • Person McPersonson

        It’s not they don’t know that batteries aren’t replaceable, it’s that they don’t know that the performance problems are due to Apple slowing it down because the battery needs replacing.

        That’s the crux of the problem. People don’t know. Most iPhone owners still don’t know, because all they see are irresponsible headlines saying “Apple admits they slow down phones” instead of “Apple slows down phones with batteries that need replacing.”

      • Since you cannot manually replace them – you can’t pull the back off an iPhone and stick in a new battery – lots of people think you cannot replace them at all. Or if you can, that it’s extremely expensive (whereas it’s only $79 in the US).

        • rick gregory

          Oh come on… people think the batteries can’t be replaced even by Apple? Survey source on that one? Because I’ve never heard anyone say that.

          • Go ahead and ask some “average users” you know.

          • Brandon

            Apple is not responsible for people’s assumptions. If you don’t know, ask. If you don’t ask, it’s your own fault.

          • rick gregory

            Right, so you have nothing. Thought so.

          • I have the experience of being in contact with lots of “average users” through my writing about technology.

          • Brandon

            So…the rest of us who aren’t “writing about technology” are completely disconnected from “average users”, therefore, our experience is invalid. Gotcha.

          • Honestly, man, I have no problem believing that people think the iPhone battery can’t be replaced. For years companies like Samsung have actually put it in their advertisements. Many Android fans spent years telling that to anyone who would listen. People in general have really poor bullshit filters and believe what they’re told.

      • Kip Beatty

        They aren’t user replaceable. They come with zero indication that their performance has reduced causing your iPhone to now perform much more slowly. No one with a working battery was going to drop by Apple and pay $99 for a replacement on the off chance it would fix their sluggish iPhone. Kirk’s statement is spot on, and your response is the same myopic “defend Apple always” type that makes people hate Apple users.

        Apple’s solution to the issue was fine and well considered. Their handling of the implementation was abysmal. There is absolutely no way this should have been discovered accidentally by end users. Tim Cook and company shot themselves in the foot for no reason, and have damaged the one thing they had with their customers that few other companies did; genuine trust.

        Screw $29. Replace every battery in any phone that’s been throttled at no charge. It’s sofa cushion money to them, and would go much further in redeeming them with customers.

    • Syriac

      Well said, completely agree.

    • Matt

      Its utterly wrong. Its like they weren’t even listening to what people were saying.

      Nobody says the solution to the problem Apple came up with is a problem. Nobody has said shutting off is better than slowing it down.

      What people ARE saying is that not telling users that its happening is wrong. What people are saying that not allowing users to replace the battery to improve performance is wrong. What people are saying is that making phones too thin to cause this problem is wrong.

      I would say only the third is debatable, the other are just not.

      But none of it is because of chemistry.

      • No, lots of people ARE saying the solution is a problem. It’s ridiculous and stupid, but people are absolutely ridiculous and stupid.

        • Matt

          They are? I haven’t seen that at all. Link?

          • Matt

            Meh. Okay a few dumb people are saying that. But most aren’t.

            The point still stands. Its not that Apple was slowing things down, its that they didn’t inform users about it.

          • Mo

            More than a few. Stock analysts and mainstream tech writers are perpetuating this new myth with vague language and preemptive, accusatory headlines.

            Your “nobody” is solipsistic.

          • Matt

            NOPE.

            The only solipsistic argument is yours.

            Its just a few. End of line.

          • Mo

            You’re also ignoring all the conventional news media that most consumers are still influenced by. Network tv and tabloids are all too ready to gin this up. That you consider them “a few dumb people” suggests you’re dismissing the portion of the American population that isn’t tech enthusiasts like yourself.

          • Matt

            I’m not at all.

            Also, they SHOULD gin this up. Apple did not inform that this would happen.

            Again, its just a small few people. I’m dismissing nobody because that portion doesn’t think like that small few.

          • Brandon

            They shouldn’t “gin this up”. They should report it accurately.

            The media should take this opportunity to educate the masses of the unavoidable aging of technology, not stirring up controversy.

          • Glaurung-Quena

            “The media should take this opportunity to educate the masses of the unavoidable aging of technology, not stirring up controversy.”

            Ah Hahahahahahahahaha! That was very funny!

            The media seeking to educate instead of sensationalize, maybe in Erehwon or Utopia, not in the real world.

          • I could literally find as many shitty and wrong takes on this as you’d like. The only constraint is time. Canadian TV news carried the story a few days ago, for instance, and taught this to millions.

            Never underestimate how stupid it can get. That you and I are able to see through this is not just a gift, but also a curse. We get to be wrong to every ignorant person we talk to, including family.

          • Matt

            I was wrong to give the general media so much credit. Mea culpa.

          • Tom_P

            I agree about “didn’t inform”part but I think you let the media off the hook too easily, Matt. It’s not just a few.

          • Matt

            Maybe you are right…

          • Meaux

            Actually, they’re saying they got slowed down without consent. If someone’s phone isn’t shutting down and the phone recommends that the performance get throttled to prevent these shutdowns, they’ll decline. The phone shutdowns aren’t happening in every device where the battery wears down to a certain point, but the performance throttling does.

          • That’s just wrong.

    • David Stewart

      The issue is that these sorts of optimizations and mitigation strategies happen all the time in technology. Chips throttle themselves to keep from overheating, save battery, and deal with power draw issues. Software reduces performance for a host of reasons as well and all these optimizations can happen dynamically being decided upon millisecond by millisecond. There is virtually no utility in notifying the user of these operations.

      This sort of information should be accessible in some sort of FAQ or troubleshooting documentation, but it is unlikely to be utilized by many outside of the technical support community.

      • john doofus

        I agree. This feels like another bendgate.

      • pvr4me

        Agreed. The “throttling” mostly shows up in benchmark testing. For most people, most of the time, the processor is running just like it did when the battery was new. Only those brief tasks that would over-stress the battery are scaled back.

        iOS already aggressively manages all the system components to maximize battery life while maintaining the perception of high responsiveness. Trying to explain all those trade-offs so that non-technical users could understand is nigh on impossible. As this ‘scandal’ shows, the most unfavourable interpretation is always the what the headlines will shout.

      • Matt

        That’s because those are all transient situations. This is a permanent situation. And it can be fixed with a new battery.

        In the first case, the phone slows down temporarily, and when the condition passes, it gets faster. In the second case, the phone gets slower over time and stays that way. People understand the former. The later people need to be informed of, and THAT’S the problem.

        • pvr4me

          Perhaps I’m wrong, but everything I’ve read says that if the battery is weak, the processor is limited from running at peak performance for extended periods of time. That’s why it shows up in benchmark testing as such tasks are one of the few times the processors is asked to run ‘balls-to-wall’ for several seconds at a time.

          • That’s right, but for most apps the only time that kind of CPU burst is really needed is on startup (and that’s mostly the OS). These chips are pretty darned powerful.

      • rick gregory

        Agree, but Apple really SHOULD have communicated better that the battery was worn. If you run an iOS device almost out of storage the OS will show you an alert about that occasionally. Doing this for a battery would be useful – “your battery needs servicing. To help battery life we may slow performance” or something.

      • Totally agree. The Mac may warn you when it’s battery is bad, but it doesn’t warn you when:

        1. The hard drive is responding slowly for virtual memory.
        2. The CPU is too hot and dropping more cycles than it’s acting.

        Those are bigger issues on the Mac than battery life, and they don’t have UI. (They should, too… not necessarily for a first hit, but for trends.)

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  • Person McPersonson

    If Apple seals in their batteries (which I’m fine with) then too bad, they’re in the battery swap-out business. If they don’t like it, the only “right” option here is to make it easier for third parties to change the batter.

    But Apple could have done a couple of things here: 1. Upon every restart explain the battery needs to be replaced and that performance will be decreased to ensure functionality. 2. Use higher capacity batteries. Apple foisted the obsession with thinness upon us when nobody was asking for it, and the competition was not in a contest of thinness until Apple made it into a selling point. And people still don’t like the camera hump. Apple didn’t have to make the iPhone so thin that they can’t use higher capacity batteries.

    • Matt

      Great points. The camera bump is the only reason I use a case.

    • Colin Mattson

      “Upon every restart explain the battery needs to be replaced and that performance will be decreased to ensure functionality.”

      And that’s the most baffling part of this whole thing: MacOS does basically just that. Why doesn’t iOS?

      • I assume because it didn’t do anything at all until 10.2.1, and adding a UI to this wasn’t deemed a priority in iOS 11.

        Looks like a mistake, but Apple isn’t immune to those.

    • Apple will recommend a battery change if it is at 80% or less health. The change is free under AppleCare and $79 if not (at least for iPhone 6s and below — I’ve checked because mine is hovering around 79% so I’ll go get Apple to change it soon).

      • Last I checked (just a few days ago), all the battery swaps for iPhones were the same price. It’s $99 in Canada, I believe.

      • I checked my iPhone SE, less than two years old and under AppleCare, and it was at 73%, with only 545 charge cycles. Apple is replacing the battery.

        • Nice. My SE is at 477 and 83%. I’m hoping I lose the 17% before another 13 cycles, but I doubt it’s gonna happen. 🙂

    • Higher capacity batteries DO NOT solve anything.

      Think about it.

      • Fewer charge cycles over the same length of time. Of course they solve things (for a while).

        • Yeah, but what happens when they go bad? You end up with a much bigger potential problem, like the phone swelling. It’s not a smart trade to extend the life of a part that you’re expecting to replace at the cost of the rest of the phone.

  • JimCracky

    apple will survive this just fine.

    It’s Apple’s fault that it can’t clearly communicate a simple reason why it has proactively protected its customers.

    • The Cappy

      The irony is that they’d have been sued if they’d said what they were doing too. But I think they should have known people would have been able to prove what was happening. And shitstorms only get worse if you let them build first.

  • The Cappy

    I agree with Dave Mark. There’s a serious perception problem going on, but yeah Apple helped create it with poor communications. I don’t think there’s anything especially wrong with Apple’s solution. If they’d said something at the outset, they’d have taken some heat, sure. But their silence on the matter has created the appearance at least that they thought what they were doing was wrong. Anyway, that’s how it’s going to be portrayed in court. I don’t know whether the throttling is something that could be given a user-accessible switch… if it could be, I’d like that. Then I could turn off the switch and know it was my own damned fault when the phone crashed in the middle of opening an app. I’m curious to see it frankly. I ran a battery test app and it says I’ve got severe battery degradation (25% down). Which is both a surprise and not a surprise. I still only need to plug the thing in every other day. It’s a 6+.

  • Many Android phones just die/reboot when their old batteries are pushed too hard. They don’t inform their customers of why that happens. Maybe they should be sued, too.

    Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

    • rick gregory

      Now now Dean. We can’t talk about what Android does. Only Apple. Don’t you know the rules of tech ‘reporting’ yet?

    • And you take the back off and put a new battery in. And it costs maybe $20. And Android users are aware that this is possible. iPhones are sealed, and many people don’t think you can ever replace the battery.

      • Colin Mattson

        I take it you haven’t used a flagship Android handset in the past 5 or 6 years. They’re today nearly all sealed units too, owing to the same added durability and reduced size Apple went that direction for.

        Garbage-tier handsets with garbage-tier batteries, yes, still come apart and let you swap out their extremely-short-lived bottom-of-the-barrel batteries. But not your Pixels, or OnePluses, or Ones, or Galaxies, or Moto SuperCaliFragillistics…

        • I test phones for a not-so-much-living right now (leaving this job for bluer skies next week), and this is decidedly true. And all those sealed phones have aging battery issues. Android doesn’t handle it all that well — possibly is getting better. We get returns all the time of people complaining their phones shut down despite showing charged batteries (despite us trying to explain this in our sale notes).

        • Meaux

          5 or 6 years? The S5 had swappable batteries and is 3 years old.

  • Eugene

    I agree with a lot of the points made in the comments. Battery health is a huge issue with phones that need a high peak power as well as longevity. Apple, in it’s own strive for thinness, didn’t build in enough leeway to keep the iPhone’s battery healthy for the years people expect to keep their phone. In order to fix their issue after the fact, Apple decided to throttle their processor and lower the peak power requirements to keep the phones running under poor battery conditions, and then didn’t let anyone know. Apple completely deserves the backlash. They did this to themselves by trying to be too helpful and clever, instead of being honest and open. Even if the throttling is hardly noticeable in real world conditions, the perception falls in line with the “planned obsolescence” take and so Apple should have been extra careful in handling this matter.

    I don’t know how Apple can back out of both the lawsuits and PR backlash without backing out the throttling and voluntarily issuing battery replacements. I’m guessing they might make the throttling a choice, push people towards buying a battery replacement if they don’t choose to throttle and have issues with their phones turning off, and just weather the storm. Just another slice of goodwill!

    • As someone affected by a bad battery in a phone that can’t throttle (5S) the throttling MUST say. Shutting down at 40% whenever the phone starts work is ridiculous.

    • rick gregory

      “Apple, in it’s own strive for thinness, didn’t build in enough leeway to keep the iPhone’s battery healthy for the years people expect to keep their phone.”

      Sigh. Read the article linked. Li-ion batteries fail after a number of charge cycles PERIOD. If you use your phone regularly and do things that will mean you go through a charge cycle a day or so you’re likely to see degraded battery capacity in about 2 years. Less aggressive use? About 3. Which is when the 6 and 6S came out (3 and 2 years respectively) so we’re seeing that issue. This is just a fact of chemistry and has little to do with capacity.

      • Of course it has to do with capacity. Higher capacity means fewer charge cycles over the same length of time.

        • rick gregory

          Sigh.

          1) It’s not directly because of capacity, it’s down to charge cycles as the key figure.

          2) Higher capacity will only mean substantially fewer cycles if the capacity is substantially higher, i.e. 50-10%.

          3) Higher capacity does not necessarily imply fewer cycles unless both devices/OSes manage power equally well. If the phone with the higher capacity battery has poorer power management and so they both end up needing to be charged at the end of the day you have the same number of charge cycles.

          If both and iPhone and some Android phone start with 100% in the morning and the iPhone has, say, 5% left at the end of the day while the Android device has 20% it’s not like you can fail to recharge the Android device and use it the next day. Yes, it had more left, but they both charge daily.

          Why the hell am I having to explain basic ideas to someone who writes in this space? This is precisely the kind of half-informed writing that I was talking about yesterday.

          • That’s not what a charge cycle is. It’s not one day’s usage. It’s 100% of the battery’s capacity. So if the iPhone has 5% left at the end of the day, it’s used 95% of a charge cycle. The Android phone will have used 80% of a charge cycle.

            Oh, and why the hell am I having to explain blah, blah, blah…

          • In case you’re curious:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_cycle

            “Apple Inc. clarifies that a charge cycle means using all the battery’s capacity, but not necessarily by full charge and discharge; e.g., using half the charge of a fully charged battery, charging it, and then using the same amount of charge again count as a single charge cycle.”

          • rick gregory

            Crap. I really hate it when I’m snarky and wrong. My apologies Kirk.

          • Janak Parekh

            Rick, as someone I spar with and respect all the time on the forums, you’re wrong on this one. As Kirk says, battery capacity absolutely inversely affects the number of charge cycles.

            I used my 6+ each day, and its strong capacity meant that I usually ended the day at 75%. This means I went through a full charge cycle every ~4 days, and is one reason I believe it blew past the two-year mark before the battery started diminishing.

          • rick gregory

            Read my post again. I noted that IF the capacity difference is large enough then it may well affect cycles but the issue IS NOT CAPACITY per se, it’s charge cycles. Period.

            Yes, you only use 25% of the 6+ charge every day. I have a friend who drains his Plus daily. Which of you are representative here? So, yes, you’ll see fewer cycles over a year. In the case of my friend who depletes his Plus every day, that would NOT be the case. It’s entirely about cycles which will vary based on individual use patterns.

            To be SUPER clear… a larger battery with the same number of cycles will degrade just the same as a smaller battery which has that number of cycles. People saying it’s a capacity issue are correct to the degree that user patterns result in fewer cycles per unit time, but they’re incorrect in asserting that the capacity per se is the issue.

          • Janak Parekh

            Given equal user patterns, larger capacity batteries will undergo fewer full charge cycles.

            Sure, if we don’t control for equal user patterns, it’s meaningless. But then you really can’t draw any conclusions about anything.

            And, yes, I agree the battery would have to be significantly larger for this to have an effect. e.g., a >3500mAh battery, which do exist in various (fairly slender) Android phones.

      • Eugene

        Apple already came out with their response so this discussion is moot, but just wanted to clarify my “leeway” point. If Apple had designed the phones with a higher capacity and peak draw that is higher than what the iPhone actually needs, then after a few years of degradation, the battery will still be within the phone’s peak needs and will not cause the sudden shutdowns that Apple was trying to mitigate with the throttling of power draw. Apple chose not to do this and made the battery thinner and more constrained instead. Yes, batteries degrading is a fact of chemistry. Too bad Apple didn’t keep that in mind when designing it.

    • It really comes down to them simply telling users what’s going on. If they had done this, there would be no “-gate,” no class action suits, and a lot of people who thought a two or three year phone was worthless would have put new batteries in them and not bought a new iPhone.

      • I don’t believe the majority of people would have understood it even if it was explained, and there would still be people wanting to sue. Whether that suit would have gotten past this stage (and it isn’t very far along in the system anyway), who knows…

  • Apple decided to make us think we needed new $1000 phones because our old ones were slowing down and weren’t performing as well anymore. Rather than letting us notice our batteries aren’t lasting all day and might need a $70 replacement, or charge up a bit more.

    That was wrong.

    • I agree that not having a UI for this was a mistake, but walk into any Apple store or ASP and say “my phone seems really slow” and they’ll diagnose the problem, either on the spot or the next moment one of their guys is free. Your attributing to malice something much easier explained by incompetence (no UI) or apathy (no UI… yet).

  • Brandon

    So, the uneducated masses are jumping to conclusions and spouting vitriol based solely upon their knee-jerk reactions to sensational journalism!?! Never…

  • And Apple has now apologized, and offered deep discounts on battery replacements, as they should. And they will be making changes to iOS to make the battery health visible. As they should.

    • Janak Parekh

      Yep. And they literally say this could have affected app startup times, which I talked about in another thread:

      “While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.”

      • They never said it didn’t. They specifically said the OS would throttle the CPU under load so an aging battery wouldn’t cause the phone to just shut off. And loading an app can put the CPU under load. Do you not have any critical thinking skills? For god’s sake give it a rest.

        • Janak Parekh

          I said the exact same thing you just did, and there was in fact significant disagreement in previous threads as to whether this was a key cause of launch time slowdowns.

          (Dean: I don’t appreciate the personal attack. As Dave has said many times on The Loop, personal attacks aren’t appreciated. Please tone down your remarks, and it’s unto you to “give it rest” if you don’t want to talk about it anymore. You don’t have to read the thread.)

  • freedonuts

    Now we at least know why Apple is working on their own Power Management chip. I’m sure they can do a much better job in dealing with all the complex aspects of battery ageing while keeping the user informed about battery time left.

  • Via Engadget https://www.engadget.com/2017/12/28/apple-apologizes-for-iphone-battery-confusion/ :

    “To help mitigate the confusion Apple caused, the company is now offering reduced out-of-warranty battery replacement. For $29, you can get a new battery for your phone regardless of whether it’s covered by AppleCare or not; that’s down from the old $79 fee. Unfortunately, that’s only a temporary discount that will last through the end of 2018. Additionally, Apple says it is going to release an iOS update early next year that’ll give users more info on the health of their iPhone’s battery so they can see if its condition is affect phone performance.”

    So, we can stop the over-the-top drama and exaggeration now. I guess I can thank the whiners for saving me $50 since I planned to get my battery replaced anyway, even though I’m not seeing any slow downs. I still have no idea why people prefer a phone that shuts down under load over one that manages an aging battery. Even if Apple had informed about this, the majority of users wouldn’t have understood it (they don’t now) and the rest would have still found something to gripe about.