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  • Apple’s Throttlegate Mea Culpa

    December 29th, 2017

    It’s a rare thing for a major company to admit error. Clearly Apple has come to realize it has a growing problem on its hands with the admission about throttling iPhone performance when batteries are deteriorating.

    Indeed, with class action lawsuits and, most recently, a crime lawsuit in France over alleged planned obsolescence, which is illegal in that country, it clearly came time for Apple to deal with the core problem. Although the company admitted to making changes in iOS to slow down iPhones with aging batteries, supposedly to prevent sudden shutdowns, they had to do more.

    That admission only made matters worse.

    Since the condition of the battery is supposedly responsible, Apple will reduce the price of battery replacements for out-of-warranty iPhones from $79 to $29. Come next year, there will be an iOS update that will, at long last, provide information about the battery’s health.

    As I mentioned in a previous column on the subject, detailed battery health information is already available to owners of Apple notebooks, so it stands to reason there should have been no problem providing similar information to iPhone and iPad users — not to mention the iPod touch and the Apple Watch. After all, it’s already available in third-party iOS apps.

    Now the new battery replacement policy has a time limit. It starts in late January and expires in December of 2018. It appears to me they are throwing us a few bones, to stem the tide of legal filings. At the same time, third-party resellers who offer their own battery replacements are probably going to suffer. Then again, Apple has the power and the resources to replace batteries at a loss forever if they so choose.

    Forgetting the silly conspiracies about deliberate efforts to fool people into buying new iPhones, I do think Apple could have avoided the brouhaha if they explained, in advance, what they were doing to iPhone performance and why. A simple information prompt the first few times performance was reduced, along with perhaps a support document, would have left them in the clear.

    So make of this what you will. Here’s Apple’s full response to what I’ve come to call Throttlegate:

    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.

    How batteries age

    All rechargeable batteries are consumable components that become less effective as they chemically age and their ability to hold a charge diminishes. Time and the number of times a battery has been charged are not the only factors in this chemical aging process.

    Device use also affects the performance of a battery over its lifespan. For example, leaving or charging a battery in a hot environment can cause a battery to age faster. These are characteristics of battery chemistry, common to lithium-ion batteries across the industry.

    A chemically aged battery also becomes less capable of delivering peak energy loads, especially in a low state of charge, which may result in a device unexpectedly shutting itself down in some situations.

    To help customers learn more about iPhone’s rechargeable battery and the factors affecting its performance, we’ve posted a new support article, iPhone Battery and Performance.

    It should go without saying that we think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable. We don’t want any of our users to lose a call, miss taking a picture or have any other part of their iPhone experience interrupted if we can avoid it.

    Preventing unexpected shutdowns

    About a year ago in iOS 10.2.1, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE. With the update, iOS dynamically manages the maximum performance of some system components when needed to prevent a shutdown. While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.

    Customer response to iOS 10.2.1 was positive, as it successfully reduced the occurrence of unexpected shutdowns. We recently extended the same support for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in iOS 11.2.

    Of course, when a chemically aged battery is replaced with a new one, iPhone performance returns to normal when operated in standard conditions.

    Recent user feedback

    Over the course of this fall, we began to receive feedback from some users who were seeing slower performance in certain situations. Based on our experience, we initially thought this was due to a combination of two factors: a normal, temporary performance impact when upgrading the operating system as iPhone installs new software and updates apps, and minor bugs in the initial release which have since been fixed.

    We now believe that another contributor to these user experiences is the continued chemical aging of the batteries in older iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices, many of which are still running on their original batteries.

    Addressing customer concerns

    We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.

    To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

    • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
    • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
    • As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.

    There’s more to Apple’s statement, but it’s just corporate PR speak, so I’ll stop here.

    The long and short of it, however, is that Apple is simply addressing the limit’s of today’s battery technology with various performance optimizations. This is not unusual. Even notebook computers, Macs and PCs, are designed to maximize battery life by, when needed, reducing performance and thus reducing power consumption.



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    One Response to “Apple’s Throttlegate Mea Culpa”

    1. dfs says:

      I. m. h. o. Apple’s real fault was not including in the iOS bundle an app. that reports on the current condition of your battery, number of charging cycles it has undergone, and so forth (the Battery option on the Settings page is pretty much useless). Lord knows there are an abundance of third-party apps that do just this. Not shipping such an app is uncomfortably reminiscent of the way the first VW Beetles to be imported to the US came without any gas gauges (although, oddly, the military version of the VW used during the war did have one). And Apple should have done much more to alert its customers to the existence of its battery replacement program. Whether this was a diabolical scheme for selling more new phones to people who didn’t really need them or just a routine bit of stupid corporate oversight is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

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