The Endless Discussion About Throttlegate

April 3rd, 2018

I thought the furor about Apple’s throttling of the performance of iPhones with degraded batteries would have ended by now. But when lawyers stand to make millions of dollars in fees from class-action lawsuits, it may well be that it’ll take years to resolve, unless there’s a quick settlement.

It started innocently enough when Apple released an iOS 10 update designed to deal with sudden shutdowns. Unfortunately, Apple never bothered to explain how, that it occurred due to a deteriorating battery on recent iPhones. Apple’s solution was to cut back on performance, at least until the battery was replaced.

Typical of the way Apple handles release notes, they didn’t bother, at first, to explain the solution. So when some iPhone users noticed reduced performance, they went ahead and ran some benchmarks, which revealed sharply lower test scores.

You can understand why some felt that Apple was pulling a fast one on its customers. By deliberately throttling performance, people might just give up and buy new iPhones, not realizing that a simple battery replacement would fix the problem. But after Apple admitted what it did and why, some were even more incensed, complaining that they should have been notified.

As you can imagine, a number of legal firms saw the possibility of some huge paydays and filed lawsuits. According to a published report, some 59 such actions have been filed, and more will likely come. There’s even a claim that these filings might present Apple’s “biggest legal challenge” in the iPhone’s history.

Now I don’t know about you, but Apple’s real error was failing to notify customers what it did to eliminate a vexing problem. They didn’t lie about it, just left out the details. What’s more, nothing in this fix involves planned obsolescence. When you replace the battery, performance is restored to its former level.

And, no, it’s not about iPhones becoming slower after a new model is launched, or after a new OS is released. True, the new version of iOS might have stiffer resource requirements, so performance might be somewhat slower on the oldest supported hardware. But it’s not a plot to get you to buy a new one. It’s about advancing the state of the art and adding more features, which are apt to put a stiffer load on older hardware. I would not expect Apple to hold back.

What’s more, Apple reduced the price of replacement batteries from $79 to $29, at least through this year. When asked whether this move would result in people hanging onto their old gear longer, thus causing Apple to lose sales, Tim Cook said he didn’t care.

I just wonder if the people who filed these lawsuits really understand the background of the situation, and why Apple acted as it did. Indeed, there is a beta version of the Battery settings in iOS 11.3 that allows you to turn off throttling if you want to take your chances. It also reports on the battery’s health, so you know when it has to be replaced.

Isn’t that enough to convince the plaintiffs that Apple is trying to address the problem in a responsible fashion? Or is it more about the hope for a fast payday due to all those lawsuits? Certainly the legal firms who got involved assume Apple wants to get past it and will settle quickly. It may just mean a bunch of discount coupons, or maybe coupons for free batteries for customers, but the lawyers will see lots of cash.

If Apple settles and doesn’t get these lawsuits dismissed really fast.

At the same time, one article I read on the subject is somehow trying to relate this matter to the alleged reduced demand for the iPhone. March quarter results will be announced on May 1st, but don’t forget that similar stories appeared about the iPhone X, which actually became the best selling smartphone on the planet during the December quarter.

Regardless of how it all turns out, Apple should have learned to provide more details in its release notes. It was easy for the critics to exploit fear, uncertainty and doubt about the situation. The vultures are out there, and any misstep on the part of Apple will get plenty of attention.

While all this is going on, it’s interesting to see that, in recent years, Apple has supported older and older hardware with OS releases. Macs from 2009 and 2010 can run macOS High Sierra, some with pretty decent performance. I have no complaints with my 2010 MacBook Pro. While my wife’s iPhone 5c is stuck at iOS 10 (but still fully operational), iOS 11 works with an iPhone 5s or later and comparably recent iPads.

Compare that to Android gear. Well, it’s not about wondering whether the new OS will operate on older hardware. The problem is actually being able to install it. Most Android smartphones are saddled with OS versions that are one or two years old, sometimes older. The chances that they will ever be upgraded are little to none since Google hasn’t figured out a way to make it happen for anything but it’s own branded products.

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One Response to “The Endless Discussion About Throttlegate”

  1. dfs says:

    I think this entire “throttlegate” episode is a fable with a moral. Not just Apple but the entire industry is reluctant to fess up about bugs and otherwise be tight-lipped about some of their upgrade changes, and I suspect the reason is that their legal departments advise them to adopt this policy: if you admit your previous version contained some bug or other problematic feature, some clever soul is likely to figure out a way of suing you on the grounds that that item has somehow hurt him, so better to say nothing. In this case, Apple took their legal department’s advice — and this time it got them into a world more trouble than if they had been more open. Moral of story: don’t always blindly follow your legal advice because lawyers screw up too. Plain old layman’s sense should figure into your decisions too.

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