Apple is in the midst of a first-of-its-kind firestorm surrounding its iconic iPhones, following the company’s recent decision to intentionally “slow down” earlier iPhone models with older batteries. The move came on the heels of the latest iOS update. But iPhone users were so enraged that they filed a class action lawsuit against the tech giant. This leaves many wondering, why did Apple slow down older iPhones?
The answer to this question varies depending on whom you ask. If you ask Apple critics and opponents, they’ll say Apple slowed the CPU performance on earlier iPhone models with older batteries in an attempt to prompt users to purchase newer devices and participate in their battery recycling program. But the reality may be more benign, as Apple representatives have indicated that the company made the controversial move in an effort to improve battery life while reducing unexpected shutdowns. As a whole, this controversy highlights the ongoing challenge that companies and their developers face as they strive to update their apps and software in a manner that maximizes performance and optimizes user experience on new devices.
The Story Behind Why Apple Slowed iPhones
This entire situation unfolded when Apple released a new version of its iOS operating system. During the (closed) beta testing process, Apple’s engineers discovered that earlier iPhone models—particularly those with older batteries—were prone to problems such as unexpected shutdowns, dramatically reduced battery life and all-around poor performance when the new version of iOS was installed. The iPhone models that were slowed by Apple include iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus and iPhone SE.
The problem arose because of a mismatch between the older hardware and the newer operating system software, which was really designed to accommodate relatively new hardware. Older devices and their hardware were made to work with slower processing speeds and simpler software, while newer hardware is designed to thrive when paired with a zippy operating system and new software.
So, the company decided to throttle CPU performance on older iPhones in an attempt to improve overall stability and performance. This would lessen the power draw from older, less efficient batteries, ultimately prolonging battery life while reducing the number of crashes and shutdowns. But this throttling was not made optional to users. What’s more, techsters have long speculated that Apple was slowing older devices—presumably to prompt users to purchase new hardware—but the company did not acknowledge the throttling until recently. For many, the iPhone slowdown was so pronounced that the announcement was essentially viewed as a foregone conclusion.
To make matters worse, many assumed the problem was their phone, not the battery. In fact, the issue can be more or less resolved by replacing the battery—a point that enraged lots of iPhone users who spent money on new devices. Adding even more insult to injury was the fact that Apple has recently become more aggressive in promoting their battery recycling program. This raised suspicion amongst users who were left wondering if the problem was real or manufactured in an attempt to drive users to replace older hardware.
Did the iPhone Slowdown Have Merit?
While Apple clearly failed to approach this problem in the best possible manner, their decision to throttle the CPU does have merit. Using a zippy, highly-efficient and power-hungry operating system on an older device with an older battery places significant strain on the hardware, pushing it to the limit and resulting in inefficiencies or poor user experience (UX.) With such a dramatic impact on device stability, performance and battery life, Apple was faced with a difficult decision. Ultimately, they chose to remedy the issue by implementing CPU throttling on certain devices—a move that anticipated what they believed a majority of users would want if given the opportunity.
Apple’s course of action makes sense from a technological and development perspective, but the execution leaves something to be desired. In short, the iPhone slowdown controversy has been nothing shy of a PR nightmare. What’s worse is the fact that users never really had an opportunity to experience the problem for themselves; they were left to take Apple’s word that a problem existed and that CPU throttling was the best solution. However, users want to feel as though they have an element of control in the equation, particularly when it comes to a device that plays such a prominent role in everyday life. So, in retrospect, Apple may have been better served by unveiling an unpatched release of iOS so users could experience the problem for themselves, thereby empowering the user to make a decision as to whether they would implement a throttling patch as a workaround. And clearly, Apple should have been crystal clear that upgrading the older iPhone’s battery could remedy the problem, although the company’s decision and timing to more aggressively promote its battery recycling program is admittedly a bit suspect.
At the end of the day, the decision to slow down older iPhones is not without merit from a tech perspective. It would appear it was the lack of user choice/control and public transparency that caused so many issues for Apple. After all, the average iPhone user understands that newer software may not work precisely as designed on older hardware. But failing to be totally up-front and transparent, in addition to eliminating the user’s choice in the situation, has proven to be a recipe for a lawsuit…or several.
As a whole, the situation is representative of a perpetual challenge developers are facing. They confront hard decisions while striving to make new apps and software work with older hardware. What’s more, companies often under-budget for app updates and maintenance, which places even greater pressure on developers to come up with a workable solution—and fast. As a result, it’s conceivable that a development team could be forced to implement a less-than-ideal patch simply because they didn’t have the time and money to devise a better but more complex solution. For this reason, it’s critical that you work with your developer to determine a reasonable frequency and budget for app updates and maintenance.
This entire iPhone slowdown debacle also offers companies some good insight into how not to handle certain types of software updates. When in doubt, give users a choice regarding if or how to proceed with an update or patch.
Working with an experienced development team can place you in a position where you’ll be less likely to experience a major misstep when performing app updates and maintenance. Minimizing user disruption and ensuring a smooth roll-out are amongst our specialties at SevenTablets. Our developers also work with many of the newest and most sought-after emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, augmented reality, virtual reality and natural language processing.
Based in Dallas, SevenTablets serves clients across Texas, including Austin and Houston. But our clientele isn’t limited by Texas state borders, as we also work with clients throughout the United States. We encourage you to reach out to our team today to discuss your development project.
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Adam cultivated the creation of an industry leading $300M affiliate program and also worked as a marketing consultant on the start-up team of a now publicly traded commercial energy brokerage firm. He was one of the first media buyers on Facebook, and also among the first to work in the SAG-AFTRA New Media (WebTV) industry, serving the online commercial and content needs of major Hollywood studios.
Adam holds a BA from Southern Methodist University and a MS in International Marketing Management from Boston University.
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