People who owned iPhone 6, 6s, and 6s Plus devices complained earlier this year that they were spontaneously shutting down, even though they had sufficient battery. This was usually happening during “peak current demands,” when you’d be doing something on your phone that required a burst of power — like in the middle of a game, or downloading an app.
However, Stefan Bogdanovich and Dakota Speas brought a class action lawsuit in California — where they are residents — against Apple, an official filing revealed Thursday. They claim that Apple never requested consent from them to “slow down their iPhones.” Both plaintiffs are owners of an iPhone 7. Bogdanovich and Speas claim they “suffered interferences to their iPhone usage due to the intentional slowdowns.”
The delay in typing in messages, or the lag in loading mail on iPhone, has been explained. Apple has confirmed that it does deliberately slow down the operation of older iPhones, and says it is doing so to avoid the devices from shutting down because of aging batteries.
“Once the phone is shut down, the battery is in a state where the only way to get the phone back online is to plug it into a charger. If you’re our with your phone on the go, that’s clearly not a great situation to be in,” Poole said.
Apple says it’s doing this to protect your phone. As the lithium ion batteries in the phone age, they can’t handle processing demands at the same capacity, which causes the phone to shut down unexpectedly. It released an update to stop those unexpected shutdowns, which also means that the phones work a little more slowly.
But the confession that Apple is purposefully decreasing phone speed fed into a conspiracy theory that’s been circulating for awhile on “planned obsolescence.” After new products are released, the theory goes, Apple purposefully messes with your iPhone, frustrating you and forcing you to shell out money to upgrade.
The data on Apple slowing down older iPhones doesn’t necessarily mean the conspiracy theory is true. A relatively recent change to its operating system prompted the slowdowns. But the system update demonstrates why the conspiracy theory keeps circulating: It took an independent investigation by an expert and a viral Reddit post to get Apple to admit what had happened.
Those users had to plug in and recharge their phones in order to get them back online. Apple acknowledged the bug and introduced a fix in an update to its operating system software, iOS 10.2.1, which the company said would largely remedy the issue. Phones no longer shut down, but, according to users, they did slow down.
John Poole, founder of Primate Labs and Geekbench developer, seized on this hypothesis, and pulled together and compared data from the performance testing Geekbench had done on users’ iPhone 6s and 7 devices.
He analyzed all that data from a sample set of approximately 100,000 phones, said he had tens of thousands of results across different versions of iOS — specifically, he looked at iOS 10.2.0, the version before Apple fixed the shutdown bug, and iOS 10.2.1, which was released after the fix. (He also looked at later versions, including 11.2.0, which is a more recent software update.)
His analysis revealed that processors did slow down after the update meant to fix the shutdown problem, that the problem was widespread, and that, as he put it, it was “likely to get worse as phones (and their batteries) continue to age.”
Poole, as did others, speculated that the link between old batteries and slower performance had to do with the initial iPhone 6 glitch, and Apple, in fixing that, slowed down the system to avoid overloading the batteries. (He also noted that iPhone 6s users who replaced their batteries had faster phones.)
And though the iPhone 7 never had those spontaneous shutdown issues, Poole’s results indicated that it did slow down in later updates — a sign that Apple was doing this across its models.
“So Apple, with this fix, basically limited the processor from overtaxing the battery. But the flip side of that is now the processor can’t run as quickly as it might in a new phone with a new battery.”