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Battery life debate: why is Apple slowing down old devices?

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“Apple slows down old devices to force users to upgrade!” It’s a popular refrain from Apple naysayers, but it turns out there’s some truth to this conspiracy. Apple has admitted that it does throttle performance on some older devices – but not for the reasons you might think. It’s intention, in theory, is to keep older devices operable for longer when their batteries start to degrade.

Battery wear is an inevitable aspect of lithium-ion batteries. Various factors can impact the life of a battery, including temperature, usage, and old age. A two-year old used battery just can’t provide the same levels of power as a brand new one, and in some cases this has been shown to cause random shutdowns when users are performing tasks that require a lot of power consumption.

Apple’s solution to this was to release a patch as part of an iOS update last year, which included a new battery management feature that stops performance from hitting those very high power-draw peaks once the battery has degraded a certain amount. This ultimately results in iOS running slower than usual in certain cases, as an alternative to random crashes.

Here’s Apple’s full statement to TechCrunch.

“Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components. 

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.”

Some users are annoyed that Apple hasn’t been more up front about this, and that it doesn’t make it easy or clear to find out how much your battery has degraded. Fair enough. Apple could definitely have handled this better, and we’d like to see more transparency in future and perhaps even more customization in settings to allow users to choose whether or not to throttle performance to protect the battery.

But if you have an iPhone 6, 6s, SE, or even 7 and have noticed things running slower than they used to, you may find that replacing the battery will effectively reset things to how they were when the device was new. Speak to your nearest Apple Store if you think you need a replacement – it will be a lot cheaper than buying a brand new device!

If you want to understand the details a little better, it’s worth reading the full explainer published by TechCrunch.