Things I learnt from the coverage on the performance downgrade issue on older iPhones

Vidit Bhargava
These last couple of weeks have been riddled with angst and reactions over the internet about iPhone’s being throttled to avoid power surge issues that need to be mitigated in order to avoid unexpected shut downs and other battery related issues. There have been interesting arguments both in favour and against Apple’s decision to do so, and there’s been a ton of faulty tech reporting as well. I’ve tried to summarise what I learnt from the entire issue and how’s it’s being addressed:

  1. Nobody cares about “facts”. It’s 2017, nobody thinks facts are important anymore. The story should just fit in to the narrative being conveyed. That’s all. If people’s worst fears have a chance of being validated. Exploit that. In as many bold letters as you can. Facts go in the fine print. Publish as many think pieces as you can. That’s how you’ll generate money.

    Fact: Apple’s intentionally slowing down iPhone’s that automatically shut down due to abnormal power surges in degraded batteries. It is doing this to ease out the power peaks on the battery and offer a longer life for the iPhone.

    What’s being headlined: Apple confirms it deliberately slows down iPhones.

    There’s a world of difference between the two statements above. The first one implies that Apple’s fixing a hardware flaw By slowing down iPhones, the other implies that Apple’s being crony and wants your money every two years. The perception’s that of the latter.

  2. People are too quick to pick sides. The arguments have basically swung ranging from “It’s not apple’s fault, this is just chemistry” to “Other phones don’t slow down, why is Apple doing it, they must be lying”. I think both these arguments are unjust. It’s not just about chemistry. Batteries that force mobile phones to slow down due to power surges need to be corrected on a hardware level. This is just not the quality you’d expect from Apple. Apple’s known to go through great lengths to correct these issues. (For example.: It’d have been perfectly ordinary for iPhone X to show retention issues, because it’s an OLED display, but Apple‘s done a ton of work to mitigate that and provide a good user experience, the fact that its not being done in this case is clearly Apple’s design flaw).

    What I learnt over time: While Apple’s not prying for your wallet by slowing down older iPhones, and their current solution is actually a pretty decent solution or trade off to make, given that a marginal performance downgrade offers a far longer usability for the device, they could definitely do a better job in the future with better battery technology. These sorts of issues are not expected from an Apple product. This is a critical and ugly flaw which I hope, should be addressed and fixed as soon as possible.

  3. With no software feedback, this performance downgrade is even more arbitrary. Not communicating with the user leads to them assuming things. First they assumed that their phone’s had slowed down because they were getting old (a valid assumption but one that could be based on something that the software was doing to mitigate some other damage), and now that they’re ‘worst fears’ are appearing to be true, it’s not hard to assume that Apple’s out for their wallet. Had there been clearer information on the issue, Apple would’ve sold marginally fewer phones, but they also wouldn’t have looked so disingenuous today. Them not communicating to the user is probably what is going to hurt most.

  4. Apple’s subsequent apology and battery replacement discount is an acceptance that Apple no longer controls the narrative on this issue. It’s well past that. Their credibility has been damaged, and it’s repair time for them now. I won’t be surprised if Apple addresseses the battery longitivity in subsequent software and hardware releases, and the first acid test could be the new SE that’s supposed to come out early next year.

In a world where news is all about hot takes, click-bait and sensationalist journalism, I think it’s going to be harder to put out facts on complex issues such as this. In my opinion, there’s no right side here. Apple’s actions didn’t have harmful or malicious intentions is evident by the fact that their software adjustments aren’t based on the iPhone models but on the condition of the phone’s battery. However, it’s also true that Apple’s fallen short of their design and quality standards this time. If the Power-surge problem in Li-ion batteries is unavoidable, then the software should do a better job at explaining this to the user. But what I really hope is, that tech-blogs are more responsible in reporting such issues. This is not only true for Apple related news, but also for every other hardware and software maker.