December 30, 2017 at 4:10 p.m. PST
The latest Apple furor has emerged, as Apple admitted to slowing down iPhones with failing batteries. This article explains why slowing down the iPhone is beneficial for the end user.
It seems, every year, there is a new Apple scandal. Unable to find any serious flaws with the iPhone X, much of the anti-Apple tech media has found a new scandal. Social media exploded after users found lower Geekbench scores on older iPhones. Apple finally admitted that they implemented a solution to slow down older iPhones with failing batteries.
Every software engineer I know is impressed. Unfortunately, tech journalists, most of whom haven’t written a single line of code in their lives, have come to a completely different conclusion. This is all a conspiracy to force iPhone users to upgrade. It’s almost as if I decided to critique cardio-thoracic surgeons, claiming that they can be a bit messy with the blood.
The Internet has no shortage of unqualified people who feel the need to make their opinion heard. This is appropriate in comments, however, the articles themselves are written by people with limited technical abilities. They’re just regurgitating the same talking points in an echo chamber. After all, if they were technically skilled, they would be writing code and making three times as much money. As someone with more than 15 years of coding under my belt, most tech news makes me vomit in my mouth. That’s one reason why I started this website.
Apple’s Explanation for Slowing down Older iPhones
I’m sure you have already read “journalists'” explanations of the iPhone slowdown scandal. I have searched extensively, and the vast majority of them have put forth a conspiracy theory. After all, being bold, yet wrong, will get more page views. This is the essence of click bait. Controversy is more important than the truth. This goes beyond technology. Our journalistic community has found that hype, controversy and fake news are quite profitable.
I urge all readers to find primary sources. Don’t rely on me or any other writer to expose the truth. Don’t let The Verge, USA Today or BGR tell you how to interpret the facts. The best thing you can do is to read Apple’s press release. It has far more details than any other article. You could read every article in the tech news about this, yet not learn a single fact about the issue.
According to Apple’s message to customers, iPhone batteries age over time. As they age, they no longer provide stable, sustained current. If an iPhone has an old, failing battery, processing peaks can result in unexpected shutdowns. Apple implemented advanced power management code to slow down processing in these situations. This prevents the iPhone from shutting down, allowing users to keep an iPhone for much longer than any competing smartphone. Instead of buying a new device, iPhone owners can make do with what they have.
Slow Down or Shut Down?
The bottom line is, there are two options. Either an iPhone with a failing battery slows down or shuts down. Which do you prefer? Everyone I have asked said that they would prefer that the device slows down. Not one person wants their iPhone to shut down while they’re using it. Any reasonable person would have the same preference.
Some feel that Apple should have informed users that their batteries are failing. The problem is that the failure may not be permanent. There are a lot of variables at play when it comes to lithium-ion battery lifespan and performance. If your iPhone is throttled due to poor battery performance on a hot day, for example, that may be a temporary issue.
Apple is addressing this in future releases of iOS. They will provide battery diagnostic tools. Third-party developers have already provided similar utilities in the App Store.
Apple’s Power Management Features Excellent Exception Handling
I live and work in the Silicon Valley. Although I am no longer the code monkey I used to be, I still write a bit of code here and there. Having written industrial-strength, enterprise code for 15 years for some of the biggest tech companies on the planet, I consider myself to have expertise in this field. Beyond my own experience, I know a lot of people who write code for a living. Every coder I know is impressed with how Apple handles a failing battery. This is some of the best exception handling most of us have ever seen. They invested money in developing a solution which allows people to keep their iPhones longer. Instead of forced obsolescence, Apple is going for brand loyalty. They got me!
Exception handling is a phrase that is all but absent in every article I have read about this issue. Unfortunately, most tech writers have a degree in communications or journalism. They have never written a line of code. They wouldn’t know what to do with a blank terminal window. It’s like the Stanford Prison Experiment. Someone told these people they are tech experts and they rose to the occasion. They were arbitrarily appointed to the role of technical expert by another false authority. After all, any real tech expert would easily find their way into a more lucrative technical career. Most tech writers are paid peanuts. If those who don’t know teach, then those who really don’t know write for The Verge, BGR, USA Today, 9 to 5 Mac or other ridiculous tech publications. It’s a case of the blind (hired by the blind) leading the blind.
Exception handling is the cornerstone of robust technology. Apple seems to do this better than any other tech company. The way they handle failing batteries is further proof of their commitment to excellence. You really need to put a radical spin on the facts to make it seem otherwise. Unfortunately, that’s what the Internet has become. It seems to get worse every day. At least there was some merit to the Apple Maps furor, although that was overblown. The new scandal turns excellent engineering into a nefarious conspiracy. Don’t believe it, no matter how many “tech” writers make this claim. They’re barely qualified to install an app, let alone write about technology. I don’t criticize surgeons, because I don’t understand what they do. Clearly, most tech journalists don’t know what exception handling is, yet feel inclined to offer their “expert” knowledge on the matter.
Why Didn’t Apple Tell Users About This Feature?
The only valid criticism surrounding this “scandal” is that Apple could have been more transparent about this issue. Maybe Craig Federighi could have filibustered at the WWDC and explained every single line of code in iOS in an all night session. That’s simply not realistic. Given the insane reaction that this debacle has produced, Apple’s silence is understandable.
There are so many aspects of iOS that are unknown to the end user. This is true of every consumer-oriented operating system. This is true of Google’s search engine. The whole SEO industry is centered around guessing at how Google’s search engine works. They don’t give out too many clues, as people use them to game the system. Most people understand this.
Beyond the multiplicity of details, virtually every tech company has proprietary secrets. Yes, Android is open source, but, as mentioned, no one knows how Google search works. Apple also has open sourced some of their projects, namely WebKit and Swift.
The truth of the matter is that abstraction is at the core of computer science. Even most developers don’t want to know the details of an API. They just want to use the libraries. Indeed, object-oriented programming is all about abstraction — hiding the details from the developer. Most developers don’t even know how to write an SQL query anymore. That’s been abstracted away by ORM technologies. It’s quite reasonable for Apple to assume that their end users don’t want to know the minutiae of iOS, because even most app developers don’t want (or need) to know these details. Most iPhone customers are not interested in data structures, design patterns, exception handling or anything of the sort. They’re more interested in iMessages and Animojis. It would appear that most tech journalists feel the same way. They’re not interested in the details of technology either. They just hum a few bars and fake it.
Going back to our primary source, Apple claims that they initially believed that slow performance was due to the iOS 11 update. This confirms what I have noticed for years. After a major iOS upgrade, your device will run slower for hours or even days. They didn’t mention why, but it seems to be due to post-upgrade processing. Spotlight needs to re-index your iPhone for faster search performance. iCloud is often doing some housekeeping, which eats up network bandwidth and processor cycles. They also admit that defects in a new, major version of iOS could cause performance issues.
It took a few months and interaction with customers to realize that older iPhone 6 devices were experiencing battery failures. After all, this phone launched in 2014! I still use my iPhone 6, just like millions of iPhone users. Everyone I know who has a non-Apple smartphone has to replace their device every 2 years (or less), because of battery issues and being cut off from operating system updates. For most smartphones, failing batteries are never a problem. The devices end up in landfills within 2 years. I also still have and use my iPhone 4. It is 7 years old and still has the original battery. I charge it about once every 2 weeks. The fact that people are getting upset and even suing Apple, for doing the right thing, actually makes me angry. I am in the odd position of defending the largest corporation on the planet.
Slowing Down iPhones with Chemically Aged Batteries is a Good Thing
Apple’s message to customers about the battery issue makes the emphatic statement that Apple does not engage in planned obsolescence. Having owned Apple products for 15 years, I have found this to be true. I still have an iPod Classic that’s 15 years old. It has been subjected to extreme temperatures, has the original battery, and it still “just works”. In fact, I have yet to throw out any Apple product I have purchased in the last 15 years. I can say, with confidence, that Apple does not trick users into buying a new device. They do not sabotage iPhones, hoping that users will upgrade. Instead, they try to build brand loyalty. They have definitely earned mine!
The most important question you need to consider is — would you rather have a smartphone that slows down or shuts down as the battery ages? If you want the latter, good news, there are plenty of smartphones that will shut down unexpectedly as the battery fails. For those who want to keep their smartphone for three or more years, the iPhone is pretty much the only option. There is no conspiracy here. This is all about Apple doing the right thing in order to build brand loyalty.