Apple eyes iPhone hardware updates that depend on device's age, weather, and rough handling

Apple may soon be able to target iPhone updates that adjust the performance of circuitry to better suit the age of the device, and also in what conditions it's used in.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Aging iPhone circuitry that can't handle running at full steam — or where the device is suffering because of the climate it's used in — could soon receive updates from Apple that dial down operating parameters to a more sustainable mode.

Apple was yesterday granted US patent 8,671,170 for its method of "Modifying operating parameters of a device based on ageing information," which details how it would gather data about the aging components of devices in the wild and what kind of updates could ensure they don't damage the user experience.

As Apple notes in the patent, operating time, voltage, and temperature may change one or more characteristics of various circuit elements, which could impact the operating life of an integrated circuit (IC) in which it is implemented.

"A change in the threshold voltage of one or more transistors may in turn require a change in the supply voltage supplied to the IC. Generally speaking, an increase in the absolute value of a threshold voltage of one or more transistors in an IC may correspond to an increase in the required supply voltage for correct operation."

One component that it would use to determine the wear and tear on components is what it calls an "aging detection circuit" (ADC), a concept that it was granted a patent for in 2012.

The newer patent, however, focusses on how ADCs, fitted into lots of devices in conjunction with wireless networks to transmit that data, could be used to gather statistics about the aging of circuits to represent them "as a function of operating conditions."

Additional information Apple lists that could tell it what those conditions are include:

  • Battery condition information, such as "how many charging cycles the battery has been through, the degree of depletion of the battery, the amount of power the battery is still able to supply, etc."
  • GPS circuitry data. "For example, the location information may indicate the area (e.g., city or region of country) that the device is usually located or operated, the different areas the device has travelled to, the location of the device, the altitude of the device while it is providing the aging information, etc."
  • Temperature information. For example, "average temperature of operation, average ambient temperature, highest ambient temperature, lowest ambient temperature, highest temperature of operation, number of temperature cycles experienced, etc."
  • And how roughly it's been handled. This would be used to show "how much or how often the device has been shaken, such as while playing a game or from rough treatment." The shaking information may be gathered by accelerometers included in the device.

The upshot for users is that Apple's statistics based on age and operating conditions would allow it to target updates to specific groups.

"The statistics may indicate that devices within a certain area age less than devices within another area. Accordingly, based on the location information provided by the device, the update information may be determined according to the statistics regarding electronic aging of devices," Apple says.

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