Apple: You need to do much better in 2018

The company's response to the revelation that it has actively been throttling older iPhones has been poor at best.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

Video: Healthy iPhone battery or not, you can still get a replacement for $29

Apple's typical response to criticism is to dig in its heels, and adopt a defiant stance. That approach is not going to work this time.

Must read: How to tell if your iPhone battery needs replacing

Late last year it came to light that Apple has included code in the iOS operating system that throttles the performance of iPhones if the battery is showing signs of wear. Now the geek part of me is impressed by the cleverness of this solution. After all, it allows users to squeeze more life from a product that might otherwise have become unreliable.

So what's the problem?

The problem is that Apple didn't communicate to users well enough what it was doing. See, the update that Apple pushed out to throttle older iPhones showing battery wear -- iOS 10.2.1, for those of you playing along at home -- was released as a response to reports that iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, and iPhone SE were shutting down randomly (which itself was quite a widespread problem). But rather than explain the problem, and outline what its solution to that problem was, Apple tried to draw a line under the issue by claiming it had fixed the problem.

It was only when benchmark results began to suggest that Apple was throttling older devices -- something that's been a widespread urban legend for some years now -- that the company was forced to explain itself.

And Apple's "apology" was far from being an apology. Not only was it not specifically signed by any of Apple's executives, but the tone was more defiant than apologetic, and reminiscent of how the company responded to the Antennagate issue back in 2010. Rather than saying sorry, Apple lectured users about how it knows better, and that pushing out updates that quietly hobble devices was the right thing to do.

It wasn't.

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This is a serious betrayal of the trust that needs to exist between vendors and customers, and it stories like this will make people wary of installing updates, which is a bad thing.

So, how could Apple have turned this boneheaded move into a positive thing? By keeping the user in the loop. For example:

  • A pop-up message telling the user that there is a suspected battery problem, and iOS is stepping in to prevent possible problems.
  • Suggest the owner get the battery checked and replaced.
  • Offer users a way to disable the setting so they can see for themselves that there's a problem.

See, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Apple's also stepped into a tarpit that it might find it hard to get out of. Not only have the lawyers began circling the company, smelling blood and money, but it's now out there that Apple has indeed been caught throttling older devices. The urban legend is no longer fake news.

It's true.

It's damaging.

And you can be certain that Apple's competitors won't let it forget about it.

Another problem is that a stark limitation of Apple's hardware has been uncovered for all to see. Some of the devices that I've come across that Apple has been throttling are under three years old, and this suggests that Apple has done a poor job of balancing design -- especially its desire to make thin and light products -- and device longevity. iPhones are devices that come with a hefty price tag, and the reality that comes from finding out that it could wear out in a few years creates a problem for Apple.

Does it make you feel a little differently about Apple when you realize that that $1,000+ iPhone X you're still ogling might be scrap in three years?

I've also got a problem with Apple's "oh well, we'll just replace your battery for $29 and make the problem go away" response too. Apple has offered users no way of knowing whether they're affected by the throttling issue. You can find this information out for yourself, but this is beyond what the average user wants to be doing.

How annoyed would you be if you went through the hassle and expense of replacing your battery only to find out that your iPhone is still sluggish?

The battery replacement program feels like a knee-jerk response to a problem that Apple created for itself, and I feel that the solution itself is going to cause more bad press down the line.

Come on Apple, you need to do much better in 2018.

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