As iPhone batteries age, Apple’s software slows them down. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

As iPhone batteries age, Apple’s software slows them down. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Yes, Apple is slowing down your old iPhone

The company is right about managing old batteries, but wrong to make costly to replace them.

By Geoffrey A. Fowler / The Washington Post

Apple is taking heat for a discovery about old iPhones: As their batteries age, Apple’s software slows them down.

The phenomenon, discovered by Reddit members and acknowledged Wednesday by Apple, throws gasoline onto a long-standing conspiracy theory that iPhones slow to crawl as a sly way to convince us to buy new ones.

That sounds upsetting — but be mad at Apple for the right reasons. Apple is correct to make its software smart about managing old batteries, which can act unpredictably. Apple is wrong, however, not to make it easy and inexpensive to replace old batteries.

“Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices,” said an Apple spokeswoman.

Worn-out batteries are a fact of gadget life. Lithium-ion becomes less capable after hundreds of charges, which can result in phones randomly shutting down. Apple said it changed its software last year for the iPhone 6, 6s and SE to “smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed.”

Apple could have been a little more transparent about its practice. (Its latest major update, iOS 11.2, does the same slowdown to an iPhone 7 with a dud battery.) But the larger problem is it leaves the impression that customers should buy a new phone when all they really need is a new battery.

The iPhone doesn’t start flashing an alert when your battery is in trouble – it just starts to curtail your phone’s processing power. There might be a warning message if you dig into the settings menu for the battery. You can test your battery health for yourself with apps such as Battery Life.

Replacing your phone’s battery might make a huge difference. Repair site iFixit, which sells replacement batteries and other parts, says it’s seen performance boosts of 100 percent in old iPhones given battery transplants.

But replacing a battery can be expensive: Apple wants $80 to do it in a store. There’s no charge if you paid upfront for AppleCare Plus coverage and have a battery Apple thinks warrants replacing.

You can buy a new iPhone 6 battery for as little as $20, if you’re willing to do surgery on your phone. (Warning: it’s not easy.) Or some mom-and-pop shops will do it for far less than Apple. Taking either approach would void Apple’s warranty.

Why not design phones in a modular way, so owners could just slide in new batteries? As recently as 2014, Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S5 phone came with an easily swappable battery. That style went out of favor as phone makers moved toward thinner, water-resistant, and more durable designs.

The battery replacement problem is an example why a growing community of gadget lovers are calling for laws to ensure consumers have a legal “right to repair” their own electronics. Laws proposed in a handful of states would help prevent tech companies from locking down devices with software and make repair manuals available to the public.

Guess who has lobbied against those laws? Tech companies, including Apple.

The Apple spokeswoman didn’t respond to questions about replacing batteries or its view on right to repair legislation.


Talk to us

More in Nation-World

John Lewis, lion of civil rights and Congress, dies at 80

He was best known for leading 600 protesters in the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Comet streaking past Earth, providing spectacular show

NASA’s Neowise infrared space telescope discovered the comet in March.

Boeing has settled almost all Lion Air crash-death claims

The company didn’t say how much it paid the families of the people killed in the 2018 Indonesia crash.

Supreme Court: LGBT people protected from job discrimination

Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Boeing, suppliers plunge on stop-and-go 737 Max comeback

An uptick in Covid-19 cases in the U.S. has added to concerns that airlines face a prolonged recovery

Boeing goes another month without a single airliner order

Airlines are canceling thousands of flights while passengers remain too scared to fly.

Bellevue couple’s nightmare: Held in China, away from daughter

Chinese officials want the man’s father to return from the U.S. to face 20-year-old embezzling charges.

Airbus CEO warns workers it’s bleeding cash and needs cuts

Both Airbus and Boeing are preparing for job cuts as they gauge the depth of the downturn.

U.S. unsure it can meet deadline to disburse funds to tribes

The department hasn’t determined whether unique Alaska Native corporations are eligible for a share.

As people stay home, Earth turns wilder and cleaner

“There’s some silver lining for wildlife in what otherwise is a fairly catastrophic time for humans.”

Trump, Congress scramble to revive virus-hunting agency

In 2019 it was without a permanent leader, and in the Trump administration’s budget-slashing sights.

Virus casts a dark cloud over once-thriving home market

Shutdown orders have halted open houses, sellers are delaying listings and buyers are losing their jobs.