Following the attention that Apple had gotten over the past few weeks regarding the discovery of mechanisms that reduce CPU frequency on devices with aged batteries, Apple has now issued a more comprehensive statement and apology addressing the matter:

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.

When power is pulled from a battery with a higher level of impedance, the battery’s voltage will drop to a greater degree. Electronic components require a minimum voltage to operate. This includes the device’s internal storage, power circuits, and the battery itself. The power management system determines the capability of the battery to supply this power, and manages the loads in order to maintain operations.

The statement doesn’t address any new information as to cause of the issue and confirms my initial technical explanation of the battery impedance causing the battery to no longer be able to supply a stable voltage supply during transient loads.

What we do have as new information is the various other effects that the throttling mechanism touches:

  • Longer app launch times
  • Lower frame rates while scrolling
  • Backlight dimming (which can be overridden in Control Center)
  • Lower speaker volume by up to -3dB
  • Gradual frame rate reductions in some apps
  • During the most extreme cases, the camera flash will be disabled as visible in the camera UI
  • Apps refreshing in background may require reloading upon launch

As it appears, CPU and GPU frequency reductions are not the only things done by iOS to prevent shutdowns of iPhone 6, 6S, SE and 7. The system also reduces backlight dimming (which can be overridden in settings), lowers speaker volume by up to -3 dB, disables camera flash cease app refreshing in background. All of the said performance-related features are important to the user, yet are not crucial when it comes to phone usage in general and in emergencies in particular. Apple stresses that while it reduces SoC frequency, it preserves cellular call quality, networking and GPS performance, location accuracy, captured photo and video quality, operation of sensors as well as Apple Pay. In fact, the FCC and other regulators have a set of emergency-related requirements and recommendations for wireless service providers and hardware manufacturers, there is also the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act and the iCanConnect program to provide people with disabilities a viable way of communications (including video communications during emergencies). To participate in this and similar programs a vendor probably needs to guarantee that its hardware can make the aforementioned features (and therefore emergency services) available to users at all times.

Based on the large media attention and relatively negative feedback which prompted Apple to this second official response and statement, Apple promises three key points to address consumer’s concerns:

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
  • As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.

Reduction of the cost of an official battery replacement from $79 to $29 is a much welcomed change that makes this a much more attractive option considering replacement batteries only cost $10-15 depending on model; Apple’s previous pricing at $79 was extremely extortionary given the critical aspect of this service. I would now recommend any users who hesitated on replacing their iPhone batteries on their own to make use of the official service as it will have very noticeable impact both on device battery life as well as device performance (due to the nature of this story). Meanwhile, the program has been announced for the U.S. and it remains to be seen how Apple handles it in other countries, including smaller European states that barely have official Apple service providers that can handle additional workload

The way that Apple has handled disclosure on the throttling mechanisms has also been heavily criticised as users felt their devices slowing down with iOS updates and not knowing the reason. Here Cupertino promises key changes in the way that iOS handles information sharing on battery health and reporting, as well as promised improvement on performance management under degraded battery conditions. The issued time-frame for when we can expect these updates are “early 2018”.

Overall the response from Apple was the only possibly correct one to the whole fiasco, and the only one which was to be realistically expected, though it took longer than it should have to implement changes such as drastically reducing the battery replacement cost.

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  • uhuznaa - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    "Have you never had an older cellphone randomly reboot on you?" No, never. Or maybe with a really, really dodgy battery that hardly holds any charge at all. Not with a battery that still has 80% of the original capacity or so.

    I think this may be related to modern SoCs having a real huge span between low standby power and big power surges when going full throttle. But then you need margins here and Apple seems to have designed their phone with razor thin power margins that go negative as soon as the battery isn't as good as new anymore.
    Reply
  • Alistair - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    The Nexus 4 was particularly prone to this problem. Battery was 10 months old and random reboots. New battery no more problem. This isn't a new problem. Reply
  • lmcd - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    Samsung SIII and Lumia 929 both have exhibited this problem, among others.

    "A battery that still has 80% of its original capacity or so." I mean, I prefer to keep phones at least 2 years, ideally 3. Congratulations on your more luxurious lifestyle.
    Reply
  • sonny73n - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    You should stop defending crooks and you should stop running your mouth if you have no knowledge of battery tech.

    At what level the battery degrades to to get performance throttled? If there's such a set level, how will the software know it without constantly monitoring your device? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of saving battery?

    Yes, the iPhone 4 antenna problem comes to mind - You're holding the phone wrong.
    Reply
  • chrnochime - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    And yet you don't provide any such threshold for the battery to trigger throttling either. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    My 6S was perfectly fine with almost zero battery degradation before I upgraded to iOS 11. I almost never heard of 6s users complaining about random shutdowns before the update. Reply
  • repoman27 - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    You seem to play the analyst fairly frequently, but that comment makes zero sense. First of all, this isn’t a design flaw, and battery replacements for actual defects in materials and workmanship are already covered by warranty for 1-2 years for all devices, and free under AppleCare+ for 2 years if the charge remaining is under 80% of original.

    I can buy a brand new Dodge Challeger Hellcat and burn through a set of tires in an afternoon. Is that a design flaw? Should Dodge provide every Hellcat owner with free tires for life?

    Batteries are consumables, and $79 for replacement by an authorized service provider is far from extortionate. Yes the battery might only cost $8, but the labor isn’t free and there are other plenty of other costs as well. What’s the price of a head gasket vs. how much a dealership would charge you to replace one?

    There are over a billion iOS devices currently in use, which means Apple is looking at several hundred million iPhones with over 500 cycles or batteries otherwise degraded to less than 80% of original capacity in the wild at this point. Most of these are out of warranty, and there is no safety issue, so why would Apple possibly initiate a recall of that magnitude?

    Every CPU, GPU, and SoC in the past 10 years has used DVFS to extend battery life, prevent thermal runaway, and avoid current draw in excesss of what the system can provide by shifting voltage and frequency as necessary. Apple made a software change in iOS that changed the DVFS algorithm to accommodate older batteries. Basically it turned on low power mode automatically when the battery was dodgy. That has nothing to do with the actual hardware, and is covered under an entirely different warranty. They could have just rolled back that feature and gone back to forcing people with older batteries to either service them or replace their devices.

    How many of the iPhones with battery issues are less than a year old? How many of those were fast-charged, used with dodgy chargers or accessories, or exposed to extreme temperatures? Why is Apple liable for any of that when no other smartphone OEM is? Just because they have a big enough cash pile to make them a full-time class-action target?
    Reply
  • uhuznaa - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    "They could have just rolled back that feature and gone back to forcing people with older batteries to either service them or replace their devices." - No, if the battery degrading to 80% or so leads to the phone shutting down unexpectedly this is a defect. This phone obviously was only designed to work with a new or almost new battery.

    Batteries degrading over time with battery life getting shorter is normal, having to castrate performance to keep the phone working at all isn't.
    Reply
  • repoman27 - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    I believe their design goal was 80% battery life after 500 cycles, which is 2 years of 68% average daily depletion. Are other OEMs targeting a markedly higher standard?

    How much and how often does the system throttle performance when brand new? How about when the battery is at 80% of new? How about at 80% of new but discharged to 20%? So much of the argument here is based on speculation rather than actual data.
    Reply
  • sonny73n - Friday, December 29, 2017 - link

    A new battery at 50% and a fully charged old one which can only hold 50% charge compared when new will provide the same performance.

    I smell an apple rat here.
    Reply

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