Apple Says Older iPhones Running Slower to Adjust to Aging Batteries

Apple confirmed that it released a feature in 2016 for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE models that adjusts device performance to smooth out power consumption depending on operating conditions and battery age.

iPhone Aging Battery Performance

Apple has now answered a rash of consumer complaints about the slower performance they are observing on their older iPhones by explaining the issue as a "feature" the company initiated to extend battery life on aging Lithium-ion batteries in the devices.

"Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices," Apple said in a statement sent to eWEEK.

"Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components."

To help adjust for that diminished capacity, Apple said that in 2016 it "released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions."

That "feature" has also been extended to iPhone 7 models with iOS 11.2, and the company plans to add support for other products in the future, according to the statement.

Apple's website has information about the company's expected battery performance in its iPhones, including that the devices work best in ambient temperatures from 32° F to 95° F (0° C to 35° C), and that battery power capacity is expected to diminish as the number of charge cycles mount up, which is the nature of the batteries.

Some consumers, though, haven't been happy about the new "feature" and have been complaining about it since late summer on forums including Reddit. The complaints said the issue appeared after they updated their affected iPhones to iOS 11, which gave them slower app performance, app crashes and other problems, according to reports.  

Several IT analysts told eWEEK that Apple's explanation for reducing the performance of the devices—to conserve battery life on older units—is reasonable, but that the company didn't do a good job of advising consumers of the changes.

"The new iOS version has numerous capabilities that were not available or as fully featured for earlier iPhones, and I can envision them negatively impacting older handsets, especially those with their original batteries," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "Apple's biggest problem, however, was remaining silent about this 'policy' until it was caught."

The incident "brings to mind earlier iPhone fumbles, including the company's denigration of 'Antennagate' complaints and 'bricking' iPhones that legitimate customers chose to jail-break."

The problem for Apple now, said King, is that individual consumers may or may not believe its explanation, which "depends largely on their view and trust of the company."

Tuong H. Nguyen, an analyst with Gartner, said Apple's statement doesn't do much to alleviate consumer concerns and annoyance, but that the company is likely not the only smartphone vendor that's making such power and performance adjustments to its products.

"With each update of an operating system, vendors are looking to optimize the experience for their latest product," said Nguyen. "This makes absolute sense. It's putting your best foot forward for the newest operating system and the newest hardware."