A myth has surrounded the release of every new iPhone for years that has refused to go away. It suggests that Apple is knowingly and willingly slowing down older devices with software updates to encourage buyers to upgrade to the latest model.
The accusation that major manufacturers create consumer technology with deliberately shortened lifespans isn’t exclusive to the Cupertino giant, of course, but the iPhone’s overwhelming popularity and Apple’s strict yearly product cycle has encouraged conspiracy theories more so than almost any other product.
It’s worth noting that there has been little verifiable proof that back up claims of what is commonly referred to as “planned obsolescence”, but, as any iPhone user (past or present) will tell you, there’s definitely something going on that causes performance to slow over time – and now we might know why.
Following on from a Reddit thread that emerged just over a week ago, the team behind the benchmark test Geekbench decided to investigate new evidence which suggested that decreased speed is somehow tied to long-term battery degradation.
According to the original reports, iPhone units producing lower-than-expected CPU benchmark scores – a way of measuring processing speed – returned to a normal, acceptable average score after the phone’s battery had been replaced.
To examine the claims, Geekbench put multiple iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 phones through its own GeekBench 4 tests. When running last year’s software – iOS 10.2.0 to be precise – the iPhone 6s devices showed a fairly uniform result. So far so good.
This wasn’t the case when those same phones were notched up to iOS 10.2.1, however, as several devices started showing lower results, even though the majority hit the same results as before. This became even more pronounced with this year’s iOS 11 update, though. Here, the number of iPhone 6s exhibiting lower CPU benchmark scores increased dramatically, as evidenced by the larger spikes in the graphs below.
The same testing model was then applied to the iPhone 7 and the results are fascinating to see. Aside from a few anomalies, the vast amount of devices tested delivered a similarly strong performance score – up until update iOS 11.2.0 is applied, that is, as the same telling graph spikes emerge once again.
The results suggest that performance drop-off occurs for some iPhones around the 12-month mark. We know this because the iPhone 7 launched in September 2016, one whole year prior to the rollout of iOS 11 in September 2017 which appears to have impacted performance in some cases.
Combined with reports of improved performance after a replacement battery, it’s not hard to spot a correlation between the two, but why is this even happening in the first place?
Many of the aforementioned Reddit users, as well as the writer of Geekbench’s report, believe that Apple has actually introduced a method of limiting performance whenever an iPhone’s battery reaches a certain level of degradation.
One Reddit user theorized that it all stems back to an issue with the iPhone 6s which saw some devices shut down despite having power left. Apple’s alleged solution was first to offer free replacement batteries, but when the problems continued, decided to “scale down CPU performance” to hide poor battery condition while still visibly showing the battery draining from 100% to 0% via the on-screen indicator.
Whether this ’cause’ is true or not is unclear, but what is clear is that consumers may be walking into their local Apple Store ready to upgrade their sickly iPhones when all they might really need is a new battery.