/ Technology

Update: is it OK for Apple to tinker with older iPhones?

iPhone battery

A few weeks ago Apple admitted that it has been actively tinkering with our old iPhones. But is this OK?

‘Stuff’ just doesn’t seem to last that long anymore, and the stuff we own is generally far more expensive. Thanks to a proliferation of contracts and credit schemes, it’s possible for more people to enjoy the latest and greatest technology without breaking the bank.

Chief among these luxury purchases is the smartphone, and never far behind the most expensive of them is Apple’s iPhone. And Apple, in case you’ve missed the news, has upset quite a few people recently.

It started when Primate Labs, owners of software that tests how quickly a phone operates, discovered that iPhones slow down as batteries age. Apple, rather surprisingly, admitted that yep, they’re doing that on purpose.

Why? Because in a nutshell, Apple says it helps prevent deteriorating batteries on iPhones from causing problems like unexpected shutdowns.

Is Apple looking after us?

This might sound like a good thing, and indeed some people think it is.

We recently gathered views on this issue in an online poll. Those who voted in the poll added that it’s ‘better slow than to have a flat battery’, ‘[helps phones to] have a longer life and maintain resale value’, and ‘it apparently prolongs the life of the battery and the most modern iPhones have more power than we need today to day things at the beginning’.

In a separate survey of more than 1,000 Which? members, 54% said they like Apple products because they ‘just work’.

In fact, Apple’s argument in its subsequent apology is that its goal ‘has always been to create products that our customers love’, and that keeping things in good working order is part of that goal.

Rotten Apple?

But while many have accepted Apple’s stance, others haven’t been so understanding. Or are we right to be aggrieved?

In our online poll on the modifying of performance on older iPhones, we asked ‘Do you think this is good or bad for consumers?’, and 75% of respondents answered ‘bad’.

Comments included ‘it’s not good business practice to make a previous product worse in any way’ and ‘until now it is likely to have made people part with more money to buy a newer model’.

In fact, the thing that seems to have annoyed people the most isn’t that Apple started slowing down iPhones, but that it has been doing so for a year without making it clear to customers. And to rub salt into the wound, the ‘performance management’ has affected phones that were barely a year old.

Our view

We’re not happy with Apple’s approach to this issue, and feel there’s been a clear lack of transparency that can’t be excused with broad statements in terms and conditions.

People have a right to know if their products are being modified in some way, and we’d call on Apple and other companies to be far more open with their customers going forward.

Update: 25 January 2018

Following the recent news that Apple has slowed down older iPhones with ageing batteries via a software update, the upcoming update, iOS 11.3, will allow users to disable the power management feature. But the tech giant doesn’t recommend doing so.

According to Apple, this tool prevents older models from shutting down unexpectedly. Owners of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, SE, 6s, 6s Plus, 7 and 7 Plus will be able to manage the tool via the iOS 11.3 update, which is expected to be available to download in the spring.

Whether you’re an iPhone owner or not, how do you feel about Apple’s behaviour, subsequent apology and resolution?

Comments
Member

The best thing might be take make their batteries user-replaceable, or not charge extortionate amounts to have one replaced. I bought a new battery for my Samsung – OEM £16.98 – and replacement was easy.

Member

Sadly, modern Samsung phones have non-replaceable batteries.

Member

Replaceable batteries are perhaps something Which? should be pursuing? Apple phones might be sealed to make battery replacement very difficult for the consumer, and to be called waterproof, but I know of cases where phones have leaked. There is, I believe, a sensitive paper strip inside the phone so Apple can detect whether water ingress has occurred when a “failed” phone is returned under warranty. Perhaps, if this is true, they don’t have too much faith in their waterproofing?

Member

As I mentioned last time we discussed replaceable batteries you can buy waterproof VHF radios with replaceable batteries. I had one to repair a couple of years ago. Rather than hide moisture detectors in phones (and it’s not just Apple that does this) why not devote ingenuity into making waterproof phones?

Member

Yes and the thing is we as consumers let it happen. They tell us things like oh we need to make it water resistant but actually making it harder to repair so there is not much difference between repair and buy new.

Member
Robin Phillips says:
12 January 2018

To disable/degrade someone else’s property for your company gain is fraud shurly?

Member

Yes but you need money and time to go against companies such as Apple who have deeper pockets

Member
A Horton says:
12 January 2018

I am sceptical of apple’s motives to reduce operating speeds following updates. Customers should be made aware of software upgrades slowing down phones in order to be able to make the choice to update software or not.

Member

What Apple have done is unacceptable. If they had been honest and given users the choice of slowing down the phone or risking crashes, that would have been a responsible move.

Apple set the trend for devices with non-replaceable batteries and maybe it’s time to take a lead and reintroduce the replaceable battery.