Apple is being sued for purposefully slowing older iPhone models

Apple yesterday confirmed it takes measures to slow down older phones when needed, but it does this to offset the effect of deteriorating lithium-ion batteries.

This admission has now led to legal action, with a pair of Los Angeles residents filing a class-action lawsuit.

That lawsuit, filed with the US District Court for the Central District of California, accuses Apple of purposefully slowing down older iPhone models to coincide with the release of a new device.

“Defendant breached the implied contracts it made with Plaintiffs and Class Members by purposefully slowing down older iPhone models when new models come out and by failing to properly disclose that at the time of that the parties entered into an agreement,” the accusations read.

As reported by MacRumors, LA residents Stefan Bogdanovich and Dakota Speas have owned an iPhone 7 as well as a number of previous models, and noticed that their “older iPhone models slows (sic) down when new models come out”. They want both California and nationwide class-action certification, which would encompass everyone in the US with an iPhone model predating the iPhone 8.

In yesterday’s statement, Apple acknowledged that it reduces power demand in some iPhones when necessary, as has been reported earlier this week by Geekbench. The reasons, Apple claims, are less to do with forcing people to upgrade than helping the device’s battery to supply peak current demands.

“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,” Apple said in a statement.

“Last year we 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. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.”

When an iPhone’s processor makes a large current demand from a device with an ageing battery, this can risk damaging components. The handset would unexpectedly shut down to protect itself, which is something 2016 iPhone users may remember as widespread problem. Last year’s update acts as a workaround by slowing down the performance of phones with older and low-charged batteries.

Original story continues below.

Apple has been accused of deliberately slowing down older iPhones, lowering performance of its processors as a device’s battery becomes worn out. 

So suggests research, carried out by Geekbench, off the back of a Reddit thread that points to iPhone performance reducing as battery life dwindles. Although it’s expected that battery life tends to lessen as a device gets older, due to the increased volume of recharging cycles, associated performance shouldn’t grind to a halt.

The original Reddit threat notes the performance of an iPhone 6S. Before changing the battery, the Geekbench scores were 1466 for single core and 2512 multi core. After changing the device’s battery, however, these shot up to 2526 and 4456 respectively.

“From what I can tell, Apple slows down phones when their battery gets too low, so you can still have a full days charge,” wrote Reddit user TeckFire. “This also means your phone might be very slow for no discernible reason. Check your Geekbench scores and see what you get if your phone is still slow.”

Cue Geekbench. The organisation benchmarked the performance of iPhone 6 and iPhone 7 devices running on different versions of iOS to see how the kernel density changes as the operating system is updated. It discovered that the iPhone 6’s score for iOS 10.2.0 appears ‘unimodal’ (ie., doesn’t change) in performance, but when it studied the iPhone 6 running iOS 10.2.1, the performance peaked around the average score and several other peaks around some of the lower scores. It reported that there was even more of a disparity when the iPhone 6 was tested on iOS 11.2.0.

For the iPhone 7, scores were pretty much identical across iOS 10.2.0, iOS 10.2.1, and iOS 11.1.2. However, when using iOS 11.2.0, the graph showed more peaks again, suggesting the performance is impacted the older the device becomes.

“First, it appears the problem is widespread, and will only get worse as phones (and their batteries) continue to age,” Geekbench explained. “Second, the problem is due, in part, to a change in iOS. The difference between 10.2.0 and 10.2.1 is too abrupt to be just a function of battery condition.”

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Apple apparently rolled out an update to devices that limits performance when battery life starts to dwindle, according to Geekbench, because iPhone 6 devices in particular were shutting down unexpectedly even when the user had taken advantage of its battery replacement programme.

“Because degraded batteries last much less and end up with a lower voltage Apple’s solution was to scale down CPU performance, it doesn’t solve anything and is a bad experience… but it’s better than having your device shutdown at 40% when you need it the most,” Reddit user kadupse claims.

Apple has admitted it implemented such an update to prevent devices shutting down unexpectedly, but didn’t say whether this impacts the performance of the devices.

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