19-11-2020 | | By Sam Brown
Apple has been in the spotlight for a few years now after it was found to be reducing performance on older devices for “preserving the battery”. What is batterygate, how does it work in Apple's favour, and how has the world reacted to their throttling practice?
Batterygate relates to a practice done by Apple whereby older devices would receive an update and have their performance throttled (i.e. frequencies lowered etc.). This practice was first detected around the second half of 2016, whereby an iOS update would cause some devices to slow down and undergo significant performance issues.
Some devices would even shut off when their battery reached 30%, something which can cause great inconvenience to any mobile user. When Apple were made aware of the situation, they launched an internal investigation. Still, by 2017 a report came out from Geekbench which showed evidence that the updates were the cause of the slowdown in performance.
Eventually, Apple admitted that their update would identify older devices and implement throttling to extend the life of the battery in these devices.
How does Batterygate work in Apple’s favour?
According to Apple, the purpose of the throttling is to extend battery life, but this is highly unlikely for several reasons.
The first is that most devices can have their batteries easily replaced. Thus if Apple was concerned about ageing batteries, then a system update could display a popup message telling users to get new batteries.
Secondly, Apple has a history of frequently bringing out new devices, making older models redundant, and Apple has strongly fought against those who demand right-to-repair.
Thirdly, it works in Apple’s commercial interest to get users to move to new devices, and the implementation of performance throttling will cause users to upgrade their phones.
In light of the throttling practice, Apple has offered some customers the option to upgrade their battery. But, considering that Apple has faced wave after wave of lawsuits as a result of the throttling update, it is safe to say that Apple’s offer has not done enough to apologise to customers.
Batterygate has already seen Apple settle a $500 million class action settlement in early 2020, but once again, Apple is faced with a second wave of lawsuits from 34 US states. To this, Apple has decided to settle again and will pay an additional $113 million, however, what is interesting about the second lawsuit is that Apple is being attacked for not only throttling phones but not informing customers of their degrading batteries.
Apple not informing customers of degrading batteries goes back to a previous point made which is that a system update could easily be made to inform users with old batteries, or a press statement could inform all customers to get their devices checked. Furthermore, a customer, who has paid for a device with a specific CPU capability, should be given the option to either opt-in to a throttling system or opt-out.
While Apple slowing devices down with an update works to their commercial advantage, it also further demonstrates a growing trend in the electronics of planned obsolescence. Some may argue that planned obsolescence is important for the next decade as technology rapidly changes because having a mix of old and new technology carries security risks. Such security risks arise from the use of old protocols that are no longer secure, the inability to update, and the use of older hardware that may lack modern security features.
However, the use of planned obsolescence carries with it great environmental and sociological impacts. The creation of large amounts of electronics waste can be damaging to the environment with toxic chemicals leaching out of device buried in the ground and contaminating ground water supplies. That same waste is often shipped to developing nations around the world, and the lack of safety standards can see the health of local works negatively impacted.
Apple may state that they only had good intentions with helping its customers extend the life of their devices, but actions speak louder than words. To not tell their customers to change their batteries, or provide an option to enable/disable throttling is worrying and brings into question if other companies are following similar practices.