Media hype alert: Apple isn’t slowing down your iPhone simply because it’s old

**UPDATE** Apple has reduced the cost of iPhone 6 and later battery replacements to $29, and a leaked internal memo instructs Geniuses to offer the replacement for anyone who asks, regardless of their own diagnostics. However, because this has been such a quickly evolving stories many stores are out of batteries, so you may not be able to get it replaced right away without sending it off by mail. I expect that they will be receiving shipments soon to keep up with demand.

The tech news has been publishing many articles lately with headlines reading that Apple is intentionally slowing down old iPhones. If you dig into the meat of the articles they get the details right, but the headlines are misleading. Apple isn’t slowing down iPhones of a certain age. They are slowing down iPhones with degraded batteries. Batteries which can and should be replaced. The real problem is that the average user doesn’t know why their phone is running slower because Apple won’t tell you. You have to figure it out yourself.

Why? Apple slows down iPhones so they don’t demand more power than a degraded battery can supply. If they didn’t your iPhone would spontaneously turn off when the juice it needs fails to be delivered. In the past when smartphones were a new innovation they were increasing in capability at an amazing rate. Which meant that you really had to replace your iPhone every two years when your contract was up. So we all replaced our iPhones every two years. Three years maximum. New iPhones came with new batteries. No problem. Beginning around iPhone 5s the smartphone industry matured. Since then updates weren’t leaving old users in the dust as quickly. Today a casual user can expect their iPhone to last 3 to 4 years if they aren’t drawn in by shiny new features. But you know what doesn’t last three to four years? Batteries. Also beginning with the 64-bit processors in the iPhone 5s they could really run fast when needed, demanding more of the battery than ever. Beginning last year many iPhone users started experiencing spontaneous shutdowns because we had more older iPhones in use than ever before. To fix this problem Apple released iOS 10.2.1, though they never explained what they actually did to fix the problem.

So why are people upset? I don’t take issue at all with Apple slowing down iPhones with batteries that are incapable of keeping up in order to keep them operational. But I am not being an Apple apologist on this matter. What I do take issue with is Apple’s lack of transparency. Batteries naturally wear out, that’s fine. But when this was discovered to be an issue they had three choices: Let the phones spontaneously turn off (what was happening), slow the phones down so people could pretend nothing was happening but have an almost as bad side-affect (what did happen), or tell people what maintenence was needed (what I think should have happened).

How do I know if my battery is in need of replacing? It seems that the threshhold for when your iPhone starts slowing is at 80% battery health (sometimes called design capacity), meaning that the battery can only hold 80% as much juice as it was designed to. This usually takes about 500 charge cycles, which means that you’ve gone from 100% charge to 0% 500 times. Or 100% charge to 50% 1,000 times. Each time you discharge your battery you’re shortening the life slightly. That’s to be expected; you use your iPhone a lot, and batteries are considered consumables. There are two ways you can check the battery health yourself:

The Battery Life app is telling this user that they are down to 70% life, which means that their iPhone speed is being throttled until they replace their battery.
  • Download an app on your iPhone. There are many out there. The one I often recommend is Battery Life.
  • Download Coconut Battery on your Mac. Plug your iPhone into your Mac with your Lightning cable and you can get your reading there. I personally use this method because I also get battery life data for my MacBook.

How do I get the battery replaced? Especially if your iPhone is under warranty still (one year standard warranty or two year AppleCare+) get Apple to replace the battery for you. Use Apple’s support website to get that rolling, where you can choose to either get started with someone over the phone or to make an appointemnt at the Apple Store. Be preapared; I’ve heard stories of many Apple Geniuses telling customers that their battery was fine, even when they were as low as 20%, telling them it’s a problem with how they were using their iPhone. Be persisitent, be willing to try a couple of times, and come with this ammunition:

  • Apple’s own battery information explaining that the battery should be at 80% capacity.
  • Several screencaptures at different times from Coconut Battery or an iOS app showing the battery life consistently below 80%. Maybe even from both sources.

If you are out of warranty Apple charges $79 for the replacement, which is far less than buying a new iPhone.

Are you a DIYer? There are some kits out there that will let you replace your battery yourself. Just be sure you back up your iPhone before, make sure you are comfortable accepting the risk that you could mess up your phone accidentally, and that you are good with small tools. Personally I’m a fan of the kits and instructions from iFixit. Their kits range from about $25 to $35, a modest savings over having Apple do it for you. Just be very careful to heed all of the warnings in the instructions. iPhones are full of tiny cables that can be easily damaged if you scrape in the wrong place or put a screw in the wrong hole.

Are you one of my clients? Since this news broke I’ve taken to carrying batteries for all recent iPhones with me so that I can do a diagnosis and replace on the spot if needed. This isn’t something I offer as a standalone service, just as a side perk for my customers.

Are other devices affected? There is growing evidence that the same thing happens with iPads and even Macintosh computers. Though this problem isn’t as widespread because batteries on these devices are far more robust and when these devices do get slow it’s rarely because of the processor speed (it’s often a failing hard drive, malware, or too little RAM). But if you are running below 80% health (use CoconutBattery to find out) or if your battery icon on your laptop computer has a warning symbol I would recommend considering a battery replacement.