San Francisco Chronicle

Ap­ple slows iPhones as bat­ter­ies get older

- By Ge­of­frey A. Fowler

Ap­ple is tak­ing heat for a dis­cov­ery about old iPhones: As their bat­ter­ies age, Ap­ple’s soft­ware slows them down.

The phe­nom­e­non, dis­cov­ered by Red­dit mem­bers and ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day by Ap­ple, throws gaso­line onto a long-stand­ing con­spir­acy the­ory that iPhones slow to crawl as a sly way to per­suade us to buy new ones.

That sounds up­set­ting — but be mad at Ap­ple for the right rea­sons. Ap­ple is cor­rect to make its soft­ware smart about man­ag­ing old bat­ter­ies, which can act un­pre­dictably. Ap­ple is wrong, how­ever, not to make it easy and in­ex­pen­sive to re­place old bat­ter­ies.

“Our goal is to de­liver the best ex­pe­ri­ence for cus­tomers, which in­cludes over­all per­for­mance and pro­long­ing the

life of their de­vices,” said an Ap­ple spokes­woman.

Worn-out bat­ter­ies are a fact of gad­get life. Lithium-ion be­comes less ca­pa­ble af­ter hun­dreds of charges, which can re­sult in phones ran­domly shut­ting down. Ap­ple said it changed its soft­ware last year for the iPhone 6, 6S and SE to “smooth out the in­stan­ta­neous peaks only when needed.”

Ap­ple could have been a lit­tle more trans­par­ent about its prac­tice. (Its lat­est ma­jor up­date, iOS 11.2, does the same slow­down to an iPhone 7 with a dud bat­tery.) But the larger prob­lem is it leaves the im­pres­sion that cus­tomers should buy a new phone when all they re­ally need is a new bat­tery.

The iPhone doesn’t start flash­ing an alert when your bat­tery is in trou­ble — it just starts to cur­tail your phone’s pro­cess­ing power. There might be a warn­ing mes­sage if you dig into the set­tings menu for the bat­tery. You can test your bat­tery health for your­self with apps such as Bat­tery Life.

Re­plac­ing your phone’s bat­tery might make a huge dif­fer­ence. Re­pair site iFixit, which sells re­place­ment bat­ter­ies and other parts, says it’s seen per­for­mance boosts of 100 per­cent in old iPhones given bat­tery trans­plants.

But re­plac­ing a bat­tery can be ex­pen­sive: Ap­ple wants $80 to do it in a store. There’s no charge if you paid up front for Ap­pleCare Plus cov­er­age and have a bat­tery Ap­ple thinks war­rants re­plac­ing.

You can buy a new iPhone 6 bat­tery for as lit­tle as $20, if you’re will­ing to do surgery on your phone. (Warn­ing: It’s not easy.) Or some mom-and-pop shops will do it for far less than Ap­ple. Tak­ing ei­ther ap­proach would void Ap­ple’s war­ranty.

Why not de­sign phones in a mod­u­lar way, so own­ers could just slide in new bat­ter­ies? As re­cently as 2014, Sam­sung’s flag­ship Galaxy S5 phone came with an eas­ily swap­pable bat­tery. That style went out of fa­vor as phone mak­ers moved to­ward thin­ner, wa­ter-re­sis­tant, more durable de­signs.

The bat­tery re­place­ment prob­lem is an ex­am­ple of why a grow­ing com­mu­nity of gad­get lovers is call­ing for laws to en­sure con­sumers have a le­gal “right to re­pair” their own elec­tron­ics. Laws pro­posed in a hand­ful of states would help pre­vent tech com­pa­nies from lock­ing down de­vices with soft­ware and make re­pair man­u­als avail­able to the pub­lic.

Guess who has lob­bied against those laws? Tech com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Ap­ple.

The Ap­ple spokes­woman didn’t respond to ques­tions about re­plac­ing bat­ter­ies or its view on right-to-re­pair leg­is­la­tion.

 ?? Christina Koci Her­nan­dez / The Chron­i­cle 2007 ?? This iPhone was shiny and new in 2007, but phone bat­ter­ies don’t ex­actly age grace­fully.
Christina Koci Her­nan­dez / The Chron­i­cle 2007 This iPhone was shiny and new in 2007, but phone bat­ter­ies don’t ex­actly age grace­fully.

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