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Apple to pay up to $500M to settle U.S. lawsuit over slow iPhones (yahoo.com)
121 points by 34679 on March 2, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 176 comments



I’ve always thought the coverage of this issue got things completely backwards.

Apple had an issue with old phones unexpectedly shutting down. They determined this happened because aged batteries were not capable of delivering peak current anymore and the CPU was “browning out” under heavy load.

They added a software feature in an iOS update that throttled the CPU in this condition to prevent a crash, at the expense of lower peak CPU performance.

From my perspective, this demonstrated real dedication to customer care and old device support from Apple. A phone that is moderately slower is still more valuable than one that randomly crashes. Intuitively, I’d expect that this would decrease sales of replacement iPhones, not increase them.

People latched onto the fact that Apple did this “secretly” - but Apple has never exposed this sort of implementation detail, and they’ve never wanted battery replacement to be part of the normal user experience for their devices. If Apple had shipped an iOS update that started telling people “Your battery is degraded, pay us to replace it to stop the crashes!” they obviously would’ve been raked over the coals also. There is no magic solution here.

So I never saw any indication that this was malicious on Apple’s part.


It's shocking to me that even in a technical audience like HN, so many people don't understand the fairly simple story that you've outlined here. Look around this thread and see how many people spread the narrative like "Apple intentionally slowed phones down" or even "Apple tried to extend battery life at the cost of performance". Reiterating the summary:

- Some iPhones in this generation began randomly shutting down as their batteries aged.

- While looking into this, Apple determined it happened because certain aged batteries could no longer deliver enough current to sustain peak workloads (computers use more current when performing more intensive tasks). This is probably due to Apple underprovisioning the battery capacity in this generation, but that's not something they could fix in existing devices.

- Apple added a mechanism to detect when these random shutdowns occurred on a specific device due to insufficient power from the battery.

- Once the random shutdown had been detected on a specific device, that specific phone would instead throttle its CPU when the system was under heavy load to prevent the random shutdown from occurring.

In short, your phone was not affected unless your battery had already degraded and was experiencing power-related random shutdowns. The changes Apple made to deal with this were an unequivocally user-friendly change to work around a hardware shortcoming and keep peoples' phones working well for longer than they otherwise would have.

The mistakes Apple made were:

- Designing the phone hardware with barely enough battery capacity, such that some moderately old phones might not be able to keep working properly when the batteries decayed.

- Not being transparent with the hardware design flaw above, such as proactively replacing any customer whose device was being affected by this flaw while still under warranty.

- Not going far enough with the software changes to initially add something like the battery health info they later added in response to this PR fiasco.

That's about it, I think?


> The mistakes Apple made were:

> - Designing the phone hardware with barely enough battery capacity, such that some moderately old phones might not be able to keep working properly when the batteries decayed.

Indeed! This was (and still is) very much a design flaw. People like to say, all phones have this issue, but where are the examples? Also, look at the iPads which are just scaled up iPhones. They don't have this issue because they don't suffer the same design flaw.

Apple put a bandage on the issue and people throw praise at them.


This is like saying my car's gas tank is a design flaw because I want to drive farther than my tank will allow. Increasing battery capacity means increasing the volume of the battery, which results in a phone that isn't as sleek. This isn't a design flaw, this is a tradeoff between form factor and battery capacity - just like how car designers have to make a tradeoff when selecting a fuel tank capacity.

The examples are, literally, every device that uses a lithium ion battery. Take any phone or tablet, repeatedly charge and discharge the battery fully (better yet, do so in a hot climate) and eventually it will not put out sufficient voltage. This will either trigger CPU throttling, or your device will start crashing. The iPhone was the most widely publicized example, but this is a fundamental issue with battery chemistry that all battery powered devices are subject to.


Other phones don't have the issue because they didn't match a tiny battery with an over sized CPU. To use your analogy (which still isn't adequate at explaining the issue), this is like paring a top fuel dragster with a tiny fuel tank.


> Other phones don't have the issue because they didn't match a tiny battery with an over sized CPU.

It's not a question of if it's a question of when. All battery powered devices are subject to the limits of battery chemistry. Some phones have a bigger safety margin than others, but use the battery for long enough and it will put out less voltage than the device requires. As other commenters pointed out, other phones do indeed hit this limit.


> It's not a question of if it's a question of when.

That's a good point and Apple's phones failed much, much sooner than any other phones. Thus the reason we don't hear of the others.


Plenty of cheap <$300 phones crap out after a year or two of use. You don't hear of them because they're not Apple.


Anecdotally, I have several of those cheap ones that are still going great. (moto g 1st gen for example). They make great music/video/game players for the kids.

Apple designed about a years worth of battery capacity into a phone most people expected to keep 2 or more years. And clearly they put too powerful CPUs into the phones because they "fix" is to throttle them!


Actually, lots of Android phones, including Nexus phones, have this problem, but none of them had a software fix shipped.


My Android phone started crashing mysteriously under load. I was so fed up after a while I switched to iPhone. I now assume that the degraded battery without throttling was responsible for the crashes.


There is no correct answer here (no arguing matters of taste), but consumers seem to have voted for the sleek design.


No, they didn't. Apple never gave a choice. If you want an Apple iPhone you get what Apple wants you to have.

The non-Apple choice is ... well, we all know the trade-offs there.


We did not. I can’t buy an iPhone 5 anymore that can still run iOS properly, so I had to get one of these huge but thin things


Apples newer phones are actually thicker. They stopped the “make it thinner each year” thing.


> People like to say, all phones have this issue, but where are the examples?

Are there any other phones out there that are supported with software updates as long as the iPhone? If there is an Android phone that's been used for 3+ years, it will be ba good data point.

Afaik, Android phone OEMs don't try to make a device last as long.


I've had Android and Windows phones in the past where replacing the battery fixed random app crashes/reboots.


I had a 2nd gen Nexus 7 that after 1.5 years of use would intermittenly shut down even though battery capacity was around 60%.

It's the same issue.


Anyone who has ever owned a smartphone knows that the battery degrades over time, the battery drains faster requiring more frequent charges. So besides the slowness, a user would already know that the battery was getting old. Why in the world would they buy a new phone when they could just buy a new battery?


Because most people didn't realise that an older battery would cause their phone to slow down with zero notification. They just see that they have an old device that's slow, and assume it's too old to perform well with modern software.

The experience of old hardware feeling slow after a bunch of use and software updates is common. The experience of hardware slowing down with no notification when the battery is getting old is not. I'd actively prefer random shutdowns over non-notified slowdowns-at least the former indicates that tech support is required.


> it happened because certain aged batteries could no longer deliver enough current to sustain peak workloads

Where exactly is the difference in this to a new battery that's not fully charged?


There is a difference between energy density and power density. Energy density is how much charge is stored in the battery. Power density is how much electricity can be delivered per period of time at a point of charge.

A battery may have 2,000 milliwatts of charge, but can only deliver 500 milliwatts per hour; thus, it could run at full blast for ~4 hours or half at ~8 hours if the power density is not dependent on the charge. Batteries normally have a power curve, the amount of power you can draw depending on the charge in the battery. When you over draw the power on a battery, the tendency is for the voltage to quickly drop.

Cycling the battery and age both play in lowering the energy and power densities, but they are not one-to-one correlated. This is why you'll see people who say that their battery will last to 40% and die. The battery's voltage is used to gauge how much charge is left in the battery; however, at that level, the power density has dropped such that any significant draw on the battery causes the voltage to plummet and the phone shuts off.


> 2,000 milliwatts of charge > 500 milliwatts per hour

It's bad enough journalists confusing watts and power and energy but better not in the middle of a post explaining the difference between energy and power!


My understanding is that the internal resistance of the battery increases as the battery ages.

You basically have a voltage divider - with some of the resistance being the load (phone electronics) and some being the internal resistance of the battery. The voltage from the battery is split across these resistances. Normally the load gets almost all of the voltage.

When the battery is old and the peak current demand comes through the battery “sees” this as a lower resistance. The larger internal resistance causes a bigger voltage drop internally in the battery and the load therefore gets a lower voltage. When this is lower than the phone needs you get a brownout/reset.


Resistance increases due to microcracking (fatigue) of the copper leads from thermal cycling.


That can't possibly be true. There are only be on the order of 1000 day/night charge/use cycles in the life of a battery and that number is too small for high-cycle fatigue to appear. Low cycle fatigue can happen but only with extreme strains where it's obviously deformed.

Also, if you could make batteries last longer just by using more finely stranded wire, somebody would have done that.

Not only that, but a crack doesn't lower resistance by much because the length of the current path is so short that the narrower cross-section hardly affects resistance over the whole length of a conductor.


Is really the case? an you link something so I can find out more?


That shouldn’t be that case for a well designed battery pack.

An unavoidable issue with all lithium ion batteries is plating during charging. This process increases the output impedance of the battery reducing its ability to deliver power to a load, regardless of how much energy is inside it.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140903105638.h...


the difference is that a brand new battery would be able to deliver enough current to sustain the peak workloads, even when at 1% battery remaining. An aged battery would not be able to do this.


my experience contradicts the notion that random shutdowns are directly correlated to battery degradation.

just over a year ago, the then 3-year-old battery on my 6s was experiencing very occasional instant shutdowns, usually when the battery indicator was under 10%.

so i got a new (presumably undegraded) battery through the free replacement program, thinking it would improve things, but random shutdowns are worse and now my battery indicator goes to 1% for hours at a time.


This was my experience too with a 6s. Even with a brand new battery I'd get maybe 3 hours of use out of my phone (and I'm a pretty light user) and furthermore it would often shut down registering as much as 30% remaining. I bit the bullet and upgraded to a new iPhone 11 a few months ago, and I now regularly end the day with 70% battery life, with no change to my phone habits.

So, at least anecdotally, there's more to the story here....


This isn't about understanding the story, it's about whether you believe what Apple is saying. Is there any proof that the original secret throttling mechanism actually analyzed battery health and wasn't just a timer?


Indeed. We don't know if Apple just throttled the CPU on every device, even those that might have been rarely used and still have plenty of battery life. But the main problem here is Apple's lack of transparency on the issue.


What about intent?

They covertly slow down your phone yo mask that it is defective and needs a new battery.

This way they avoid having to deal with warranty and bad press.

Or design a phone with removable battery or at least a decent battery.


> They covertly slow down your phone yo mask that it is defective and needs a new battery.

So Apple should have juts let iPhones with old batteries become unusable?

> Or design a phone with removable battery or at least a decent battery.

Increasing battery size means increasing phone size - and Apple wants the iPhone to be sleek. Removable batteries also have certain design implications that increase the bulk of the device. Apple's products are at the top end of the market, where form factor is more important than serviceability. Mercedes' are more laborious to service than Toyotas. iPhones are more laborious to service than cheaper devices.


It is a faulty device, they should be honest about that.

A better battery would also lead to a phone that lasts longer. And that's bad if you are apple.


A "better battery" would have been a larger battery, which makes the phone bulkier. This isn't a good or bad choice, it's a tradeoff between form factor and battery life. This is a good choice for customers that want bulkier phones with longer battery life. But it would be a bad choice for customers that want a slim phone.


The software fix also leads to a phone that lasts longer.

Bad for Apple? No.


If you consider the phone usable, sure... But the number one reason to buy a new phone over an old one is because it is slow.


Sure but that’s an effect of new phones being a lot faster because of advances.


That is a very charitable viewpoint in the context where apple are accused of slowing down devices.


I'm wondering where this story/version of the story comes from. What you're describing I've not heard anywhere else and I can't see any reference. Looking as an outside observer there is no way to tell whether this is just some story apple launched to make it sound reasonable/escape the lawsuits, is fully made up by someone else, or is actually the truth. From what I've read this issue was affecting all smartphones of certain generations, not just specific ones.

In any case the way they went about it and just pretended all is fine certainly is worth investigating. And as shifty as Apple has been in the past with such things - see planned obsolence, lack of possibility to replace parts/batteries, the throw-away airpods that even apple itself can't fix - it just does not sound to me like apple would really make user friendly decisions. Their only concern has (from all the evidence I've seen) been to protect profits. Even when apple was forced to do battery replacements they still charged for it.

Therefore I honestly doubt this story unless some third party can corroborate it.


The 'Battery Health' screen shows the device specific aspect of the implementation.

There's a section titled 'Peak Performance Capability' which will say "This iPhone has experienced an unexpected shutdown because the battery was unable to deliver the necessary peak power. Performance management has been applied to help prevent this from happening again." if that specific device had an unexpected shutdown related to battery health.

That's how it worked both before and after the controversy; the only thing that changed was that Apple added the battery health UI along with an option to disable the performance management features.


I have an iPhone se and it’s actually shut down once due to the battery and turned on the performance capping. Honestly I haven’t noticed a significant difference. But that’s trivia, my main point is next.

Batteries are consumable products. That they degrade over use is a given.

No phone company states the expected useful life of their batteries in a way people can understand or the expected loss of performance due to degradation.

I don’t fault Apple for this alone. Apple seems no worse than anyone else. The entire industry is shady when it comes to batteries.


They didn’t tell retail. They also didn’t tell customers why their phones were slow. Customers called/came in complaining of slow phones, and often times assumed it was because their phone was “old.” Many new iPhones were likely sold as the result, as retail/customer service couldn’t give an explanation for slowness.

Malicious or not, they profited, likely heavily, from the lack of communication/transparency.


> Malicious or not, they profited, likely heavily, from the lack of communication/transparency.

How so? If Apple didn't mitigate lower battery voltage than customers' phones would have been unusable. A customer with a phone crashing so often it's unusable is more likely to replace it than one that is slowed down. How does extending the usable life of the phone result in more sales?


Consumers could have replaced the battery, a practice that has been universal in consumer electronics for, well, the entire history of battery-powered consumer electronics.

If consumers were aware that their phones were actually suffering from degraded performance due to a design failure by Apple, instead of being gaslighted into believing that their phones simply seemed slower because they were older, they might have switched away from Apple.

All of this chicanery is really about getting consumers comfortable with the idea of disposable gadgets that must be replaced every year. When you expose the fact that a LIPO powered phone is probably going to need a new battery after 1-2 years, consumers start to wonder why they are charged an exorbitant fee to replace the battery in the first place.


Can you show me where Apple denied that battery age affected the iPhone's performance? I see this allegation repeatedly in this thread, but so far it goes unsubstantiated.


Can you show me where I claimed Apple made such a denial?

Or maybe explain why you think such a denial is in any way relevant?

They saw that battery life was causing problems in their phones, and they quietly band-aided the problem without informing users. If I kill someone and bury them in the back yard, and then get caught years later, I hope you'll jump to my defense with the line "Can you show me where he denied killing that guy?!"

Obviously silently masking battery life issues without telling anyone is... well... masking the fact that your product suffers from battery life issues.


> Can you show me where I claimed Apple made such a denial?

Here you write that gaslighted (denied) customers regarding the battery's impact on performance.

> If consumers were aware that their phones were actually suffering from degraded performance due to a design failure by Apple, instead of being gaslighted into believing that their phones simply seemed slower because they were older, they might have switched away from Apple.

> Or maybe explain why you think such a denial is in any way relevant?

Because such a claim is counterfactual.

> They saw that battery life was causing problems in their phones, and they quietly band-aided the problem without informing users. If I kill someone and bury them in the back yard, and then get caught years later, I hope you'll jump to my defense with the line "Can you show me where he denied killing that guy?!"

This is a comparison so far fetched that I'm dubious it's even made in good faith. Throttling clock speeds when voltages are insufficient is something that many, perhaps even most, electronics do. Because the alternative a device that crashes. Slow is strictly better than non-functional.

> Obviously silently masking battery life issues without telling anyone is... well... masking the fact that your product suffers from battery life issues.

Yes, in the same way that literally every car company "silently masks" that their cars' power will degrade over time. The same way that realtors "silently mask" that a house's paint will fade or that its pipes will rust. Products degrade over time. Obviously, companies don't deliberately advertise this fact. But unless they're actually denying that this degradation will happen, they're not masking anything.


Pardon my language but...

It's in the fucking article!

> Apple attributed the problems mainly to temperature changes, high usage and other issues, and said its engineers worked quickly and successfully to address them. Analysts sometimes refer to the slowing of iPhones as "throttling."


Not only does your quote not say what was alleged (that Apple denied that battery usage was a factor in slowdown), it actually says that Apple placed high usage as one of the factors.


According to Apple the slowing of the phones were mainly due to:

* Temperature changes

* High usage

* Other issues

How are customers supposed to decipher that the problem is the battery from that statement? This is straight up denying the actual problem.

Not to mention that when I took my old 6s to the store to see what was the slowing down about they told me it was perfectly fine and was running at the same speed as new.


How is it "straight up denying the actual problem" when high usage is listed as one of the points? You use your phone a lot, the battery life degrades, and your CPU is throttled because the battery cannot produce sufficient charge to run it at the highest clock rate.

I don't deny your individual experiences at the Apple store, but the claim that Apple denied that battery life can cause phones to slow down remains unsubstantiated.


> you should read the actual article Apple wrote rather than Tech Crunch's summarization. It is not an apology. It's explaining battery chemistry: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208387

I'll do one better, I'll dig Apple post before they changed to a non-apology one:

https://web.archive.org/web/20171229000007/https://www.apple...

First paragraph:

> We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize.


Show me where Apple said "battery life does not cause your phone to slow down". This is what was alleged - that Apple denied battery life causes phones to slow down.

Apple wrote this letter to appease customers, because they don't understand battery chemistry and the canard that Apple was slowing down phones was proliferating and they needed to make some gesture.

> We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down.

This is a far cry from what was initially alleged: that Apple denied that battery life caused phones to slow down. This "apology" essentially amounts to "we're sorry you don't understand battery chemistry".


They couldn't deny it anymore. That's why it's an apology.


If Apple used materials that degraded after a few years, like most consumer appliances, phones would fail due to "old age". Is a phone battery different?

If Apple let the phones crash, as old electronics often do, and told people their phones were "old", would that be better?


> If Apple let the phones crash, as old electronics often do

citation please?


The problem is that there was a narrative for years that Apple was intentionally slowing down older phones with software updates, but there wasn't any proof. The fact that they were caught doing it in this case was considered validation of the broader theory, which is why it's been blown out of proportion.


> The problem is that there was a narrative for years that Apple was intentionally slowing down older phones with software updates, but there wasn't any proof.

Except that is not what they were doing. There is a huge difference between pushing out updates around the time of a new phone release to push users onto the new phones (what people proposed Apple was doing) compared to slowing down your phone so it stays usable after its battery becomes unable to support the factory level of performance. I would say Apple was doing the opposite of what people suggested since slowing the phones down made them usable for a longer period of time.


Meanwhile, if you complained to Apple Care that your phone was slower, Apple's employee would tell you that you were wrong. That you were imagining it. Or that the newer OS's were ever-more complex so a slower feeling phone was just an inevitable part of progress.

Still don't see the problem?


No problem.

These things can be true as well, and none of them imply that Apple intentionally slowed phones to boost sales.


I agree it's inconclusive as to whether the whole thing was to increase sales in the short term. But keeping it a secret from your own staff is highly suspect. Like I said, they had their own support staff regularly telling their best customers (some of whom paid extra for Applecare) that they were basically imagining things.

All allegedly because people are too dense to understand the concept that rechargeable batteries degrade over time? I learned this fact some 30 years ago as a child playing with toys.

So, maybe it wasn't to increase sales in the short term but it certainly was done to protect Apple's brand. Which, in turn increases the company value.


This is true, but it’s also true that it wasn’t in a vacuum.

People were already trying to damage Apple’s brand by making the case that they were intentionally slowing phones down to force upgrades, long before there was any substance to the concept.

I’m not saying they made good choices, but it’s not clear that they had good options.


The narrative existed because there was a span of several years where successive updates did make iPhones a bit slower, by virtue of adding more features and complexity. Since Apple makes money by selling you a new phone, some people assumed that it was a way to gaslight you into upgrading. When these people learned of a circumstance where it was definitively shown that Apple did slow down older devices, they took it as proof that their gaslighting theory was true.


My iPhone 4 became unusably slow after an update I could not revert. I liked that device and would have preferred to have it still work if needed in a pinch.

edit: To be clear I would have preferred them not force the upgrade on me. I still would have likely purchased a new phone, but instead I purchased an android phone.


> they obviously would’ve been raked over the coals also. There is no magic solution here.

It’s weird that your defense comes down to “there was no way for Apple to avoid reputational damage so it was ok.”

No one is suggesting that there is always a win-win.

The “magic” solution here was simply transparency. Even if people aren’t going to like the message.


Depends on how likely they are to be found out, and whether trying to do it secretly actually incurs a larger penalty. If transparency guarantees being raked over the coals, while the alternative leads to an equally-bad result only if they are exposed, then the decision every time will be against transparency.


I agree. I want this functionality for my old phone.

If anything Apple could include a switch (like "low power mode" but for old batteries) and let people upset with it disable the feature.


I want for them to have designed a better power supply system so that they didn't have to do this.


Well sure I’d like that too but from what I know about battery chemistry and charging systems* I don’t think that’s meaningfully possible.

* basic EE from my time in the renewables biz; not an expert


That's part of it. They paired a high performance CPU with an inadequate power supply (battery).


People who care can always use an auxiliary battery. It's pretty common.

I guess this is an argument for both our points.


> They added a software feature in an iOS update that throttled the CPU in this condition to prevent a crash, at the expense of lower peak CPU performance.

The user friendly approach would have been to pop up a warning message on next boot:

"Hey Avalys,

We detected that your battery has degraded, and so your phone's performance has been lowered to prevent your phone from crashing. To restore performance please take your phone to the apple store to get your battery reset.

Give them code AH534 to get $25 off battery replacement. Offer is valid for the next 14 days."


> People latched onto the fact that Apple did this “secretly” - but Apple has never exposed this sort of implementation detail, and they’ve never wanted battery replacement to be part of the normal user experience for their devices. If Apple had shipped an iOS update that started telling people “Your battery is degraded, pay us to replace it to stop the crashes!” they obviously would’ve been raked over the coals also. There is no magic solution here.

Oh come on. Macs tell you you need to replace your battery and I've never heard anyone complain about this. I have no idea if this behaviour was malicious, but a slowdown without any indication of technical issues is a horrible experience that just invites phone replacement. I'd much rather have random crashes than a non-notified slowdown- at least then I know something is wrong, rather than just my hardware is aging out and I need to get a new phone.


>There is no magic solution here

The solution is to let people do whatever the fuck they want with their devices and replace broken parts as they see fit. You can't have it both ways. This sort of a strawman is more baffling than the actual issue.


Apple doesn’t design their products as a bundle of parts and components to be independently monitored and maintained by their users. They do their best to hide all those details from you and handle it themselves. In part, this integrated and maintenance-free experience is what many people pay for!

What “both ways” are you referring to?


What if your car tomorrow suddenly had only half power but no check engine light/service engine light?

Yes, that's better than the car unexpectedly shutting down but you'd still expect to have the core issue rectified instead of hiding it from the user.


iPhone batteries are replaceable.


I don't see intentional performance degradation as a "feature."

Companies don't usually hide "features" from customers.

Companies don't usually pay fines for hiding "features."


perhaps you'd prefer the word "workaround".


I think it would have shown more dedication to customer care if successive updates to iOS weren't increasingly CPU-intensive for the same functionality and/or weren't mandatory.


> So I never saw any indication that this was malicious on Apple’s part.

They intentionally slowed down all iPhones in the face of more user-friendly options to fix an issue a minuscule percentage of people had. I think you can choose to view this as a solution, but I'm leery of anyone who thinks this was an appropriate solution.

> They determined this happened because aged batteries were not capable of delivering peak current anymore and the CPU was “browning out” under heavy load.

This is kinda true but ultimately more misleading than insightful. It makes it sound like it's just the batteries' fault and nothing can be done. Aged batteries are perfectly capable of delivering all the peak power necessary for operation. The only time it's possibly an issue for the LiCo oxides the iPhone uses is at a low SoC after a relaxation period (which is amplified if the battery itself is physically cold). So, in a perfect storm of events you'll have a phone that will die from 10% SoC.

But then your SoC isn't really at 10%, innit? Your SoH is actually lower, so your SoC needs to diminish faster to accurately map to your reduced capacity. SoC isn't a mystery either. Because this issue is prevalent after a relaxation period on the LiCo batteries, you can get pretty accurate SoCs from simply reading OCV. Remember, OCV:SOH mapping is only difficult for non-Cobalt Lithium chemistries, and even then often only in the middle range. Reductions in SoH speed up passage along the OCV:SOC curve, not chop the ends off--and the ends are the most prominent.

> A phone that is moderately slower is still more valuable than one that randomly crashes.

There are other things Apple could have done. Like, actually accurately report the SoC. Or reduce screen brightness at lower SoCs. Further, it's not "randomly crashing"--it's shutting off at low charge% (but higher than people would expect).

I don't know if it was malicious, but if not, it's a surprisingly stupid fix from an otherwise brilliant engineering team, and it seems the judge agreed.


In an earlier thread I said I think their only (proverbial) crime was that they should have added that feature in an OS update that included performance improvements.

Nobody would have been any the wiser.


Why not simply let me take out the battery and put in a new one?

They created these locked down devices. Let them feel the pain.


An unpopular opinion, but if you don’t like non removable batteries, don’t buy devices utilizing them. That’s how you hurt them. There’s nothing anti competitive about non removable batteries.

Also: iPhone, iPod, and iPad batteries are replaceable; just not easily. There’s literally a connector that seperates the battery from the logic board. If they wanted to prevent you from replacing it, they’d solder them together.


> don't buy devices utilizing them.

That's the absolute least effective way of discouraging the practice. It's the strategy companies want you to take, but it influences companies the least. Collective action by consumers is a much better way of effecting change, including politically or legally, as they did here.

It definitely is anti-competitive to have none-removable batteries: it stops your old product from competing with your new product.

Finally, as a matter of fact, the battery in my mid 2015 iPod nano is literally soldered together, like you say, and that has stopped me from putting in a new one, like I did myself with an iPhone 3G.


I don't and I don't understand why anyone would. That's why I'm happy to see Apple having to pay for this ridiculous practice.


>From my perspective, this demonstrated real dedication to customer care and old device support from Apple.

Lack of ability to replace the battery seems to suggest otherwise.

>There is no magic solution here.

Replaceable battery with a message indicating when battery health is low enough it needs to be replaced seems close enough to a magic fix.


The batteries are replaceable, just not (without a few tools and knowledge) end-user replaceable.

And even if they did make the batteries user replaceable, that is of pretty questionable value for the consumer. First, a lot of people are going to buy $5 replacement batteries on Ali Express and their phone is going to get bricked or catch fire. Related to that, most people are unaware of how dangerous handling loose lithium batteries can be.

Second, it makes the phones much more vulnerable to liquid damage, as well as much physically larger.


Except user replaceable batteries were the norm until recently, and we did not have the situation that you describe. More importantly, user replaceable batteries also allows mobile phone stores to offer dirt cheap replacement services, equivalent to jewelry stores offering to replace watch batteries.


Those replaceable batteries were also much lower power (in terms of capacity and max current) than the batteries of today. My iPhone today has roughly the equivalent of an 18650, compared to the Razr I had 15 years ago, which has roughly the equivalent of a AA.

For sure, I would love it if my phone had replaceable batteries. I carry a couple 18650s and 16340s in my backpack for my flashlights. But there are a ton of downsides to having them, particularly in a smartphone.


Apple decided this didn’t fit with their design. People know this when they buy the phone. If they want a removable battery, buy a different phone.


That seems much the same argument as saying "If you want a phone that won't be slowed down by an updated, buy a different phone." Such an argument has been tried and rejected.


"There is no magic solution here."

You gonna want to sit down for this one: a standardized battery that can be replaced by the user without having to disassemble the device, maybe through a removable back cover or something like that.


Have you heard of the concept of a trade-off?


Sure, in this case the tradeoff is between something that is valuable for the user (replaceable commodity battery, ability to completely power-off the phone) and something that is valuable for the vendor (obsolescence driver, always powered because reasons).


Can you not imagine that there are consumer benefits to a non-replaceable battery? Benefits that consumers may be choosing?


Imagine yes, believe that this is in fact the case - not so much. If only because they do not in fact have the ability to choose on this.


They had the ability to choose for a long time while Samsung attempted to compete on this feature.

Consumers overwhelmingly opted for phones without replaceable batteries, which is why they stopped being made.


Did they ? Afaik there was never a product line with comparable specs and price points that had a builtin battery and a replaceable variant. Samsung never competed on a battery design - in the galaxy/iphone competition the battery is probably the least relevant differentiator. There is arguably a legitimate user tradeoff here - a builtin battery can provide more capacity for a phone of the same size, but it doesn't mean the users got to make it.


Not just capacity - robustness.

No of course there were no identical products only differing by whether the battery was replaceable.

But that is irrelevant. If it was important to people, phones without replaceable batteries would have been slower to sell and manufacturers would have adapted.

Samsung threw hundreds of designs against the wall looking for an edge, and they all failed except for the ones closest to the iPhone in design or bigger than the iPhone.

Customers did have a preference for larger phones, which Apple was forced by the market to concede, but not for replaceable batteries.


> So I never saw any indication that this was malicious on Apple’s part.

The problem is that if Apple admitted to the fact that old batteries were the problem they would get a class-action lawsuit to force them to allow batteries to be replaced ... like every other bloody phone.

Apple absolutely deserves this. They hid it intentionally because they knew what the followup was going to be and they didn't want to do it.


This entire mess could have been avoided if Apple was just upfront about what they were doing. There is nothing wrong with throttling the SoC so that the phone doesn't shut down when a degraded battery can't provide sustained peak voltage.

Apple has been, and still is, the industry leader in providing software updates for older devices. You can install the latest version of iOS on an iPhone 6S, a phone that was released in 2015. The fact that they chose to make this throttling change and keep it a secret was a major whiff on their part and destroyed a fair bit of goodwill they built up from their long support cycle.


6S? I'm still rocking my iPhone SE!


The iPhone SE was released a year after the 6S.


Internally, the 6s and the SE are practically the same phone. IIRC, the only significant differences are the Touch ID sensor and the front facing camera.


Yet it's entirely consistent with their "we know best" attitude.


> The lawyers plan to seek up to $93 million, equal to 30% of $310 million, in legal fees, plus up to $1.5 million for expenses.

Ah of course...


There needs to be a cap on lawyers fees. This is what is causing a lot of unnecessary litigation.


I'm pro-cap. (For different reasons.)

But (1) this case is a bad example of unnecessary litigation, and (2) there might be better ways than a cap to stop the litigation that you're calling "unnecessary."

Maybe what you want are no caps, but greater penalties for losing (either to the winning side or to taxpayers who are paying costs associated with large companies suing each other) -- just for one example. So higher risk, higher reward. Or maybe the courts reform to make it easier to dismiss cases. You could think of a million ways to do it without caps.

What you don't want are for good cases to not be brought on behalf of consumers because it's not worth the investment of time and money.


How are they having trouble paying their expenses with $93 million in legal fees? Strange itemization.


Well, yeah. The lawyers did all the work, didn’t they?

Without lawyers, you get zero.


Did all the work? Well, not really. There was a great deal of collective effort from the people affected by the issue, developers/hackers who identified and documented the issue, people who raised issues with apple and reported back, journalists involved, etc. etc.

Lawyers came in more or less at the last step, organizing this info, reinforcing it where necessary and arguing it to the point of settlement. They deserve to be paid for their work, of course. A 20% fee seems reasonable on paper, but at this scale it's a staggering amount of money considering the time invested. It would take some companies a decade to earn that amount of profit.


This is a fair point, but an alternative venue from the one used in this instance can be fines by governments. Also, I think it's reasonable to debate capping fees by attorneys in these types of cases.

You want the payout to be big enough that there's incentive for attorneys to go after abuses, but not so big that consumers aren't fairly compensated for losses.


So your gripe isn’t really with the attorney fees, but the low payout


I don't know that I have much of a gripe at all.

I'm just saying that if you want to figure out the best way to design the system, a cap is a reasonable thing to consider. Also, let's not pretend the payout that will also go to consumers is unrelated to attorneys fees.


I don't know why half of HN shows up to vehemently defend Apple whenever an article like this is posted. There was a time when mobile phone batteries were easily removable and replaceable. Apple got us to a place where it is now expected that instead of a $25 annual battery swap you should spend $700+ on a full replacement (and send the old one for "recycling" where it will likely end up in a landfill). It is also the company that aggressively sues repair shops and is fighting against right to repair bills.


Because half of us realize that engineering is a tradeoff (in this case with things like device size/thickness, battery capacity, durability, water resistance, appearance, etc.), and a company making an engineering decision you don't agree with doesn't make them evil.

While it might be hard to believe based on discussions on HN, it actually IS possible to debate the merits of a design without dividing into "attacking" vs. "defending" factions.


There's a difference between tradeoff and design flaw.

Here's an Apple apology that has since been removed:

https://web.archive.org/web/20171229000007/https://www.apple...


Question to those affected: When Apple had throttled the CPU due to old batteries, did they suspend throttling if the phone was connected to a charger?


It did not appear to for me. Back when this was first unfolding I tried running geekbench both plugged in and not and got about the same score (and started getting a much higher score once I replaced the battery).


They probably wouldn't - you wouldn't want the phone to die if someone unplugged the charger during high usage.


When the phone is connected to a charger, is it drawing power from the wall? Or is it still drawing power from the battery?


My guess would be both - it draws wall power up to a point and once it hits the limit of the charger (usually 5W for the small iPhone cubes) the rest comes out of the battery. So light use might still trickle the battery, but turning on the camera probably drains the battery slightly.


Not an expert, but I'm pretty sure it is drawing power from the wall. My understanding is it is not great for the battery to act as a pass-through for power.

Many cheaper devices warn you not to use the device while charging, because they don't invest in the circuitry to bypass the battery while plugged in.


Vital question.


> It calls for Apple to pay consumers $25 per iPhone

I wonder if I owned one of these iPhone models but then re-sold it to a friend before it was slowed down, who gets the compensation? Presumably it'll be me, because Apple wouldn't have records of the second sale? Unless my friend logged in with an iCloud account in which case they might be able to tell?


If you sold it after the big slowdown, the slowdown presumably reduced the value of the phone and the price you got, so you deserve the money. If you sold it before, than it was your friend who experienced the drop in value.


Is there any precedent for a company to pay damages in a combination of money and goods. For example paying N dollars in legal fees, and issuing new phones to those affected within some filter criteria?

I ask because the only people who tend to benefit from from issues like this are the lawyers involved. Besides the damages being potentially punitive to the company responsible and maybe preventing recurrence of the same issue, nothing really improves for the people personally affected by the problem being sued over.


There is, but the cost of the replacement would still have legal fees factored into it.

A free phone would be an absolutely enormous settlement, which would raise the legal fees commensurately.


It says 25-46$ can be paid to customers. How do I claim this money? I was affected.


You'll likely receive a notice in the mail in the next few months.


I wonder if from a cost perspective, they actually benefited from doing this. $500 million to make people buy newer iPhones. Wouldn't be surprised if they did the math here to justify the cost of a lawsuit.


I’m going to use the money to replace the battery of my iPhone 6s personally. Still an excellent phone.


They were slowing the phones to preserve battery life, giving the appearance of longer useful battery lifespan. Without that, people would have been upgrading phones (or replacing batteries) sooner anyway, which seems, financially, like a wash.


> They were slowing the phones to preserve battery life, giving the appearance of longer useful battery lifespan.

I don't like this explanation because the term "life" is loaded and could mean a few different things.

The issue wasn't with the battery's capacity, ability to hold a charge, and not really how long the phone could run before needing to be charged. The issue was that the battery's C-rate was too low for the load.

The C-rate is the rate at which a battery can safely be charged or discharged without damaging it. When you exceed the C-rate you damage the battery and increase it's internal resistance. As a battery's internal resistance increases, the amount of current it can supply decreases. When the amount of current a battery can supply drops below what the load draws, the voltage drops.

This voltage drop would cause what Apple described as "unexpected shutdown". Apple throttled the devices to reduce their maximum current draw, not because the batteries were discharging too quickly but because they were drawing too much current which was further damaging the battery AND causing low voltage drops AND unexpected shutdowns.

It's not clear if the batteries were out underspec, of spec from the supplier, or had an issue which caused them to prematurely degrade. In any cause, they were defective and Apple manipulated the defective devices to hide the issue and when called out offered people discounts rather than issue a recall.


> They were slowing the phones to preserve battery life, giving the appearance of longer useful battery lifespan.

Not quite accurate. They were preventing the phones from spontaneously shutting down by limiting CPU. Processor spikes can drain older, feebler batteries.


That is also not quite accurate.

The "unexpected shutdown", as Apple called it, was a result of a voltage drop in the battery. Voltage drop occurs when the max current capacity of a battery is exceeded, it has nothing to do with battery age.

Also, when you experience a voltage drop you have generally exceeded the c-rate of the battery and caused some damage which increases it's internal resistance and further reduces the max current capacity of the battery.

The iPhones experiencing "unexpected shutdown" weren't very old, generally a battery is spec'd with a c-rate that takes into account degradation over time. The fact that Apple shipped software to limit the max current draw of the device demonstrates that this wasn't expected behavior AND they were attempting to hide it rather than own up to a defect that might result in a recall.


Now they just let the phone crash if the battery can’t keep up, and then notify the user when it reboots what happened.

Arguably a “worse is better” experience because although a crash is theoretically to be avoided at all cost because it could result in data loss, this way at least the issue is completely transparent.


Not exactly, the big reason for the slowdown was to avoid crashes from a low voltage condition. They were essentially covering up a design flaw with software.


> They were essentially covering up a design flaw with software.

My understanding is that the flaw was in the batteries. The c-rating was out of spec so every time the device drew max power it would damage the battery causing it's internal resistance to increase.

Once the internal resistance of the battery was high enough, the max power current draw would result in a voltage drop and "unexpected shutdown".

Did a supplier deliver under spec batteries? Did Apple underspec them? Did they know they were underspec and anticipate power management or something would limit exceeding the c-rating? No one knows because Apple refused to acknowledge that it was a defect or take accountability. All we can do is speculate.


In a way, Apple got away with a bit of sleight of hand here. They got in trouble for a fix which slowed down phones, but avoided taking heat for hardware issues which might have been much more expensive to remediate. If instead of slowing down their phones, they'd just started crashing repeatedly after a year - 18 months would it have been significantly more expensive?


Absolutely. It was classic misdirection. They even managed to get people to pay for replacement batteries by offering them at a "discount".


> which seems, financially, like a wash.

How can that be? Replacement batteries are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1/10 the cost of a new phone.


This whole fiasco is part of what motivated me to move out of the Apple ecosystem. The other part was the abandonment of the headphone jack.


So you moved away from Apple because they implemented a software fix to prevent your phone from crashing when the hardware eventually degrades? Sounds like a kneejerk reaction based on misleading headlines.


They claimed for years that they didn't slow down older (1-2 year) iPhones. Then it turned out they did.

If the phone was only going to last a year without becoming unusable unless it was throttled, then that's terrible design. If they slowed down old iPhones to drive sales then that's fraudulent.

Either way I'd rather not be in an ecosystem that only has one manufacturer that conducts business that way.


It was Apple's secrecy/denial that resulted in a degradation of trust, not the throttling.


Hmm but my phone wasn’t crashing ... it definitely was slower!


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