Thursday, December 28, 2017 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Apple’s Message to Customers About iPhone Batteries and Performance

Apple (Hacker News, MacRumors, ArsTechnica):

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.

[…]

Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018.

Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.

Apple:

In addition, a battery’s ability to provide power quickly may decrease. In order for a phone to function properly, the electronics must be able to draw upon instantaneous power from the battery. One attribute that affects this instantaneous power delivery is the battery’s impedance. A battery with a high impedance is unable to provide power quickly enough to the system that needs it. A battery's impedance can increase if a battery has a higher chemical age. A battery’s impedance will temporarily increase at a low state of charge and in a cold temperature environment. When coupled with a higher chemical age, the impedance increase will be more significant. These are characteristics of battery chemistry which are common to all lithium-ion batteries in the industry.

[…]

This power management works by looking at a combination of the device temperature, battery state of charge, and the battery’s impedance. Only if these variables require it, iOS will dynamically manage the maximum performance of some system components, such as the CPU and GPU in order to prevent unexpected shutdowns.

I think this is a pretty good response. An excellent response would have acknowledged the elephant in the room, which is that although Apple didn’t “do anything to intentionally shorten the life” of the phones, all the design parameters were of Apple’s choosing. iPhone’s desktop-class processors seem to draw power in a more problematic way than processors in competing phones, and Apple could have mitigated the problem by using larger batteries. They didn’t “shorten the life,” but neither did they communicate it to the customer, and they could have designed the phone to have a longer life.

If I were Apple, I’d just make the $29 battery replacement fee permanent, or at least for a certain number of years after the phone was purchased. That would generate a lot of good will.

Some remaining questions:

a f waller:

Making the price of a battery replacement $29 will destroy the sketchy third party battery market which has a lot of other benefits for both Apple and customers. Quality replacements that don’t break your phone.

Adam Banks:

This will also be useful for used iPhone buyers - a screengrab of the battery health report should become standard in listings (or a “not worse than” commitment for higher-volume resellers)

Jason Snell:

I don’t think Apple’s entirely disingenuous when it says it designs its products to last.

But I do think that Apple has never made any great effort to promote battery replacement over buying a new phone, or ensure iOS performance is acceptable on older models.

Nilay Patel:

I totally believe that they’re being sincere. I also think they want people to buy a new phone every two years. :)

John Gruber:

The funny thing about Apple is that their communication problems tend to happen only when they don’t communicate at all.

Rui Carmo:

I replaced my iPhone 6 battery back in August because it was failing around the 30% mark, and the performance increase was very noticeable indeed–right until iOS 11 came along, that is.

Even if 11.2 is now almost fast enough on this hardware, if I hadn’t replaced the battery the phone would likely be completely unusable by now.

Previously: Apple Confirms That It Throttles iPhones With Degraded Batteries.

Update (2018-01-02): Tim Hardwick:

This morning, French tech blog iGeneration reported that an internal Apple Store memo has been circulated which states that if a customer asks for a battery replacement on an iPhone 6 or later, then the Genius Bar should allow it, even if their phone passes Apple's own diagnostic test.

Joe Rossignol:

Apple also says customers who paid regular price (aka $79 in the U.S.) “may” be (a.k.a. are) eligible for a refund and should contact Apple[…]

Fred McCann:

The needle we’re using to thread this is that Apple slowed down phones to increase the life of older phones, not to provoke users to upgrade. That said, getting users to upgrade was undoubtedly the outcome of this practice, and Apple most certainly made a lot of money because of this.

Is that fraud? I don’t know, but it sounds like something that should be decided by a court. For anyone who spent hundreds of dollars upgrading a phone they didn’t want to, $50 off a future battery replacement is not a great remedy.

Benjamin Mayo:

If Apple wants to consider iPhone batteries as consumable, I don’t want them to profit off of the battery repairs. $29 is a palatable service cost to bear after two years of iPhone ownership, $79 stings. If their aim is to maximise the longevity of their devices, they should not have conflicts in incentives with making money from repairs down the road. I do not want Apple to run a razor and blades business model, even inadvertently.

[…]

I would also like to see Apple release estimated numbers on how long customers should expect to be able to use their iPhone at full performance.

Update (2018-01-03): Pierre Lebeaupin:

Such a thing was obviously documented internally, because it is an important change of behavior that their own QA teams will notice when qualifying the software for release, also because it resolves a support issue, so obviously customer support was in the loop so as to provide feedback on which compromises are acceptable, etc. And yet, at the end of the day, when the fix is about to widely land in people’s phones, the system inside Apple is so completely stuck up on secrecy that not even an extremely expurgated version of this documentation makes it out the door? What is wrong with you people?

Update (2018-01-05): Geoffrey Fowler (via Dan Masters):

When I showed up with an appointment at my closest Apple store on Jan. 3, there were so many others also trying to replace their batteries that I had to join a weeks-long waiting list. Your local shop might have more supply, but battling hordes for repair (rather than a sexy new phone) is an unusual experience at an Apple store.

Update (2018-01-08): Adam C. Engst:

The fact that Apple was doing something to address those shutdowns wasn’t a revelation. The company had said it was looking into the problem and claimed it had implemented a fix in iOS 10.2.1, back in early 2017. There was some dispute as to whether that actually happened since Apple included nothing in the release notes about it at the time (see “Apple Releases macOS Sierra 10.12.3, iOS 10.2.1, tvOS 10.1.1, and watchOS 3.1.1,” 23 January 2017). Subsequently, however, Apple amended iOS 10.2.1’s release notes to say:

It also improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone.

[…]

Reading between the lines, it sounds like Apple is actually saying, “The batteries in these iPhones are underperforming in ways that we didn’t expect and don’t entirely understand.”

Update (2018-01-09): Joe Rossignol:

While we previously confirmed that Apple is offering $29 battery replacements to any customer with an iPhone 6 or newer regardless of diagnostic result, Apple has indicated that this policy can only be taken advantage of once, according to new fine print on its iPhone service pricing page.

Update (2018-01-11): Joe Rossignol:

Apple says iPhone 6 Plus replacement batteries are in short supply and won’t be available until late March to early April in the United States and other regions, according to an internal document distributed to Apple Stores and Apple Authorized Service Providers this week and later obtained by MacRumors.

Update (2018-01-19): Benjamin Mayo:

Tim Cook was asked for his take on Apple slowing down iPhones with degraded batteries. He revealed that the developer beta including these features will be released next month, with a public release to follow after.

Moreover, he says that this forthcoming update will give users the option to disable the throttling to maintain normal CPU performance, but will be at risk of unexpected shutdowns.

Benjamin Mayo:

I struggle to see the motivation for Apple to go further and make the behaviour optional. The existence of this setting, which will be available in a iOS developer beta released next month, is a contradiction of what Apple said in the public apology letter.

12 Comments

Apple could be opening itself up to more regulatory problems in the EU if they admit the design life of an iPhone's quite short relative to other manufacturers. EU citizens get an automatic 2 year warranty against manufacturing & design defects on personal electronics so if Apple coughs to a short design life they could be opening themselves up to quite a few people wanting a refund or a replacement if their iPhones are showing battery-related performance issues within that 2 year window.

I am esctatic that you're bringing this up as a design issue!

I know that the 6x family of iPhones (6, 6s, 7, 8) have been incredibly profitable for Apple, but it's also been one of the most compromised series yet (IMO). Everything from the camera bump, unsightly antenna lines, slippery aluminum shells, and now this underpowered battery issue have all felt like design compromises to me. The theme of this family of phones seems to have been a quest to make them too thin and just "good enough" when it comes to the basic and practical things that do matter to end users.

It's frustrating to watch this happen for several reasons. But perhaps the most reasonable is that Apple could have totally avoided this if they had designed the phone to hold a properly sized battery for the hardware it powers.

Between this and the other reports I've seen of iMacs that throttle under load, I've been wondering for years if maybe the industrial design group at Apple has too much unwavering power to override any other team's concerns or objections to the design work/specifications.

I remember reading an article on one of the rumor sites a long time ago about how engineers at Apple would "get quiet when the designers walked in the room," suggesting that the designers were not to be crossed for fear of reprimand. That doesn't sound balanced or healthy to me. I wonder if some of that isn't the reason we might see these mistakes pop up.

(Sidenote: You've done an excellent job at following this issue and collecting everyone's thoughts. Kudos/thanks!)

"Some remaining questions:"

There's also the question of whether the specs for mobile phones are all false claims because the performances highlighted during the presentation of the products can not be achieved during the entire life of the product.

Here's a shocker, all the usual suspects are cheering for Apple's move here.

It's rather sickening. Apple got caught red-handed. Worse, they only gave an official response because of the media uproar. Other very questionable moves they've been caught doing in the past few years have never elicited an official response, because the consumers are apparently just not as important as the media outlets.

They haven't even reversed course, they'll STILL keep throttling their devices to keep a nice steady planned obsolescence cycle going. Now they'll even have a nice little app gently nudging you towards the nearest Apple Store to pay another cool 750$ for a "much needed upgrade" (oops sorry, now it's 1000$).

Furthermore, this 29$ replacement policy is not even permanent - Apple is only promising to honor it until next December. Which presumably means by January the price will go right up, around 2 months after the release of the next iPhone, and just in time for the next obsolescence cycle.

If I'm expected to pay very premium prices, the least I an expect is to have the smallest amount of control over my own hardware. I'm out - gonna leave iOS for people with less stringent demands.

@Guy Assuming that Apple is being honest with us, they really do have to keep throttling in order to prevent lots of phones from crashing. So that’s good for the customer. And there really isn’t anything—other than replacing the battery—that can be done for phones that are already out there. The big question is whether they will design newer phones to last longer.

The iPhone X and 8 do promise longer battery life. I had assumed that's because they decided it would be silly to make the phone thinner but camera bump larger, but perhaps they have already moved to correct for the battery issue. (Alternately, they are accidentally correcting it due to the limitations inherent in camera optics.)

@cbirdsong The iPhone 8 and X processors are probably also more demanding. So we’ll have to see whether this balances out to an improvement.

>"Apple apologizes for chemistry"

I don't know if I should be disappointed in this response, or just sad.

At this point, Apple punditry is entirely dysfunctional. These people don't advocate for Apple's customers, they advocate for Apple. I blame the 90s, which solidified this "we have to support beleaguered Apple against the rest of the world" mindset. This mindset is still here, even though Apple is now one a huge multinational behemoth.

Lukas,
I agree. We (as in me too) rallied around this company, but it was likely stupid then, as it is stupid now. Apple is simply a company. This myth building around it is sickening.

For years, many developers — myself included — have lamented the rise of free-to-play business models with consumable in-app-purchases. Now it seems Apple is embedding this business model into its hardware...

Some folks are saying that Apple just needs to communicate better about what it's doing, but any notification or messaging that Apple does about this issue will remind me of those IAP prompts in free-to-play games:

'Oh too bad, looks like you've been using your iPhone for a while, so we're slowing it down unless you give us more money. Pay now to unlock your phone's original speed! $29 for a limited time only!'

From the very first iPod, then the iPhone, iPad and now even Macbooks, mice keyboards and trackpads - the decision is to not allow users to swap batteries.
Making it expensive for 1st party replacement, claiming that battery is not a consumable and users will not have to worry about it.
I'd say that if they have to degrade performance because of the batteries in less that two years it should be disclaimer, with level of throttling and estimated early periods when it might happen.

For example iPhone 8 specs can claim
Lasts about the same as iPhone 7
Talk time (wireless): Up to 14 hours
*With normal usage during first year or about 400 changes.
or something like that.

After all not user replaceable battery combined with unannounced throttling is Planned obsolescence
maybe not the worst kind, but still.

[…] Previously: Apple’s Message to Customers About iPhone Batteries and Performance. […]

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