Monday, February 10, 2020

France Fines Apple for Throttling iPhones Without Telling Users

Romain Dillet (Hacker News):

France’s competition watchdog DGCCRF announced earlier today that Apple will pay a $27.4 million (€25 million) fine due to an iOS update that capped performance of aging devices. The company will also have to display a statement on its website for a month.


Many users may have noticed that their phone would get slower when they play a game, for instance. But they didn’t know that replacing the battery would fix that. Some users may have bought new phones even though their existing phone was working fine.

France’s DGCCRF also notes that iPhone users can’t downgrade to a previous version of iOS, which means that iPhone users had no way to lift the performance capping feature.

Via Nick Heer:

I don’t know — or, frankly, care — if €25 million is a fine that is too small, too big, or not worth issuing at all. What I do know is that it is ridiculous to defend Apple’s decision not to explain this to users at the time.


Of course it would not have been easy for Apple to explain why this decision made sense — Warwick alone spent about a thousand words retelling this saga. But it would have been right, and avoided accusations that the company was being underhanded and sneaky.


To be clear, there’s no indication that this wasn’t publicized at the time to avoid poor PR; that’s something Warwick implied. If anything, this seems like an example of stupidity, not malice.

It’s such an odd story. Recall that, after it became clear what was happening, Tim Cook said that people who didn’t know about the throttling weren’t “paying attention.” I’ve seen no evidence that anything was ever reported that people could have paid attention to. Then Apple retroactively added “improves power management” to the iOS 10.2.1 release notes, still without any indication that this meant it might slow down your phone.


9 Comments RSS · Twitter

In forums, it was such a smooth transition from "Of course Apple isn't using new software releases to slow down old hardware, that's crazy conspiracy talk," to "Of course Apple's slowing down old hardware, and you should be grateful to them for it."

That misses the nuance of the situation. In general, Apple doesn't deliberately slow down phones through software updates in order to get people to upgrade. But batteries degrade over time, and when a battery is old enough you have to choose between having your phone randomly shut down, or running it slower but more reliably.

They may have bungled this feature by not communicating it through the press or any on-phone notification. But they actually put effort into extending hardware life. Reasonable people can disagree as to whether they made the right tradeoff, and one of the good things to come of all the bad PR is that this shutdown-vs-slowdown feature is now user-controllable.

Here's the thing though: phones are like any other computer. We want them to get the latest software updates. We also complain when those updates slow down the phone. Sometimes these software updates slow down your phone because they're simply doing more complex shit. That's not a conspiracy to obsolete hardware, it's inseparable from the newly added features. Other times, they speed things up through optimizations (see: iOS 12).

Having said that, I suppose there's another alternative. My iPhone SE could still be running iOS 9 if Apple didn't support older hardware, like almost every Android phone.

@Nigel The real tradeoff that they made was earlier, when they chose smaller batteries and paired them with CPUs that degraded them faster. That forced the shutdown vs. slowdown tradeoff once the batteries had aged a bit. This I think they handled correctly except for the lack communication. That led people to needlessly buy new phones because they were getting slower, when they could have just gotten a new battery.

There is a remarkable split here in the community: the attitudes are completely different depending on the person, and I believe it is between those who develop software, at least its performance-sensitive parts, and those who don't. Guess which group can just pontificate about this not being a big deal at all.

What to be defended is the right of the OS owner to eliminate bugs. @Nigel is right "The real tradeoff that they made was earlier, when they chose smaller batteries and paired them with CPUs that degraded them faster. That forced the shutdown vs. slowdown tradeoff once the batteries had aged a bit", but the issue was not that after a bit of degrade the shutdown happened sooner, it was that it happened without any sort of advice to users and that sudden shutdowns degraded batteries even more.
It was just a "bug" update to resolve a new OS issue, because even with a new batteries at some point the shutdown arrived but it was possible for the OS to manage it, with degraded batteries it just could arrive abruptly without time for the OS to close things properly.

I still use Android 8 on my phone while the current version is 10. I am on December 2019 security patches. While I guess I could be finally outside of my patch support, I will likely be updated again soon. I can still use nearly all Android apps on the Google Play store (or outside it) and have received frequent security updates for a couple years now. Google Play services is likewise constantly updated.

Now check to see if an iOS device running a two versions old operating systems is receiving the same support. I'll wait, but my guess is no. iOS is not Android. They both have pros and cons, but OS updates on Android is such a red herring, I am flabbergasted the technical circles I frequent still get hung up on it. I have very few cares if my devices can run the newest big Android release, or iOS release for that matter, what truly chafes is when devices are not receiving security patches.

@Nathan that's a fair point, and it's hypocritical of me to ignore nuance when making my own argument.

Android OS updates are not equivalent to iOS updates. My understanding is that when your Android phone is stuck on an old OS, you miss out on new features but you continue to benefit from the ability to run the latest apps (through the independently updated Google Play Services) & security updates. Whereas on iOS it's all or nothing.

It sounds like you and I differ in one respect: I value a lot of the features that are added to iOS every year, not just the security updates and ability to run the latest apps. So I appreciate that my phone runs the latest OS even though it was released in the iOS 9/Android 6 era. To me, this is in direct opposition to the argument that Apple purposefully obsoletes old hardware.

Re. whether n-2 versions of iOS get security updates: generally no, unless there's a major vulnerability. Then again, running older iOS versions is less of a concern because of the lengthy support for old hardware. And yet again on the other hand, that isn't a perfect solution because a buggy release like iOS 13 can significantly slow adoption. Different pros/cons.

@Pierre Lebeaupin I love the (not) subtle implication that if you don't support Apple here, you must not be a developer, or just not a very good one. Really ties in to the condescending attitudes that @vintner talks about.

Pierre Lebeaupin

@disillusioned I'm not sure I follow you here, because I consider myself a developer who keeps contact with Apple technologies (even if I'm not working on Apple platforms at the moment), and I am on the record as being critical of Apple's failure to properly communicate what they were doing to user's devices:

Leave a Comment