I spent just shy of a whole decade working for Apple. Most of it was in some form or function of technical support, and a majority of that on iPhones. Apple isn’t perfect, I wasn’t a company man when I was on the payroll, and I’m not an out-and-out apologist for everything that they do. But today is the day that I come to their defense, partially.
During the years that I worked in Apple Stores, I would, with some regularity, hear a customer claim that Apple had somehow slowed down their phone as a new one is coming out. Sometimes it was said as a joke, and other times it was said with the mouth foaming veracity of someone who is certain the Illuminati is about to drop the hammer and begin the One World Government. I hear it enough that I looked into it. For years people have run benchmarks on new and old iPhones and found no evidence that this had happened. Ever.
Until the day that it did.
Before I get into that. Let me talk about something else that I saw supporting iPhones far more frequently - phones that would shut off suddenly. Apple’s training cautioned against templating. Templating is a practice where a technician takes a cursory glance at symptoms of a device as presented, and then says, “Ah yes, I’ve seen this before, it’s obviously your hard drive,” or whatever the case may be, and doesn’t bother running the appropriate tests or gathering any quality evidence to make sure that that is the correct diagnosis. It’s an easy trap, because templating is frequently correct and an overworked technician can really speed up their work by templating. The down sides should be obvious though, a technician that templates and is wrong may be charging a customer for a memory replacement that doesn’t solve the problem, wasting time and / or money, both of which equate to a damaged relationship between that customer and the company.
If I saw a phone that had been in service for awhile turning off suddenly when it’s charge was low, particularly if it could be demonstrated while opening up a CPU intensive program like a game - it was the battery. It was always the battery.
Let me sum these two things up:
- Apple knows that a subset of its customer base believe that Apple is using deceptive business practices by slowing down their phones, even though there is zero evidence that it is occurring.
- Lithium ion batteries in all cell phones and portable computers age and will behave worse and worse as they age and are used. That’s chemistry.
At some point, Apple decided to address the second item, which is a reality. Apple’s software engineers had a real Red Letter Day and said, “People’s phone’s start shutting down because of their old batteries, leaving them with an unreliable phone. If we can even out the energy draw of the battery by slowing the processor down a bit while it’s under load, then they’ll have a reliable phone.” But didn’t address the first item, which was a fiction, up until the day that it wasn’t.
Tim Cook claimed that Apple did say this was happening, but as someone who reads most of the patch notes on operating system updates, I managed to miss this. Perhaps it was the one update that I didn’t read the notes, or maybe it was buried. I couldn’t tell you. But this seems to be a tremendous oversight on Apple’s part.
Part two of this is that Apple decides to pacify people with battery replacements discounted from $79 to $29. Over the years I heard plenty of customers ask why the battery replacement was so much, because on Amazon you can get a kit for about $30 and do it yourself. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. The mark up on the battery replacements can’t possibly be enough to make Apple’s shareholders more than a nickel a year, so those criticism are probably valid. There was a policy that if you brought in your phone to the Apple Store and said that you wanted your battery replaced, we’d run battery diagnostics on it and if it hadn’t passed 1000 charge cycles or demonstrated some sort of failure, we wouldn’t replace it. Oh, but you’ll pay for it anyway? Nope. We’re not going to take your money and replace your perfectly good battery with another perfectly good battery. Unless you pitched a fit like a child and a manager gave you your way. That happened sometimes. Currently, for the people that have one of the CPU throttled models, Apple will replace the battery regardless of battery diagnostics.
Let me write that a slightly different way: if your phone battery is in such good health that no CPU throttling is happening at all, Apple will still replace your battery, wasting your money and everyone’s time.
Well, how is that anyone’s problem other than Apple? You might ask.
I recently had a conversation with a former co-worker who still works in one of the Apple Stores. For the majority of my time there, the store averaged about 200 repairs in the system. Active repairs, stuff waiting on parts, the store waiting for someone to back up their system and bring it back, you get it. Do you want to know what it is now? 1600.
1600 is a 800% increase with zero percent increase in staffing. Well isn’t that still Apple’s problem?
No. The two groups that are screwed the most over this are first people who have legitimate repairs that are now in a queue behind battery replacements with imaginary problems and the group that gets screwed the absolute most are people who have actual iPhone battery issues who cannot get their battery replaced for two to four weeks due to the backlog or a shortage of parts.
Apple’s two sins here were:
- It didn’t communicate the correct move that it made to throttle CPU performance on phones with aging batteries to give people more reliable phones. I might add here that this actually increases the usable lifespan of a iPhone, the exact opposite of what conspiracy theorists have been claiming.
- It tried to pacify unreasonable customers in a way that damaged the company’s ability to provide quality technical support to people with real issues.
Or to sum things up - Apple made a right decision that was received poorly. Apple tried to cater to stupid people instead of explaining how chemistry works and putting out a new iOS update (which is soon to come) that has a toggle between “Phone that is sometimes slow, but works all the time,” and “Phone that works fast, but turns off whenever the battery is low, dumb dumb,”