iPhone slow and batteries: What's going on with Apple's batteries, and how to get them replaced

Andrew Griffin
Monday 15 January 2018 12:01 GMT
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the new iPhone lineup during a media event at Apple's new headquarters in Cupertino, California on September 12, 2017
Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks about the new iPhone lineup during a media event at Apple's new headquarters in Cupertino, California on September 12, 2017 (JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

It was, for some people, the confirmation of what they'd known all along: iPhones were being secretly slowed down by Apple to make people buy new ones. For others it was a public relations nightmare, ruining all the hard work they'd done to dispel myths about the iPhone by appear to confirm those myths, even if they didn't really.

When Apple admitted just before Christmas that it had been quietly slowing down some phones because their batteries were too old, it quickly took over the headlines. But those headlines didn't always tell the full story, wrapping up genuine news with conspiracy theory and speculation.

In short, Apple said that it had been secretly reducing the performance of some older phones whose batteries were depleted, to ensure that the extra performance didn't cause the phones to shut down because the batteries didn't have enough power. Soon after, it said that it would replace affected batteries so that people could fix their phones again.

It's now been a few weeks, and the battery replacement offer is in full swing. But there's still a fair bit of confusion.

Here's an attempt to clarify some of those issues, as well as get down the truth on what happened over the Christmas period.

Can I get my phone battery repaired, and will that speed my phone back up to its original speed?

To get the important stuff out of the way: Apple is offering cheaper upgrades on your battery, and if your phone is currently having its performance restricted, that will help. The company is offering a vastly reduced price, of £25 or $29, in part because of the furore about the battery issues.

To be eligible for the upgrade you need to have an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus or SE. If you think it's slowing down or having battery problems, book a genius bar appointment and take it into the store.

There are some important caveats to this offer. First, Apple might not change your battery if its tests show that the current one isn't actually degraded. Second, there are getting to be delays at Apple Stores because of the popularity, so you might have to be prepared to wait a short while. And third, and most important of all, is the fact that Apple is only offering the deal until December 2018 – so if you're concerned, make sure you go before then.

Your phone will probably never feel as fast it was when you bought it: if you got it some time ago, there's been new and updated software that will slow it down, and it will always seem worse when there's new and faster phones around. But if you are suffering from the battery problems then getting it changed will definitely help.

What did Apple actually say?

Apple's original admission has been lost a little in some of the excitement and anger that it inspired. But it's worth picking back through the statement.

The company said that some iPhones were having problems when their battery had depleted. When they were "chemically aged", the batteries couldn't provide as much power as they used to; sometimes, the iPhone would need all of the power they were intend to provide, but they couldn't do it, and so the phones shut themselves down.

To counteract that, Apple reduced some performance so that the iPhones would hopefully never require that amount of power, and so never have to shut down. It reduced a variety of different things that would cause less load on the phone.

Apps might take longer to load, for instance, and speakers would be less loud. In normal use, people might not see any difference, but others might encounter noticeable reductions in the performance of their phone.

The company said it had made the decision as a way of prolonging the life of older phones, not of making people want to buy new ones sooner.

How is it going to fix that?

Chief among the fixes is the replacement battery offer. It's the one that will make the biggest difference, by potentially fixing the problem entirely, and the price reduction was significant: slashing the cost of a replacement by £54.

But it also said it would do other things, too. An iOS update will soon roll out that allows people to check on the health of their battery, and find out for themselves whether their battery is depleted and if that's leading to restricted performance.

And it also said that it would work "on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age".

Implicit was the fact that Apple wouldn't hide things from people in this way, either. It's likely that Apple never meant to keep it secret, but there's a lot to be learned from the confusion that ensued and there's no doubt it will have taken those things to heart.

What didn't Apple say?

Just as important as what Apple said and offered is what they didn't. Specifically, the company never admitted to slowing down older phones just because they were old, or for no reason, or to try and encourage you to buy new ones.

That has been a long-held conspiracy theory among both Apple fans and detractors – that the phones seem to slow down with time, and that it was being done by Apple to try and get people to upgrade. Clearly, there's no way of proving this definitively wrong, since by its very nature the theory suggests that the slowdown is done entirely secretly.

But it's unlikely that programmers working at Apple would be complicit in such a plan, when they can simply move to another company. And it wouldn't really make sense for Apple, since people whose phones slow down would presumably be more likely to switch to another manufacturer, and the company is incredibly keen on keeping up its scores on customer satisfaction.

What is definitely true is that this isn't what Apple admitted this time, and that's worth re-stating. Probably Apple's biggest failing in not disclosing that it was slowing down phones is that it fanned the flames of the conspiracy theory, but it didn't do so actively and nothing in its statement supported it.

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