Did you hear about the favor Apple did for us? According to their recent statement, Apple didn’t want people “…to lose a call, miss taking a picture, or have any part of their iPhone experience interrupted,” so they released a software fix to prevent “unexpected shutdowns” in older iPhones. Thanks for watching out for us, Apple!
All of that sounds great, but there’s one problem: It doesn’t make any sense.
I believe that what we’re really seeing here is a brilliant example of corporate sleight of hand and a correlation vs. causation fallacy. Apple got caught reducing the speed of older iPhones, and people were angry. So they made up a story.
A Logical Fallacy Used To Obscure The Facts
In Wikipedia’s article called Correlation does not imply causation says a logical fallacy can occur “…when two events occurring together are taken to have established a cause-and-effect relationship.” Their statement is an example of a correlation vs. causation fallacy.
Apple says that chemically-aged batteries cause unexpected shutdowns, but this is untrue unless a battery is damaged or very, very old — much older than the iPhones Apple got caught slowing down. With a great amount of time, all batteries will eventually stop working, but Apple is saying this happens much, much sooner than it does. They’re using the correlation vs. causation fallacy to explain why they slowed down older iPhones, even though those iPhone batteries were perfectly capable of delivering a sufficient charge to operate the iPhone at peak performance.
If You Bought A New Car In 2016, And Your Car Manufacturer Slowed It Down To Prevent Stalls…
One way to visualize the problem is like this: Imagine that a car manufacturer slowed down the engines of every car (except for this year’s model) because a few, very old cars with damaged gas tanks were stalling. You wouldn’t be happy because there was nothing wrong with your car. They didn’t fix a problem because nothing was broken. They slowed down your engine, got caught, and said it was to prevent a (non-existant) serious problem. Why? Because they care.
This is a response to Apple’s message. I’ll try to cut through some of the stench and provide you, the reader, with additional information that you can use to draw your own conclusions.
I’ll begin by responding to their statement, with my comments in bold. Bear this in mind as you read: Except in rare circumstances, an iPhone battery has nothing to do with how fast it performs. Try to stay focused on what Apple was caught doing (decreasing the speed of older iPhones), and on how this message is designed to divert your attention away from that and onto the battery.
Chemical Age Does Not Cause Unexpected Shutdowns
In this statement, Apple implies that chemically aged batteries are incapable of powering the iPhone processor at peak performance, but that is rarely the case. So how do they measure whether the battery is capable of performing at peak efficiency? By its “chemical age”.
In Apple’s other statement, they take facts like “As lithium-ion batteries chemically age, their ability to hold a charge diminishes…” and mix those facts with a lot of “may” and “can” statements, like “A battery’s impedance can increase if a battery has a higher chemical age,” and “…a battery’s ability to provide power quickly may decrease.” There are no facts or percentages here.
Yes, a battery’s impedance will increase with age, but to what degree? Is it enough to cause these “unexpected shutdowns?” Absolutely not. I don’t have the exact numbers, but based on my experience working with hundreds of iPhones at the Apple Store before any of these features were introduced, I can say that the problem is very rare.
Let me say this: It does makes sense to throttle back processors if a battery is aged to the point where it can no longer deliver a sufficient charge and unexpected shutdowns are occurring. Apple is implying that they are measuring this, but they aren’t. They’re going by the chemical age of the battery.
In their second statement, Apple says that they determine an iPhone battery’s ability to deliver a charge “…by looking at a combination of the device temperature, battery state of charge, and battery impedance.” Let’s take these one by one:
- Device temperature: Colder temperatures do increase impedance.iPhones turn off when they get cold because the battery can no longer deliver a sufficient charge, and turn back on when they warm up. I’m all for this one, and this has happened since the dawn of iPhones.
- Battery state of charge: iPhones do shut off once they go past 1% on the screen, but there is some charge left. If there were nothing, the “connect to power” graphic wouldn’t be displayed. This has happened since the dawn of iPhones.
- Battery impedance: This is the new one. Apple is unclear about exactly how they are measuring this, but they do give a hint earlier in the statement: Apple says impedance is measured by “…the number of charge cycles and how it was cared for.” Charge cycles are the number of times your battery was discharged from 100% to 0%. Although a battery with a high number of charge cycles certainly will have less capacity and does have a higher chance of this inability to deliver an adequate charge, that chance is very, very small — especially after just a few years. Apple does a wonderful job with their battery technology, and battery technology has come a long, long way. They’re saying they fixed a problem that they themselves have already fixed.
I do not believe Apple has an accurate way to measure whether a battery is healthy enough to deliver a sufficient charge to maintain peak performance before an “unexpected shutdown” has occured. Think about it: How would they?
Why should they go by the chemical age of the battery when it, except in rare or extreme circumstances, does not cause the problem they are “fixing?” If performance is going to be significantly degraded, I believe we should fix problems only after they occur at least once. This is an example of obscuring their true motives by confusing correlation with causation.
Prove It To Yourself: Go Get Your Old iPhone, iPad, iPod, Or Laptop, And Turn It On
Do you have an old iPod or iPhone laying around? Does it turn on? Does it function properly? How about an 3-year-old laptop? Sure, the battery doesn’t last as long, but there are no “unexpected shutdowns” unless the battery is damaged or very, very old. Although we frequently discard old devices due to speed (bear in mind, we discard them because they are slow), their batteries are capable of keeping them on. The “unexpected shutdowns” occur very rarely, and Apple is using language to obscure that fact.
It would be like saying that people who are 60 years old are no longer capable of doing complex math problems, so they all need to be slowed down to avoid “unexpected interruptions.” Although there are some, rare circumstances that cause 60 year olds to have decreased mental abilities, it doesn’t make sense to slow everyone down. If I were 60 and being sent to a home, I wouldn’t be happy. This analogy certainly isn’t perfect — for it to really make sense, the hospital would have to be selling them a new, younger brain; albeit at a discount.
The Battery Smokescreen
It’s my belief that Apple has used the battery issue as a smokescreen for their behavior. Apple knows that lots of iPhone users struggle with battery issues, and it is a fact that capacity performance decreases with time. But the capacity of a battery has nothing to do with the speed of the iPhone.
The speed of an iPhone affects everything, and it’s one of the primary reasons people upgrade. If it takes ten seconds to load a webpage on my iPhone and the person next to me takes two, that’s a huge difference. Speed affect how the iPhone feels when you use it.
The Car Analogy
It helps to visualize the problem like this: An iPhone’s processor is like the engine of your car, and its battery is like the gas tank. The processor determines how fast the iPhone can go, and the battery determines how far it can go (or how long the battery lasts).
As lithium batteries age, their maximum capacity decreases. This is where the car analogy isn’t quite perfect, but imagine this: When you bought your car, it came with a 15 gallon tank. Now, 3 years later, your gas tank can only hold 10 gallons, but that doesn’t have anything to do with how fast the car can go — it has to do with how far your car can go.
Apple says they have reduced processor speed to prevent “unexpected shutdowns” in iPhones with older batteries. If the gas tank of your car is damaged, your car may “unexpectedly shut down” because it can’t provide enough gas consistently to power the engine. If the gas tank has undergone normal wear and tear and just can’t hold is much, the engine will be just as fast — it just won’t go as far.
It’s the same with iPhones. Except in instances where the battery is damaged or extremely old, a battery with reduced capacity will have no problem powering the processor — it just won’t be able to do it for as long. In other words, you won’t have the same battery life as you used to, but there’s no need to slow down the iPhone to do that. “Unexpected shutdowns” are a rare problem for batteries of any age. Apple is using “unexpected shutdowns” as an excuse. It’s no excuse.
How Has This Gone Unnoticed For So Long?
All throughout the history of computers, the speed of a computer has decreased when a new operating system is installed. It wasn’t because the processor had been intentionally slowed down. The new software contained new features, and the old processor couldn’t keep up.
But Apple isn’t just building in new features — they’re reducing the speed of the processors at the same time they introduce new features, so nobody notices — they just think, “Oh, it’s slower because that’s what happens when you put new software onan old phone.” And that’s what’s new.
Wrapping It Up
Well, there you have it. It’s up to you to draw your own conclusions. Apple is vague about almost everything they do, and I may not have all the information. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. But what Apple has done is to “fix” a problem affecting only a handful of iPhone owners by compromising the performance of every iPhone owner — unless you have the newest model. And I have the iPhone X, so I’ll be operating at peak performance — at least until iOS 12 comes out.