Batteries and Conspiracies
It was recently revealed that Apple intentionally slows down iPhones when their batteries are losing capacity. Upon being made aware of this, the Internet proceeded to lose its mind. Let's look at why this is being done, examine how good of an idea it is, and discuss how it can be remedied.
PHONE BATTERIES HAVE A FINITE LIFESPAN
Batteries have become so ubiquitous in our electronically-fueled culture that we tend to forget that they are really a throwaway, consumable item. Rechargable batteries - even the newest types on the market - all fail after a finite number of charge cycles. The lithium-ion batteries that power most of our phones and tablets lose a tiny fraction of their total capacity each time they are recharged, and over time, that results in less and less overall battery life. Most experts quote the worst case lifespan (70% total capacity remaining) of a Li-ion battery as two to three years or 300-500 cycles (more on this later), with a cycle usually (but not always) defined as a total discharge and recharge. It should, therefore, be unsurprising that the batteries in iPhone 6's and other phones about the same age are just about ready for replacement.
As your battery ages and loses capacity, you experience less total runtime, with the practical effects being a need to recharge more often. And, since Li-ion batteries tend to hold their voltage until the capacity runs out and then experience a sudden drop, that can lead to a phone that suddenly shuts down when you least expect it. If you want to see this phenonmenon in more easily observable terms, power a flashlight with both regular alkaline batteries and then lithium batteries. With the alkalines, the light will get dimmer and dimmer as the battery dies (and the voltage drops). With the lithiuns, it will remain equally bright right until just before the battery gives out, when it will get dim and die comparatively quickly.
So how might we prolong the life of the batteries in our flashlight if they were non-removable, rechargeable batteries that had aged? The obvious solution would be to draw less power somehow, which in flashlight terms would mean to turn the brightness down. You still have the same problem in that your battery's capacity is diminished, but you are able to use the flashlight longer - just not as brightly. As it turns out, this is exactly what Apple has done - except they have turned down the speed of the phone.
PROCESSORS USE POWER
Your phone, as you will be aware, is really a tiny computer. If you own a laptop computer, you are perhaps familiar with the "power saving" optiosn offered by your operating system. They allow you to shut off drives, ports, and the like when not in use, and also to slow down the processor. The reasoning behind this is simple - the faster the processor, the more power it requires. Laptop computers have had this type of power/battery management for decades. What Apple has done is migrate this thinking to the world of the phone - just that in Apple's "it just works" style, it is automatic and non-configurable (the "Low Power Mode" that disables some background operations notwithstanding). Objectively, this is a good thing. You gain the benefit of longer daily runtime and can put off a battery replacement until and unless you decide to do so.
CARE AND FEEDING
Given how diminshed battery capacity can impact any phone, it is worth discussing how to prolong its capacity as much as possible. Most battery manufacturers offer these tips for optimal maintenance of Li-ion batteries:
- Avoid deep discharges. Li-ion batteries perfer to be partially discharged and then recharged. How bad is it to deeply discharge them? Batteries that are deeply discharged can lose 30% of capacity in 300-500 cycles; batteries that are only discharged 25% before recharging can last for 2,500 cycles before reaching the same capacity level.
- Don't do a periodic deep discharge either. Li-ion batteries do not have a memory like older battery types (notably Ni-Cad) do. This was a valid suggestion for those batteries as it tended to cause the battery to "forget" the memory it had acquired. However, for Li-ion batteries, periodic full discharges actually harm the battery as has been discussed above.
- Avoid heat. Heat degrades the battery. Keeping your phone exposed to temperatures of 100 degrees F can cause a 40% drop in capacity all by itself. Remember also that processors generate more heat the faster they are running, so limiting the speed also keeps the phone cooler.
HOW WORN IS MY BATTERY?
iPhone users can download "Battery Life" - an excellent app that will tell you your battery's wear level - here: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1080930585
This is the wear level on my one year old iPhone 7 Plus, which has been pretty well taken care of - only a few deep discharges during infrequent heavy use days:
Despite the information and advice presented above - which is, after all, available with a quick Google search - several media outlets and people on social media are excoriating Apple for throttling the processor speed on phones with diminished capacity batteries. Many are calling for Apple to provide free battery replacements; which hopefully by now you will agree is an unreasonable demand. Quite simmply, batteries go bad, no matter which phone they are in; Apple is merely trying to do something in software to prolong the life of the hardware you spent money on. I have seen several people declare that the iPhone they own is the "last one" they will ever own due to their (misplaced) anger. This is both a perfect example of throwing the baby out with the bathwater AND thinking that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It isn't. Neither Samsung nor Google - the two most often cited "iPhone replacement" brands I've seen contemplated on social media - offer free replacement batteries, and - of course - suffer the same problems as they all use Li-ion batteries.
Nevertheless - conspiracy theory being what it is - Apple is seen here as a villain forcing you to buy a new phone to fix the problem, when the solution is much simpler: Buy a new battery. The software will adjust and restore your iPhone's speed and you'll be back to normal. Then, take care of the battery with the tips above (and other readily available tips to save battery) and it will likely last you until long after you have decided to upgrade anyway.