This recent brouhaha about Apple slowing CPU performance on older iPhones got me thinking: how could Apple have handled this without everyone freaking out? The company seems to have operated out of the hope that no one would notice. Given the scrutiny they received on everything, I can’t image they realistically thought this would go unnoticed.
Strategy One: Be out front
When Apple realized that spent batteries were causing issues on older phones and came up with the CPU fix, they could have been completely upfront about it. This would be extremely uncharacteristic for them. For one, it would highlight an issue that no other phone manufacturer is talking about. It might even lead to a media narrative that Apple has a problem with its battery supply chain or something. Apple is at its core a hardware company, so its understandable to want to avoid tarnishing their reputation.
But here’s the thing, they could put a proviso in their EULA for an iOS update, and no one would bat an eye. True someone (with too much time on their hands) would notice the change eventually. But at least they’d have disclosed the information in some way. Even better, they could have outlined under what specific conditions the CPU throttling would go into effect, at least adding specificity to allay conspiratorial fears.
Strategy Two: Make it configurable
If being out front is uncharacteristic for Apple, adding the ability to toggle the CPU throttle would be even more bizarre. Part of the reason some users have taken issue with Apple’s policy is they have no way of knowing when or if their own battery is experiencing a similar issue. MacOS tells you when your battery is bad, so why is it beyond the pale that iOS behave similarly?
If Apple chose to use this option, they could have notified users when batteries had issues, then offer a toggle option to enable CPU throttling as a way to mitigate if battery replacement wasn’t feasible. There is a certain inelegance to this solution that seems very un-Apple. But then again, iOS is awash in discordant notifications and pop up notifications, so a battery warning wouldn’t be completely out of place.
Strategy Three: Do Nothing
I feel like people complaining the most about this would prefer this option. But in many ways its the most user hostile. If you want a conspiracy theory, how about a company knowing that there’s an issue that will cause phones to crash, and then not doing anything about it. Or even if they notify users, but the only remediation is a costly battery replacement? There would be cries of profit gouging left and right. Doing nothing would have been a lot easier, but still left users in a lurch.
At it’s core, Apple is a heavy handed company. One that has a vision (or at least claims to) of the best way to do things. In this case, they thought it provided the least hassle for consumers to limit performance for the sake of not shutting off an iPhone. I cringe a little that people are so quick to concede that “Apple did the right thing”. I think providing some kind of insight into system performance, and letting users make an informed decision would have been the right thing to do. Apple did a very consistent Apple thing to do.
But a conspiracy to get people to buy new phones? That hardly seems the case.
John Gruber comments:
The thing to keep in mind is that there is nothing Apple can do about the fact that lithium-ion batteries decline over time. One way or another, older much-used iPhones are going to suffer in some way. I think what Apple is doing here is a reasonable balance between trade-offs.
I agree with Panzarino, though, that Apple should do a better job communicating about this.