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You're Not Crazy: Apple Deliberately Slows Down Older iPhones


I'm Ari Shapiro with news that you're not crazy. Apple has confirmed something that iPhone users believed for a long time. When your iPhone gets older, it slows down. And this often happens around the same time the company releases a fancy new phone.

NPR's Bill Chappell has dug into this and joins us now. Hey, Bill.


SHAPIRO: So there is now data to back up an urban legend. What does Apple say is actually happening to our phones?

CHAPPELL: Well, it's saying that because older phones have batteries that can't keep up with the processors that the new phones are using and putting high demands on these batteries, the old phones were prone to have these unexpected shutdowns. So to keep that from happening, they're trying to just slow down the speed of the phone entirely. And that's something people noticed after doing these software updates, updating their operating system. They would notice, hey, my phone's not as perky as it was just last week, you know? And it really came down to Apple acknowledging this this week. This is something people have sort of talked about. It's been, like you said, in the urban legend and rumor department for a long time.

SHAPIRO: So Apple says they're not trying to force us to buy a new phone, they're just trying to preserve the life of an old battery?

CHAPPELL: Yeah, and they're saying that this is a better experience. They're trying to smooth out these peaks of power demands that the batteries can't quite absorb as they're getting older. I mean, a battery as young as kind of 18 months old still might have trouble keeping up after it's been used for that long.

SHAPIRO: Even after just a year and a half. So the phones we're talking about are not even that old.

CHAPPELL: Right. These are the iPhone 6 and 7. And right now, Apple - you know, we're - the talk of the town is the iPhone 8, the iPhone 10 or X, depending on how you want to say it. But, you know, these are not, like, some old phone - you know, Apple's been making iPhones for 10 years, and this is - we're not talking about the iPhone 3 or something.

SHAPIRO: Why does Apple do this? Do they risk a backlash?

CHAPPELL: Well, the backlash has kind of been there to an extent. But, you know, I think Apple's trying to explain. You know, they also said that if conditions are really cold or if the battery has low power anyway, it's trying to kind of put a governor on your device so it can last longer and you won't have it suddenly just fail. I mean, that's not a great outcome either. But, yeah, the backlash is that when this happens, when a new operating system comes out, usually the new operating system is coming out because Apple's putting a new phone out. So those two things together - this - the timing's a little suspicious for people.

SHAPIRO: Also, couldn't people get around this by just buying a new battery instead of buying a completely new phone?

CHAPPELL: They can do that. You know, and Apple - I mean, Apple would charge around $80 to do that. It takes a few days. That's certainly a lot cheaper than buying a brand-new phone. And, you know, there are people out there arguing that, you know, if the iOS is smart enough to sense when your battery's in a little trouble and needs a little help, it could also trigger an alert that says, hey, you might want to replace this battery. Instead, people are kind of feeling like, oh, my phone is really, really slow, and this new iPhone system is so great. I think I might need a new phone to run it.

SHAPIRO: How are people reacting to this revelation?

CHAPPELL: Well, a lot of people are relieved that they're not crazy.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

CHAPPELL: I mean, we all need that affirmation every day...


CHAPPELL: ...In this age. They're relieved about that, but yet they're kind of upset that Apple's been doing this without telling them at all. And it's kind of like if you have a car and you buy it and you drive it off the lot, you expect, you know, the gas tank to keep full and the engine to run and for the company not to suddenly limit how fast you can go in it.

SHAPIRO: And if the gas tank stops working, you should be able to easily replace the gas tank without replacing the whole car.

CHAPPELL: That would be the idea.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Bill Chappell, thanks a lot.

CHAPPELL: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.