When the Tech Press Strikes Out

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

You’ve probably heard about the fact that Apple has confirmed they throttle iPhone performance down when battery health degrades past a certain threshold. This means that if your iPhone’s battery starts to struggle to hold a charge like it used to, the phone will slow down slightly to make sure your phone stays alive longer. If they had to choose one or the other, I think they’ve made the right choice, as a slightly slower phone is far more useful than a dead phone, but I also think they should let people choose whether they want to throw battery life out the window.

What stings about this story is that we in the tech press have been assuring people for years that “no, Apple isn’t slowing down your phone so you buy a new one,” which is tragically both true and false. Yes, Apple may do something to slow down your phone a little, but it’s not so you buy a new phone, it’s so your current phone makes it through the day better.

Where this gets tricky is in the fact that people in the press (including me) dismissed the “my iPhone is slower” complaints for 3 reasons I can think of:

  1. It sounds like a misunderstanding of how computers work. Non-nerdy people do all sorts of things with their phones that make so logical sense, so this claim sounded like just another cooky theory. It’s very similar to the “I need to close all my apps so they don’t all run in the background” mumbo-jumbo.
  2. This theory is always posited with malicious intent as the reason it is happening. The suggestion that Apple has an invisible switch they flip on the day a new iPhone comes out to make all other iPhones slower is ridiculous, and obviously not what’s happening. But because the “my phone is slower” was almost always accompanied by “because Apple is evil” it made the claim easy to dismiss.
  3. Quite simply, the tech press doesn’t use old phones.

That last reason is a big, big, big one, and we’re all guilty of it. I, like so many others, upgrade the latest and greatest as soon as possible and we don’t really understand how things work on older hardware. Sure, we can keep up with things that fit on a spec sheet, so we know that iOS 11 runs on the iPhone 6 and newer, but we don’t have a detailed understanding of how it works on an iPhone 6 because none of us have used one since the day the 6s was released.

I’m not saying that all tech folks need to start using an old phone as their “daily driver” or even that they need to test everything on every possible phone, but maybe there is space out there for someone to spend more time on how new software works on older hardware. At the very least we should be a little more cautious before dismissing the next seemingly-silly thing we hear about what people are experiencing on hardware we don’t own.

Note that based on Apple’s clarification, this is a change made only to the iPhone 6 and newer phones, so this is a relatively new thing.