Apple knows better than you: iPhone battery edition

Last week, Apple confirmed what some users had long suspected: iPhone performance is deliberately throttled. The reasoning is sound: as iPhone battery performance decreases, the CPU performance scales back to extend battery life. It’s a sensible action to take, assuming you prefer battery life to performance. The assumption is the issue, though. Apple didn’t let the user make the decision. Apple decided that battery life is more important than performance and didn’t bother communicating this to the user.

Apple’s problem is not the decision, but the implementation. I suspect that the majority of iPhone users (or any smartphone for that matter) prize battery life over CPU speed. Most of them probably aren’t pushing their CPU on the regular. Preferring battery life is a sane default. Giving the user a choice is better. Making it clear that it’s happening is the bare minimum.

This is one of those credibility-risking moves that Apple likes to make. And in fairness, they generally come out ahead. Apple has long recognized the value in simplicity. Fewer options means less complexity. This makes users happier, even if they think they want a knob for everything.

But this particular case may be a little bit different. Users noticed an apparent slowdown. Cynics said it was to encourage people to buy the latest model. It wasn’t until an iPhone owner benchmarked his phone and had proof that Apple admitted the slow down. Even though their reasoning makes sense, it’s hard to shake the narrative that they’re pushing their customers into making new purchases. If it were really about battery life, why did they need to be forced into admitting it?

I’m inclined to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. After all, the company has a history of smug superiority. And much of the time, they do know better than their customers. That doesn’t mean they can’t screw it up sometimes. And this time, I think they did. We’ll see what comes from the lawsuits.

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