Apple reportedly throttling older iPhones

If the latest data from Geekbench is any indication, Apple is making some behind-the-scenes changes that impact its elder iPhones.

Geekbench developer John Poole evaluated a Reddit thread last week that suggested Apple's older iPhones, including the iPhone 6s and iPhone 7, weren't acting as responsively recently after software updates. And some of those users wondered whether, in a bid to boost battery life, Apple was throttling processor performance.

So, Poole used Geekbench's benchmarking testing to find out. He conducted single-core tests on iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 units running different versions of iOS. His findings suggest that Apple has made a tweak in iOS 10.2.1 to 11.2.0 that appears to throttle the iPhone's performance when the smartphone's "battery condition decreases past a certain point," Poole said.

The change was likely made after iPhone 6s users reported that their smartphones would spontaneously shut down even when there was seemingly more than enough life left on their batteries. Apple acknowledged the shutdown problem and offered a battery replacement program. The company also released an update to address it.

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Poole pointed to one Reddit user, who goes by the handle "kadupse," who has the most likely explanation: "Because degraded batteries last much less and end up with a lower voltage Apple’s solution was to scale down CPU performance, it doesn’t solve anything and is a bad experience… but it’s better than having your device shutdown at 40% when you need it the most."

But at least publicly, Apple has only acknowledged the shutdown problem in the iPhone 6s. Poole found that the same throttling is occurring in the iPhone 7 running iOS 11.2.0. It's possible Apple provided the change to ensure similar shutdown problems don't occur on the iPhone 7.

However, Poole notes that iPhone 6s and iPhone 7 owners ultimately get poorer performance any way they slice it. And it might mask the bigger problem.

"This fix creates a third, unexpected state," Poole wrote. "While this state is created to mask a deficiency in battery power, users may believe that the slow down is due to CPU performance, instead of battery performance, which is triggering an Apple introduced CPU slow-down. This fix will also cause users to think, 'my phone is slow so I should replace it' not, 'my phone is slow so I should replace its battery.'"

In other words, rather than just get a new battery, some iPhone users might feel compelled to get a new device. And that obviously benefits Apple.

For its part, Apple hasn't commented on the apparent throttling, so it's impossible to say for sure that it's actually happening. But Poole and many Reddit users certainly believe it's happening.