An old battery might be slowing down your phone – here’s what you can do about it

The holidays are a time of ample iPhone sales and activations for Apple, but this year also brought some huge drama into the mix – and it could affect all iPhone users.

If you’ve ever felt like your old iPhone ran dramatically slower than it originally did, it might not just be a matter of newer iOS updates pushing it too hard: Apple has now admitted that it slows down devices when their batteries are degraded, in an attempt to maintain battery life and avoid shutdown-causing power spikes.

Apple claims good intentions with the move, but naturally people are incensed about it, believing that it’s a ploy to push them to upgrade to a pricey new phone. Now lawsuits are flying around, and Apple has apologised and offered some potential fixes in the new year.

Here’s a primer on everything that’s happened so far and what you can do to fix your ailing iPhone.

In the weeks before Christmas, internet sleuths started pooling evidence that showed that older iPhones were running significantly slower than they should. The groundswell began on Reddit, and soon developer John Poole from benchmark tester Geekbench shared data that suggested that Apple is throttling, or intentionally slowing, phones when their battery cells are degraded after extensive use.

The Geekbench post claimed that Apple’s unseen change in processing speed is done to “mask a deficiency in battery power.” However, the developer added that it ultimately pushes the suspected narrative that Apple intentionally diminishes its devices after a couple of years to push users towards upgrades. “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,'” wrote Poole.

His post also suggests that replacing the battery in an aging iPhone can reverse the slowing, which Twitter user sam_siruomu backed up by posting benchmark readings from an iPhone 6 using the app CPU DasherX. Before the replacement, the phone showed a CPU Frequency of 600MHz, but it bumped back up to the original setting of 1400MHz with the new battery. That should be a dramatic increase in speed; conversely, imagine how much slower your phone would be with that kind of drop.

Lithium-ion batteries naturally degrade after a certain amount of charge cycles, at which point they can’t go back to full capacity. But rather than have a phone that just doesn’t last as long, Apple’s move gives you a much slower phone to try and counteract the drop in battery life. And there’s no warning about that within iOS.

What’s the big deal?

It’s precisely what Poole suggested: since Apple gives no heads-up within iOS that degraded batteries are leading to your slower phone, your instinct will probably be to replace the phone rather than pay for a much cheaper battery replacement.

Apple’s decision-making process might charitably be called well-meaning, since the goal is to give you a consistent battery usage experience without power spikes that could randomly shut down your phone. But in any case, the solution to give you a much slower phone experience isn’t one that we imagine the vast majority of iPhone owners would choose. Not that you have any choice in the matter, nor any knowledge about what’s happening via iOS.

That’s the key issue: the lack of transparency. Apple made the choice it thought would be best for consumers, but it stikes some people as simply misleading: you suddenly have a slower phone and you don’t know why. Many of us have been in this scenario before, and you just feel helpless and confused.

Now lawsuits are being filed on behalf of iPhone users who feel that they were misled, and they’re seeking class-action status to potentially bring in millions of users who seek some kind of compensation from Apple for this situation. It’s too early to know how far those legal challenges will proceed, but Apple has already made a few moves to try to address the issue.