It's still amazing to think that a seeming conspiracy theory was true: On Dec. 20, Apple admitted it'd been secretly slowing down iPhones as their batteries aged. The company's explanation: The throttled speeds kept those phones from unexpectedly shutting down.
That explanation wasn't enough for some, who accused Apple of quietly driving people to upgrade their phones to fill the company's coffers. Lawsuits have already been filed.
Now, just over a week later, Apple has issued a formal apology to its customers that tackles the accusation head-on. It also promises a $29 battery replacement that, Apple says, will immediately return an iPhone 6 or later model to its original performance. The new batteries, which normally cost $79, will be available starting in January and through 2018, the company said Thursday in a message to customers on its site.
Update, Dec. 30: Apple has changed its mind about January. You can purchase the new batteries immediately.
In addition, Apple will issue an iOS software update with features "that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone's battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance."
"We have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that," Apple said.
"We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize."
It's too early to say whether an apology and a cheaper battery replacement will be enough to restore full trust in Apple, one of the the most valuable brands in the world and a company that prides itself on touting top customer satisfaction ratings at each new product launch.
Noted Apple watcher (and Tumblr co-founder) Marco Arment tweeted that "Apple has incurred huge reputation damage from the battery-throttling issue that will likely linger for years," but added that "this is a good move that will start to rebuild trust once the update is out." Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin tweeted that it "looks like they are stepping in [the] right direction."
Apple didn't immediately respond to an additional request for comment, including a question about why its batteries experience unexpected shutdowns to begin with. It's important to note that Apple isn't actually apologizing for slowing down old iPhones. The company still argues throttling speeds was the right decision to keep phones from shutting down. The apology is more about Apple's choice to keep the decision secret until now.
You can read Apple's full letter to customers below, and read more about the battery slowdown in our FAQ.
A Message to Our Customers about iPhone Batteries and Performance
We've been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There's been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we're making.
First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.
How batteries age
All rechargeable batteries are consumable components that become less effective as they chemically age and their ability to hold a charge diminishes. Time and the number of times a battery has been charged are not the only factors in this chemical aging process.
Device use also affects the performance of a battery over its lifespan. For example, leaving or charging a battery in a hot environment can cause a battery to age faster. These are characteristics of battery chemistry, common to lithium-ion batteries across the industry.
A chemically aged battery also becomes less capable of delivering peak energy loads, especially in a low state of charge, which may result in a device unexpectedly shutting itself down in some situations.
To help customers learn more about iPhone's rechargeable battery and the factors affecting its performance, we've posted a new support article, iPhone Battery and Performance.
It should go without saying that we think sudden, unexpected shutdowns are unacceptable. We don't want any of our users to lose a call, miss taking a picture or have any other part of their iPhone experience interrupted if we can avoid it.
Preventing unexpected shutdowns
About a year ago in iOS 10.2.1, we delivered a software update that improves power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns on iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and iPhone SE. With the update, iOS dynamically manages the maximum performance of some system components when needed to prevent a shutdown. While these changes may go unnoticed, in some cases users may experience longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.
Customer response to iOS 10.2.1 was positive, as it successfully reduced the occurrence of unexpected shutdowns. We recently extended the same support for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus in iOS 11.2.
Of course, when a chemically aged battery is replaced with a new one, iPhone performance returns to normal when operated in standard conditions.
Recent user feedback
Over the course of this fall, we began to receive feedback from some users who were seeing slower performance in certain situations. Based on our experience, we initially thought this was due to a combination of two factors: a normal, temporary performance impact when upgrading the operating system as iPhone installs new software and updates apps, and minor bugs in the initial release which have since been fixed.
We now believe that another contributor to these user experiences is the continued chemical aging of the batteries in older iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices, many of which are still running on their original batteries.
Addressing customer concerns
We've always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We're proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors' devices.
To address our customers' concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple's intentions, we've decided to take the following steps:
- Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
- Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone's battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
- As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.
At Apple, our customers' trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support — and we will never forget that or take it for granted.
If you're wondering whether your battery needs to be replaced, you may want to read Apple's official guide. The company lists these as various warning signs that your phone's speed may be throttled:
- Longer app launch times
- Lower frame rates while scrolling
- Backlight dimming (which can be overridden in Control Center)
- Lower speaker volume by up to -3dB
- Gradual frame rate reductions in some apps
- During the most extreme cases, the camera flash will be disabled as visible in the camera UI
- Apps refreshing in background may require reloading upon launch