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Today while I was choosing an iPhone to buy, a clerk said that choosing iphone 7 would be unwise, as it's old and in few years it will stop receiving updates.

At first I thought "so what, device's battery lifetime degradation and stuff should start from the moment it was assembled, not from the moment this model became available for sale, right?", though then I remembered this article and began to seriously worry: what if through this last update backdoor I'll receive same batterygate that will be gradually worsening phone's performance to force me to buy a newer model and that's why this clerk bothered to warn me.

Source of the chart: https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&q=Slow%20iPhone

Google trends showing increased searches for "iphone slow" during new releases of iphone series

As a consumer I want to research buying Apple devices without worrying that their performance will intentionally get worsened after an update for marketing reasons.

Can someone with experience of verifiable references weigh in on either side of this dilemma?

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    I don’t get how this gets down votes. Voting for a question doesn’t mean you agree with the premise. It means the question is clear and useful to have someone weigh in with facts or substantiated opinion and experience.
    – bmike
    Jun 7, 2021 at 20:07
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    @bmike is that how you expect the votes to be used? Or is that how others perceive they should use the up, or downvotes? Perhaps they downvoted as the question was based on a false premise... I agree with Tetsujin's answer about the battery issue being the reason for slowing down, then people getting the choice...
    – Solar Mike
    Jun 7, 2021 at 20:19
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    I think so - we can discuss on Ask Different Meta but if someone comes and says - I believe that Apple sells vaccine status illegally and here are my references, that should get a respectful rebuttal. We don’t want inflammatory clickbait or trolling, but this seems far too reasonable to get a -1 IMO. I did edit the second question out - that’s a valid reason for a -1
    – bmike
    Jun 7, 2021 at 20:42
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    I hope my edit helps sharpen that this is about software making older hardware slow. Clearly a new hardware won’t affect older phones - only old hardware and new software is in play here. Is your thesis to be tested that even without a software update the old software becomes slower?
    – bmike
    Jun 7, 2021 at 22:46

6 Answers 6

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Apple uniquely controls and shapes the experience of iOS. If you do not trust Apple, do not buy an iPhone.

Considering the impact of Apple's past behaviour, Apple settles iPhone slowdown case for up to 500M USD and a 25M EUR fine by France's DGCCRF for slowing down old iPhones, it would seem foolish to attempt the same approach twice. It appears Apple will now inform you before slowing down your device.

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It's true that Apple added code to iOS update 10.2.1 in January 2017 so that if your battery had degraded sufficiently, it would run slower, to avoid sudden shut-offs if the power rose too high for the battery to cope.

But that's a world away from deliberately making all older phones run slower with the express intention of making you upgrade, and there is no evidence to suggest that.

I have an original iPhone SE (c. 2016-2017). I had the battery replaced in 2019, because it was shutting down and showing erratic % reporting (on iOS 12). Since then, it runs very well on the latest version of iOS (14.6), with no signs of any slow-down.

Also, I would suggest that 'people searching Google for the term iphone slow' and 'people having problems with slow iphone' are not the same thing.

OS updates download onto the phone in the background, and may use up all the remaining space, if there's not much left, and this by itself would cause sluggishness, before the update was installed.

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I just wanted to add a different angle to this:

The clerk warned you that the iPhone 7 is becoming an older model (released in 2016), and that you should take that into account when choosing what to buy. You then make this a question about batteries.

If I were to buy a new phone now, I wouldn't really be concerned about the battery on an older design. Battery technology doesn't change that much from iPhone generation to iPhone generation - development is quite slow. An older design phone could (and probably will have) a quite new battery - it's not like a new iPhone 7 bought today comes from a stockpile manufactured back in 2016.

I would however be very much concerned about software updates, which is what I think your clerk was concerned about as well. Not in the sense that a software update could come along killing battery life - I don't see that as likely. The real issue is no updates at all!

An iPhone usually lives in a connected world. If you want to be secure, and who doesn't, you really need software updates. An unsupported phone would quickly turn into something that is no longer as secure as a more recent model. That is all down to software updates.

This quite important and needs to be factored in when comparing a cheaper iPhone 7 to a more expensive iPhone 8 or iPhone X.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – nohillside
    Jun 8, 2021 at 21:51
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I should turn my comments into a proper answer, though without citations…

The question itself conflates information, leading to a contentious conclusion, then asks for credible information to refute it. As asked it cannot be refuted, as it is based on a false premise.

  1. Battery life clock is ticking from the moment the battery was made.

  2. Most people tend to assume/claim/complain any new OS is slower than the last. As new OS & new phones come out at the same time this is an easy conflation of conclusions.

  3. The last time they did slow phones down to prevent sudden crashes as the battery gets older/weaker, the uproar made them reverse their decision. You can now make your phone crash rather than slow down. [They did perhaps get their own back in this respect - once you toggle it to crash instead of slowing down, you cannot toggle it back without completely erasing & setting up as a new device.]

  4. Though we won't know until Apple makes the announcement officially, the iPhone 6S & 7 are the most likely to go unsupported at the next iOS update. The absolute worst time ever to buy an Apple device of any sort is today… the day of the WWDC. Whilst guesses have been made as to what they will announce, no-one will know for sure for another 4 hours.

As regards disabling updates, you can refuse any or all offers to update for as long as you like. You cannot, however, pick & choose. You either update to the current newest OS or not at all. It's not like Windows with weekly partial updates, each with its own raison d'être in a series of confusing Knowledge Base articles, it's all or nothing.

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To address your assertions :

a clerk said that choosing iphone 7 would be unwise, as it's old and in few years it will stop receiving updates

That is a correct assertion from a software perspective. Apple dropped support for iPhone 6 (2014) in 2019 when launching iOS 13. iPhone 6s (2015) seems to still be supported in 2021 for iOS 15 (but that's a surprise).

There is no guarantee that the iPhone 7 (2016) will support iOS 16, even less iOS 17. You can't expect to buy a 5 year old smartphone and keep software support for 5 more years.

Note that when I talk about software support, I'm talking about the latest version with up-to-date features. There is an history of Apple releasing security fixes for older iOS versions, but again, there's no guarantee on this.

device's battery lifetime degradation and stuff should start from the moment it was assembled

That is correct, battery degradation starts at the time it is manufactured. But note that the iPhone 7 is no longer manufactured, it has been discontinued in 2019. Even if you can find a brand new iPhone 7 now, it must have been sitting on the shelf for at least 2 years so the battery is definitely not in a brand new state.

Those two aspects are very good reasons not to buy an iPhone 7 in 2021 if looking for a brand new phone and would certainly explain the clerk position. If however you can get a very good bargain and don't mind the software support, you can definitely buy one now, they are still fully functional smartphones.

And to address your final question :

Are there credible technical basis for reports of “Apple deliberately slows down older devices when new software is released”?

There is two aspects of this, the first is software, the second is hardware.

For the software aspect, all update includes a new set of features with increasing computational complexity. Those are designed to take advantage of new hardware but may not operate as smoothly on older hardware. That is true for iOS but also for any other operating system (Android, Windows, etc.).

The longer you keep software support for older hardware, the higher you risk slowing down those older devices at each software update. Apple has an history of keeping support for older devices (often longer than other mobile OS) which can have a consequence of slowing down older devices, wether it is deliberate or not is a matter of opinion.

For the hardware aspect, when a battery gets older, it not only loses its capacity and drain more rapidly, it also loses its ability to sustain high current. If a battery is worn out enough, it may not be able to provide the power required by the smartphone on heavy tasks. This phenomenon may lead to random shutdown if no other countermeasure is implemented.

The measure implemented by apple was to limit the CPU power on older devices to avoid these random shutdown. This have the consequence to slow down the phone. This raised some backlashes and can now be turned off (if performance is preferable to system stability).

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Each generation of iPhone is much faster than the previous generation. App developers often write apps for the newest generation and then discover that their code runs more slowly on older hardware. Usually they will then go back and do some optimizations to make the performance reasonable on older hardware. But this takes time and there are limits to how many old iPhone versions they can support.

If it were possible to load up a new iPhone 5 with apps from 2012, the performance would be great (although some of the apps would be unable to work with their current services). But the 2021 versions of these apps are optimized for newer phones first and will be much slower on the iPhone 5, if they run at all.

Apple doesn’t have to do anything to make old phones slower. The individual app developers just decide it’s not worth it to support old phones anymore.

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