Apple slowing down iPhones

Don't believe the rubbish about Apple purposefully making your iPhone run slower to force you to buy a new one. Why? Because, like I said, it's rubbish. I'm not saying that Apple doesn't want you to upgrade – it does. But to say that the reason your iPhone gets slower over time is because Apple is making it slow down on purpose is just plain silly.

Each year, Apple releases a new iOS, the operating system that runs on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. If your phone is two or three years old, there's a chance updating to the new software will make your iPhone slower. See: iOS 8 preview

On 26 July, The New York Times published a piece by Sendhil Mullainathan, a professor of economics at Harvard. The piece highlights research from a Harvard Ph.D student that shows that, each time a new iPhone is released, the term "iPhone slow" sees a spike in Google Search. Of course, each time a new iPhone is released, so is a new iOS, which in addition to being available for the latest iPhones, is also available for some older models too.

But the software, understandably, has been optimised for Apple's newest phones. Why would the company cripple its new software in order to cater for three-year-old iPhones when it could make it absolutely amazing for the users of its newest device?

It's not just Apple's software that'll make your older iPhone feel slower either. Don't forget, technology moves fast. Your iPhone 4S has a three year-old processor in it, which might not be advanced enough to handle some of the newer apps that you download from the iOS App Store as smoothly as you'd like. That app might be designed to take advantage of the 64-bit architecture in the iPhone 5S, for example.

The NYT article was picked up by numerous tabloid papers, including The Daily Mail and Metro, but unfortunately the articles published by these papers highlighted the theory that Apple is slowing down your iPhones on purpose, but seemed to miss out some of Mullainathan's other points.

"The spikes show that the feeling doesn't grow gradually; it comes on suddenly in the days after a new phone is released," he says. "Yet that's all it shows: People suddenly feel that their phone is slowing down. It doesn't show that our iPhones actually become slower."

"Hearing about a new release makes you contemplate getting a new and faster phone. And you suddenly notice how slow your old phone is," Mullainathan adds.

The professor attempts to compare the search trend with searches for various Android phones, and finds there are far fewer spikes in searches for slow Android phones than there are for slow iPhones. But one reason of the reasons for this, and even Mullainathan points this one out, is that a much, much smaller percentage of Android users upgrade to the newest version of the operating system compared with the percentage of iPhone users who upgrade, so the spikes would be much less likely to occur in the same way.

"In the benign explanation, a slowdown of old phones is not a specific goal, but merely a side effect of optimising the operating system for newer hardware," Mullainathan continues in his article, and its exactly that explanation that I believe to be true.

Apple even releases small updates to iOS versions if it finds that it is crippling older devices, helping them to recover if customers have been finding them slow and sluggish. Apple doesn't want you to leave it for good, after all.

Now, I'm not saying that Apple isn't guilty at all here. It could make it clearer to potential updaters that getting the new version of iOS could cause their older iPhone to slow down, for example. But everyone seems to love hating on Apple and it's getting pretty boring.

If you find that your iPhone is feeling slow and sluggish, don't go hating on Apple. Yes, it might be time to start thinking about getting a new phone, and perhaps that shouldn't be an iPhone this time if you really believe that Apple's doing this to you on purpose, but it's possible that a simple spring clean could do the trick.

You can find lots of tips on how to speed up your iPhone here.

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