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Last year's iPhones get controversial processor throttling feature after all

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With iOS 12.1, Apple has brought its controversial “performance management feature” (aka, throttling) to the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and iPhone X. This functionality dynamically throttles the phone’s processor as its battery degrades over time to stop the handset from randomly shutting down — it can be turned off if desired. Previously Apple has told US senators that “hardware updates” meant that the feature isn’t as necessary on its newest phones.

The company has always maintained that all of its products include “fundamental performance management” functionality to protect its components. A support page explaining the feature said the following about the iPhone 8 and later devices:

iPhone 8 and later use a more advanced hardware and software design that provides a more accurate estimation of both power needs and the battery’s power capability to maximize overall system performance. This allows a different performance management system that more precisely allows iOS to anticipate and avoid an unexpected shutdown. As a result, the impacts of performance management may be less noticeable on iPhone 8 and later. Over time, the rechargeable batteries in all iPhone models will diminish in their capacity and peak performance and will eventually need to be replaced.

However, with the release of iOS 12.1 yesterday, this same support page has been quietly updated with the following (with emphasis added to show the new devices):

Additionally, users can see if the performance management feature that dynamically manages maximum performance to prevent unexpected shutdowns is on and can choose to turn it off … This feature applies to iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone SE, iPhone 7, and iPhone 7 Plus. Starting with iOS 12.1, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, and iPhone X include this feature, but performance management may be less noticeable due to their more advanced hardware and software design.

This practice of throttling older devices recently resulted in a €5 million ($5.7 million) fine for Apple in an antitrust case brought by Italy’s competition and market authority, the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (AGCM). It objected to Apple slowing down its phones without telling customers or giving them the ability to return to a previous version of the software.

With all the recently added models being just over a year old at most, it’s currently unclear how big of an impact battery degradation will have on them. But it’s not surprising that Apple has seen fit to address it. There’s no stopping batteries from aging, but at least you’ll be in control of how your phone handles their decline.

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