What to do if you think Apple's slowing down your phone

Apple acknowledges updates slow older iPhones
Apple acknowledges updates slow older iPhones

It's been one of the more persistent tech conspiracy theories: Apple slows down old iPhones to force people to pony up for new iPhones.

This week, Apple confirmed what many have long suspected, but the company says it's not some elaborate scheme to move more devices. An update to iOS may slow down some iPhone models to protect their older batteries and prevent them from suddenly shutting down.

Customers are angry that Apple didn't disclose the feature when it was first released in an iOS update last year. Two people are already suing the company, claiming the slow-downs caused "economic damages and other harm." They're seeking class-action status.

Before you switch to a Samsung or Google device, or lawyer up, find out if you're impacted and what you can do about it.

Understand why Apple is slowing phones down

A year ago, some iPhone users reported sudden phone shut-downs, even though they had a significant charge remaining. Apple quietly released an update that slows down the phone when it is putting too much demand on the battery, preventing these sudden shut downs.

The company says the feature is only to remedy a known problem, not a ploy to get more people to buy new phones. However, critics say there are a number of ways Apple could have handled the issue better.

It could have disclosed exactly what it was doing when the first update happened last year. Going forward, it could add an option to turn the throttling setting on or off, in part to help people identify other possible causes of a slow down. And it could make changing batteries easier.

Find out if your phone is affected

Despite years of theories that Apple slows down all older phones, at this point Apple says the power-management update only impacts certain models.

The software tweak first rolled out last year to the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus, and iPhone SE last year. More recently, Apple included it in the iOS 11.2 update for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. The company plans on doing similar updates in the future.

If your phone is older than the iPhone 6, it's likely regular wear, tear and maxed out storage are behind it slowing down. If you have an iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus or iPhone X and it feels unusually sluggish, it may warrant a visit to the Apple Store.

Try these tricks to speed up your iPhone

Before swapping out your battery, make sure your phone isn't slow due to other reasons.

Update to the latest iOS and update all apps to the most recent versions. In addition to bug fixes and feature additions that can remedy lag, iOS updates can include critical security patches that will keep your phone, and your data, safe.

Even if it's not full, try and clear up some extra memory on your phone. Go to Settings -> General -> iPhone Storage to see recommendations from iOS on how to free up memory. This screen will tell you how big apps are and when you last used them, so you can delete any space hogs. You can also use a tool like Google Photos or Dropbox to back up photos and videos to the cloud.

Other options for potentially speeding up your device include turning off background app refresh, location services for individual apps, and motion effects.

Get a new battery

If you've determined an old battery is to blame, try replacing it with a new one before buying an entirely new phone.

Unlike its flip-phone forebears, iPhone builds its batteries deep into the device. They're accessible only by removing the back of the phone, which is held shut with proprietary screws.

Apple will only cover the cost of a new battery if it is defective and the phone is under warranty. If a battery is just showing the typical signs of use, you will have to pay for a new one. It costs $79 for an official replacement from Apple. You can mail your phone in to an Apple repair center or drop it off at an authorized Apple service store. Both options will take 3 to 5 days.

Another, usually faster, option is to use a third-party repair service. If you're comfortable doing it yourself, you can purchase a battery replacement kit online.

Do not let anyone other than Apple crack open your phone unless it is no longer under warranty. A new iPhone is only under warranty for one year after you purchase it. You can extend that period by paying for an AppleCare plan.

Keep your battery in fighting shape

Smartphones use lithium ion batteries. They're volatile, and their capacity can fade from age, use and exposure to temperatures. Apple says an iPhone battery goes 500 charge cycles before it drops to 80% capacity.

When you have a fresh battery, whether it's a replacement or in a new phone, proper care can extend its life.

iPhone batteries are happiest at room temperature. Avoid exposing an iPhone to extreme cold or hot. That can include avoiding some phone cases that trap in heat. If you can't escape high temperatures, at least put off charging your device until you are someplace cooler.

If you're not going to use your device for a while, say days or longer, store it with a half-charged battery. Check in twice a year to re-charge so it is half full again. If you're keeping an unused iPhone in a drawer for more than 6 months, you could also just sell or donate it.

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