Professionalism/Apple Batteries: Transparency, Trust, and Technology

IntroductionEdit

In December of 2017, a Reddit user posted about a software release for iPhone 6, 6S, SE and 7 that dramatically slowed down the processing speed during moments of peak computational load to save battery life in phones with older batteries. [1] A large number of people voted and commented on the post, speculating on Apple's true intentions with the software update. NPR producer John Poole picked up on the controversy, and after doing his own investigation, mentioned the Reddit post in an on-air interview with CNBC, drawing more attention to the issue. Many people were frustrated that Apple pushed this software update without clearly communicating what they were doing. After the public complained, Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, announced the update was nothing more than a solution to a widespread problem, and apologized for the negative appearance of the update and any perceived ulterior motive. Apple pushed another update to the iPhone with iOS 11 for a battery "health beta," which allows the user the choice between slowing down the processing speed to preserve battery or opting-out and risking unexpected shutdowns. Apple stated its intentions were pure . Regardless of Apple's intentions, the news of the slow-down, paired with wide-scale discussion of degrading phone batteries, and the perhaps coincidental release of the iPhone 8 a few months earlier, suggested to many iPhone users that Apple was using the slow down to implement a planned obsolescence of older iPhones.

Reddit, John Poole and AppleEdit

The Slowing Software Update and the Instigating Reddit PostEdit

On December 17, 2017, TechFire created a post titled "PSA: iPhone slow? Try replacing your battery!" where they suggested replacing the battery to fix a slow processing phone. Apple had released a software update aimed at iPhone 6, 6S, SE and 7 that dynamically changed the clock speed in the processors. The batteries in newer iPhones deteriorate faster than the ones in previous models. These iPhones can unexpectedly die and are not able to hold a charge for as long when the batteries reach a certain point of failure. Apple's 10.2.1 update was the solution to this problem, however phones responded slowly after the update. The original Reddit poster suggested three different ways of replacing the battery that would make the phone work at normal speed again. TechFire also mentioned Geekbench and Antutu tests for iPhone or Android devices, which give a score of how well the CPU is working. There was a strong correlation between the 10.2.1 update and a decrease in processor performance. Over 1000 Reddit users commented on this post, saying they had the same issue with their iPhone or MacBook. Apple did not tell their users that replacing the battery would improve the speed of their device. A number of iPhone users talked about buying new products because of the processing speed slow-down, leading to talks of planned obsolescence. Others mentioned they were frustrated that Apple did not acknowledge the design decision to manage processor speed. The original post was revised because of all the traffic it received, and the revised version currently has over 4500 up-votes.

John Poole's Public StatementEdit

John Poole is an NPR multimedia producer and the founder of Primate Labs. The day after the Reddit post surfaced, he referenced it in article he wrote on Primate Labs and posted his personal research of Geekbench scores related iPhone software updates.[2] On December 21, 2017, Poole discussed the Reddit post and explained his findings on the effects of Apple's update for the iPhone on CNBC. He acknowledged the software update was intended to fix the battery issue, but said the real problem was that Apple was not transparent with the executive decisions they were making.[3]

Apple Press ReleaseEdit

On December 28th, Apple released a "Message to our Customers about iPhone Batteries and Performance". The report did not directly address John Poole or his findings, but instead stated that the company "had been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance with older batteries and how we have communicated that process." [4] Apple directly addressed its decision to limit maximum performance in exchange for preventing unexpected shutdowns starting with the release of iOS 10.2.1 for the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s and 6s Plus. The company however dodged responsibility for the "unexpected shutdowns," stating that they are caused in large part by the chemical aging of the phone's battery. To end the press release, Apple reduced battery replacement costs by $50 and announced the upcoming release of a software update allowing for greater insight into the phone's battery health.

Tim Cook's ResponseEdit

Apple CEO Tim Cook gave an interview after Apple released their official response. In the January 2018 interview, Cook stated that the company knew of the problem for over a year, and released code that limited the processor performance to ease the strain on aging batteries. He argued that Apple explained what was happening at the time of the code's release, and people simply weren't paying attention. He then said "We deeply apologize [to] anybody that thinks that we had some kind of motivation." [5]

ConclusionEdit

Planned ObsolescenceEdit

Apple is one of the most dominant figures in the age of consumerism. They have remained one of the most recognizable brands as a company that doesn't simply make phones and laptops, but status symbols. Because of this, Apple has enjoyed one of the largest and most loyal fan-bases of any tech company. So how does a company on the forefront of technology continue to keep customers coming back year after year without questioning a thing? Some argue it's the small cosmetic changes, or the slight technological advances released every year or two. Others contend it's a planned obsolescence, defined as "the production of goods with uneconomically short useful lives so that customers will have to make repeat purchases." [6] Some view Apple's 2012 decision to change the iPhone dock connector from a 30-pin version to the current 8-pin lightning version as a prime example of creating designs to drive users towards newer models. The iPhone 4s was the last phone equipped with the 30-pin, and the lightning connector made its debut with the iPhone 5, forcing customers to purchase all new chargers or pin converters with their iPhone 5/5s, garnering Apple even more sales. More recently, the release of the iPhone 7 saw the removal of the 3.5 mm headphone jack: the staple of wired headphone connections. Apple made its consumers purchase the new Apple Airpods or another Bluetooth connected headphone on top of the price of purchasing a new phone. Apple also presented the option of buying a dongle to connect the headphones via 3.5mm cable if one would like, again turning an even greater profit on a perfectly good technology they chose to eliminate from the newest model. While these changes may present room for technological advances, these changes have been seen by many as an attempt to make as much money as possible off of their die-hard fans.

Trust and TransparencyEdit

Apple's decision to limit phone performance was not illegal, nor was it's lack of customer consultation in making the decision. Historically, Apple has taken the mindset that the professional knows better than the customer. In a April 1989 interview, Steve Jobs stated that "you cant just ask customers what they want...customers can't anticipate what the technology can do. They won't ask for things they think are impossible." [7] Almost a decade later, Jobs said "people don't know what they want until you show it to them" in an interview with BusinessWeek. [8] This refusal to be constrained by the non-expert views of the customer has lead to some of the most influential device designs of the past 30 years. Apple customers have historically gone along with the changes. For whatever reason though, iPhone users decided not to blindly accept the choice between having iPhone performance suffer or risk unexpected shutdowns made for them. Of all of Apple's decisions, why did this one cause the uproar that prior changes failed to?

Transparency and trust in business is perhaps more important than ever. Apple's press release and subsequent software patch acknowledging and "fixing" its own mistake declares that "customers' trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it." [4] The issue for Apple exploded because they waited over a week after the Poole report to fully explain to their customers what they had done and why they had done it. In this stretch of ambiguity, Apple lost control of the narrative, allowing rumors of planned-obsolescence and other malpractice to circulate. Had Apple addressed the report immediately, the public perception of the scenario could have been dramatically different. Professionals, professional organizations, and corporations should act on their expertise when designing or updating a product, as long as they let the consumer know what is headed their way, so that the customer has a fair chance to respond to the changes. To this day, Apple implements the same "dynamic performance management" on the iPhone, but users have a greater visibility into when a performance reduction takes place and the ability to opt-out. Perhaps the events leading up to and following the battery scandal brought to light by John Poole would have been viewed differently had Apple implemented such choice from the start.

Future ResearchEdit

This chapter only considers professional communication and transparency with regards to a single technology company and a single design decision. Future groups may wish to expand this topic within Apple, considering similar, past decisions, and the possibility of planned obsolescence throughout the company's product line, or how Apple's ignorance with regards to customer opinion has impacted the company over its history. It is highly likely Apple will continue to push the designs of its popular products. A future group could examine "unpopular" Apple design decisions such as the removal of the headphone jack from the iPhone, and how the public's perception of such changes shifts over time. A group may also wish to expand the ideas of trust and transparency outside of Apple, looking at companies which handle personal data such as Facebook and Google, and how such companies are or are not always honest and forthcoming with how users' data is gathered and used.

ReferencesEdit

  1. TechFire (2017). “PSA: iPhone slow? Try replacing your battery!” https://www.reddit.com/r/iphone/comments/7inu45/psa_iphone_slow_try_replacing_your_battery/.
  2. Poole, John (2017). “iPhone Performance and Battery Age” https://www.geekbench.com/blog/2017/12/iphone-performance-and-battery-age/.
  3. Balakrishnan, Anita (2017). “The man who uncovered Apple's software slowdown explains why you should still update your phone” https://www.cnbc.com/2017/12/21/apple-ios-11-slowdown-on-iphone-6s-john-pooles-advice.html.
  4. a b Apple Inc. (2017). https://www.apple.com/iphone-battery-and-performance/
  5. ABC News (2018). https://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/apple-announces-20000-jobs-52419235
  6. Bulow, John (1986). "An Economic Theory of Planned Obsolescence". https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/101/4/729/1840176?redirectedFrom=fulltext.
  7. Burlingham, Bo and Gendron, George (1989). “The Entrepreneur of the Decade”. https://www.inc.com/magazine/19890401/5602.html
  8. Burrows, Peter (1998). "Back to the Future at Apple". https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/1998-05-25/steve-jobs-theres-sanity-returning