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Smartphones get slower as they get older. That’s due to a variety of factors, from aging hardware to bit rot. But if you’re an iOS user, there might be another culprit behind your device’s degrading performance.
Several recent reports have revealed a secret power mode buried within the code of iOS. It’s called “Powerd,” which is “responsible for controlling the CPU/GPU speed and power usage based on iPhone battery health,” according to its discoverer, Brazilian developer Guilherme Rambo. In other words, it deliberately slows down an iOS device’s performance as its batteries age and degrade.
At this point, it’s worth noting how Powerd will likely become a significant talking point in the planned obsolesce narrative. For years, many have theorized that Apple purposely slows down older iPhones to get people to buy new ones.
As iDrop News has covered before, it’s safe to say that this is — still — mostly false. Even with the discovery of Powerd.
Put simply, Powerd has a failsafe built into it that keeps a device’s internals from being overtaxed when its batteries degrade. Put another way, Powerd stops your older iPhone or iPad from overheating, randomly shutting down, or even catching fire if they have a degrading battery.
It also controls CPU power based on thermal pressure. So it’s a very important system to make sure your phone doesn’t catch on fire https://t.co/5q2ZVdEQxk
— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) December 18, 2017
Apple confirmed the use of Powerd in a statement provided to TechCrunch on Wednesday. According to the company, standard lithium-ion batteries become “less capable” of delivering peak current charges as they age (among other reasons). This could result in an iPhone or iPad randomly shutting down to protect its own electrical components.
As such, Apple introduced the Powerd failsafe for the iPhone 6, 6s and SE to “smooth out the smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions.” Apple says it has extended that feature to the iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plans to include it in future products. Presumably, that means devices like the iPhone 8 and iPhone X as they get older.
But, as a consequence, the Powerd failsafe — which operates independently of the Low Power Mode — will continue to slow down an iPhone’s performance as its battery gets older.
Rambo unearthed Powerd on a hunch after reading a series of tests conducted by researcher John Poole of Primate Labs. Poole had found that operating performance for his iPhone 6s had essentially doubled when he simply changed the battery on the device.
Poole later confirmed the discovery with multiple subsequent tests, and actually plotted the kernel density of Geekbench scores recorded for the iPhone 6s running various versions of iOS. According to Poole, iPhone 6s handsets running iOS 11.2.1 showed some signs of being throttled. The issue became “even more pronounced” on devices with iOS 11.2 installed.
Based on the research, Poole said that the “problem” is widespread for iPhone 6, iPhone 7 and even iPhone 8 devices. The issue will “only get worse as phones (and their batteries) continue to age,” he added.
Of course, the primary issue here is not necessarily that iOS has Powerd built into it. There are some obvious safety considerations. The issue is that Apple hasn’t been public with its existence until now. That may have been a result of Apple’s “it just works” way of designing products, but a bit more transparency about Powerd would have benefitted Apple.
Obviously, keeping users in the dark about Powerd doesn’t make Apple look the best. But, going forward, Apple should begin to publicly let users know that a new battery could alleviate a portion of the performance issues on older devices — and in some cases, could be a good alternative to just outright buying a replacement device.
For a company that prides itself on being eco-friendly and consumer-oriented, this could be the only (good) way forward.