Apple’s design decisions and iPhone batteries

“Shorter battery life – Making phones and notebooks as thin as possible and then making them even thinner in each subsequent generation resulted in less volume for batteries. But because the one dimension that reduces a battery’s capacity most is its thickness, battery life of iPhones and MacBooks have suffered,” Phil Baker writes for Tech.pinions. “Battery life of iPhones and the latest line of MacBook Pros are well below expectations and are one of the major user complaints. So much so, the battery indicator no longer displays time left. And, since a battery’s life is based on the number of charging cycles, smaller batteries need more recharging cycles, resulting in a shorter life.”

“Using smaller batteries than most Android phones, means the customer recharges their phones more frequently and they reach the 300 or 500 cycles more quickly than the competition,” Baker writes. “All because thinness was paramount to Apple.”

“Essentially, Apple chose to shorten the product’s useful life,” Baker writes. “You could see how with the iPhone’s popularity and customer loyalty, shortening the life directly relates to more sales. While it may make sense from a financial basis, it seems like it’s not the right thing to do.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Yup.

However, as Hanlon’s razor states: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

Regarding thinness and battery life, as we wrote back in December 2015:

What’d be wrong with slightly thicker iPhone with more battery life and a flush camera assembly?

Yes, we know Apple thinks thinness sets iPhone apart from all other so-called smartphones (actually, it’s the operating system, the software and the ecosystem), but the iPhone 6/Plus and iPhone 6s/Plus are simply too thin to house their camera assembly.

iPhone 6s is 0.28 inch (7.1 mm) thin. Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is 0.27 inch (6.8 mm). The “thicker” iPhone 6s easily outsells the thinner Galaxy S6. Obviously, at this point, the selling point of “thinness” is overrated.

iPhone 6 and 6s has battery life issues for heavy iPhone users (hint: get an Apple Watch. You’ll use your iPhone less and the battery will easily outlast even the longest day).

The law of diminishing returns can also be applied to industrial design. Apple’s eternal quest for thinness eventually runs into issues such as bulging camera assemblies, battery capacity, strength (breakability), etc. – is Apple’s quest for thinness now bordering on the quixotic?

So, is it “you can never be too thin” or is it “thin enough is thin enough?”

SEE ALSO:
Hey Apple, it’s time to give up thinness for bigger, longer-lasting batteries – January 6, 2017
Open thread: What’d be wrong with slightly thicker iPhone with more battery life and a flush camera assembly? – December 21, 2015

Apple now faces over two dozen lawsuits for ‘purposefully’ or ‘secretly’ slowing down older iPhones – January 5, 2018
Why aging batteries don’t slow down Android phones like Apple iPhones – January 5, 2018
Apple’s $29 replacement batteries expected to hurt new iPhone sales – January 4, 2018
How to see if Apple’s throttling your iPhone – January 4, 2018
Brazilian agency requires Apple to inform consumers on batteries – January 3, 2018
Analyst: Apple’s ‘batterygate’ solution may mean 16 million fewer iPhones sold this year – January 3, 2018
An Apple conspiracy theory blooms – January 2, 2018
Apple clarifies policy on $29 battery replacements: All iPhone 6 and later devices are eligible – January 2, 2018
Why Apple’s response to iPhone ‘batterygate’ is brilliant – December 30, 2017
Australian lawyers to launch largest-ever class action against Apple over iPhone ‘batterygate’ – December 29, 2017
The most annoying things about Apple’s iPhone ‘batterygate’ apology – December 29, 2017
iFixit discounts iPhone battery replacement kits as Apple cuts prices, apologizes for the confusion – December 29, 2017
15 class action lawsuits filed against Apple for throttling iPhones with aging batteries – December 29, 2017
Apple apologizes for poor communication about iPhone batteries and performance; slashes battery replacement cost from $79 to $29 – December 28, 2017
No, Apple’s throttling of iPhones with aging batteries is not planned obsolescence – December 28, 2017
Apple execs face jail in France after lawsuit over slowing down iPhones – December 28, 2017
Korea seeks explanation from Apple for slowing down devices without warning – December 28, 2017
Apple now facing 8 lawsuits over throttling processors in iPhones with aging batteries – December 27, 2017
Apple tarnished their brand with clandestine iPhone battery management and processor throttling – December 27, 2017
Should Apple replace aging iPhone batteries for free instead of throttling processor speed? – December 21, 2017
Apple confirms iPhones with older batteries will take hits in performance – December 20, 2017
iPhone performance and battery age – December 18, 2017
Apple met with Chinese regulators to discuss iPhone 6s unexpected shutdowns – February 10, 2017
Rumor: Apple may extend iPhone 6s battery replacement program to iPhone 6 – January 17, 2017
A message from Apple about 
iPhone and unexpected shutdowns – December 2, 2016
Apple offers free battery replacement for ‘very small number’ of iPhone 6s units with unexpected shutdown issue – November 21, 2016

31 Comments

    1. This whole battery size reduction is really becoming a problem cor me.

      My 2017 MacBook Pro has crap battery life and I’m blazing through charge cycles faster than ever.

      My iPhone X has mediocre battery life as well, so same thing.

      This is frustrating.

    2. Im not debating the MacBooks… my point is about iPhones here.

      Where did the Author come up with the ‘5 year ‘ rule? Its a made up rule,.. there is no such rule.
      average upgrady cycle for iPhones has been 2 years; mostly due to contracts, not battery life and the trend has continued post contract era.

      That said… if one does Not mind thick, why not use a battery case… it will solve all issues mentioned. Phone will be thicker for thick lovers..
      Charge will last longer and there will be less need for recharges.. improving battery longavity.

      So why the rant when a simple battery case will address all of the above. Most use a case anyway… buy a battery case.

      Yet if Apple chose to make the phone thick to start with… how would one make it thinner if the wanted to?
      Apple chose a path that offers both solutions.

      Plus i dont see how they shortened the life of the product by implementing the throtteling? they actually extended the use of the phone.
      Its much more likely for one to upgrade if their phone is randomnly shutting down left and right vs if its running a bit slower.

      There is just too much undue frenzy ….and the competition is loving feeding the fire through fud .

      But i whole heartedly agree… they screwed up in the communication department.

        1. Apple did not select a two year product life for the newer iPhones. The BATTERIES have had a 500 to 750 charge cycle life for some time, and have even been improved from the original iPhone’s 350 to 500 charge cycle announced when it was released. This whole design choice claim is BOGUS.

            1. From what is reported, it seems that the throttling is based on the onboard battery condition so the battery case will definitely lengthen the period between (wall charger) charges but will not eliminate any throttling that is currently being implemented.

  1. Having read the original article, it should be mandatory reading for anyone remotely interested in facts. IMO it’s quite condemning, and Phil Baker is no Apple enemy. Neither is Techpinions, quite the contrary, they carry the narrative.

    1. There are few facts in this article. This Baker character may have done what he claims in his thumbnail bio, but given his bio, he has NEVER done it for mobile devices. He really does not know what he is talking about with these batteries. . . or mobile devices.

      1. He demonstrates it by claiming the decision was made for the PRODUCT, not the battery, which is a CONSUMABLE. The iPhone itself has a much longer life span than just two years. Replace the depleted battery (which is a matter of chemistry and physics, not thickness or thinness as he ignorantly claims) and the operation of the device returns to normal and will continue operating that way until the new, consumable battery is again consumed with use. That shows he is an idiot.

        That is like saying that a car is no longer usable and has reached its usable life when the gas tank is empty.

    1. My perspective on the phone side is a bit different..

      I love thin….and for my level of use there is more than enough battery capacity.

      This is how i see it :

      If u dont like thin and want more battery life…u can always add a bulkier battery case. Resulting in a thicker phone with longer charge.

      But if u do like thin and have more than enough battery capacity, you can not shave off your phone to become thinner.

      So Apple chose the route that offers both options… not just 1.

  2. What I never understand is why Apple always has to have the smallest capacity batteries of all the major smartphones. They’re usually smaller by quite a margin. Nearly all major Android smartphones have a battery capacity of 3000 mAh and over while the iPhone X has a battery capacity of a measly 2700 mAh. If the iPhone X had at least a 3000 mAh battery it could probably outlast 95% of all flagship smartphones in those battery life tests.

    I just don’t get what Apple is trying to prove with those smallish capacity batteries. Is Apple trying to save money on battery cost or just trying to have the thinnest smartphones. Why does Apple give Android smartphones such an advantage in battery life? It’s almost as though Apple is trying to lose out to other manufacturers in those battery drainage tests.

  3. In my opinion, the conspiracy theorists are in error. First, battery technology has improved – batteries provide greater energy per unit volume (energy density) than they did in 2007. Second, the electronics have shrunk and the display has gotten much thinner, so the majority of a modern iOS device consists of batteries. Check the specs and you will see that the energy capacity in iPhones has increased year over year since the original iPhone.

    But we are using our iOS devices more frequently than in 2007 – more apps, more sensors, more content to access, more social media and 24/7 push notifications. In addition, we are doing more complex things on our iOS devices requiring more capable processors to meet the ever increasing demands of the public – faster, faster, faster! As a result, peak processor demands can overtax the surge capability of an aging battery.

    We are using our devices more intensely and for longer than just a couple of years ago. This is not Apple’s fault – it is actually a credit to Apple that people love the modern smartphone.

    Keep in mind that Apple did not have to take steps to keep iOS devices going past the 80% capacity/500 charge cycle warranty threshold. They could have just let people experience intermittent performance issues as aging batteries failed to support more intense energy peaks. But they didn’t…they did the Apple thing and tried to make things better for the user. I, for one, greatly appreciate that effort. In addition, I have not forgotten that Apple played a lead role in greatly increasing useful battery life in mobile devices. I have an iPhone 4 that still works after a lot of use from four different people over the years. That is saying something, in my opinion.

    I am not willing to jump on the “evil Apple” bandwagon that seems to be the rage in the media and even on this site. That is not because I am a “fanboy,” although I am certainly a long-term advocate for Apple. It is because I have always received great value from my Apple devices over the last several decades – far better value than other consumer electronics products – and I have no reason to believe that the company has suddenly lost its core values and become like the rest of the corporate world. Apple publicly disclosed the changes in its software. The only failing on Apple’s part is that it did not make more of an effort to inform the average user and include more detailed diagnostic information and guidance on its devices. I honestly believe that Apple did not think that this effort to extend the lifetime of iOS devices would be controversial.

    Ask yourself – what is Samsung doing in terms of batteries and power management? Amazon? Google? I would like to see the whole picture before the world converges its outrage on one company – perhaps the one least deserving of the outrage. Too many people nowadays are eager to jump on any conspiracy bandwagon that comes along.

    1. While I agree with your post, you’re missing the point of the article. The article is not giving Apple a hard time for their decision to throttle devices who’s batteries are suffering from voltage problems. Rather, the point of the article is that the problem could have been avoided altogether if Apple shipped larger batteries with their phones. The thinking is that larger batteries would require fewer recharge cycles which in turn extends the effective life of the battery.
      On a personal note, I think the battery life of iPhones are just fine and I’ve not run into such issues. However, the overall reasoning behind this article is sound. To that end, why have “good enough” batteries as opposed to best in class batteries?

      1. Fair enough. I was responding more to the general public/media reaction than the specific point of the article.

        Why not larger batteries? That is a fair question. As with pretty much every design decision, battery capacity is an integrated and coupled element that must be blended with the rest of the design drivers. A larger battery means larger size/internal volume and higher weight. And it takes longer to charge a larger battery, as well, given that iOS devices charge at either 1A for the normal iPhone power adapter, or up to 2.1A using fast-charge adapters. Either way, it is going to take longer to charge a larger battery than a smaller one using the same technology. A larger battery will also cost more, although I suspect that the cost delta would be relatively small at the component scales that Apple consumes.

        As with pretty much all Apple devices, the company tends to keep the number of models limited. That means design compromises that Apple believes best addresses the needs of the many. The consequence is that Apple sometimes fails to satisfy the needs of smaller groups of users. In some cases, Apple’s design group may miss the sweet spot in their design compromises. In other cases, I believe that Apple relies on third party developers to bridge the gaps, such as with cases that include supplementary battery capacity.

        With only a few models of each type of Apple device, the company is never going to satisfy everyone. Some people will sacrifice performance or size or materials for lower cost. Others desire user accessibility and expandability above other factors. Others desire low noise or small form factors to blend in with their work/home applications. Still others want maximum performance with cost being a lesser consideration. Overall, Apple seems to do a pretty darn good job of threading the needle, in my opinion.

        For those who tout the larger batteries of Android devices, please consider that Android devices tended to need larger batteries (at least in the early years) to approach the same battery life as the iPhone. Also, to be fair, it would be worth investigating how many Android users experience performance issues after a couple of years – perhaps the “hands-off” approach to power/battery management isn’t all that good for users?

        Also, it seems possible to me that Apple is in the crosshairs because their devices tend to last longer, both because of build quality and because Apple provides regular iOS updates that keep their phones more relevant over time. In contrast, if you routinely discard your Android phone every couple of years for the next 2-for-1 deal at Best Buy and that phone never receives an Android update (which appears to be the norm), then people do not encounter these problems and Samsung and Google don’t need to worry about the details.

        It seems likely to me that Apple is getting into trouble for trying to do too much for the user. Keep that in mind – do you really want to sue Apple into behaving like the rest of the consumer electronics industry?

      2. No, they could not have avoided this problem completely. The problem does not go away with “thicker” batteries. No matter how thick the battery, it STILL will be chemically depleted after approximately 500 recharge cycles. That is unavoidable. It WILL happen. . . and more modern applications and a more modern iOS which is designed for a processor/GPU with more cores and faster operation will have upgraded apps that hit the processor/GPU much harder, demanding more of a powerdraw on that now chemically depleted batter than it can deliver.

        You seem to fail to grasp that insurmountable fact of physics and chemistry. No amount of redesign will get around the failing of the technology as it now stands.

        1. What you seem to fail to grasp is basic math. The phone is going to do the same amount of work, regardless of the battery size. The smaller the battery, the more charging cycles are required to complete the work. The more charging cycles, the sooner the battery begins to fail.
          While this doesn’t eliminate the problem entirely, it most certainly reduces the number of instances or cases where the battery fails.

    2. All the factors you mention are in play and more.

      That still doesn’t justify why the richest company in the world charges premium prices for cell phone with 10% less battery capacity than the competition.

      Apple has convinced everyone that the iPhone is a pocket computer they cannot live without for a millisecond. So knowing that more intense duty cycling will be demanded by people using the device as advertised, Apple is just being cheap.

      Also, the fugly batter pack Apple sells is proof positive that Apple knows its built in battery is marginal at best.

      1. Because with a new battery that is NOT DEPLETED, that battery is sufficient for the energy draws of that device. It does NOT NEED that wattage that the competition MUST have to operate normally. That’s why. Those extra watts don’t matter when it’s depleted because the chemically depleted batteries STILL have charge. They just cannot supply it fast enough due to that depleted state like they could when they were fresh. The CHARGE is still there. . . the response is not.

  4. This whole mess could have been avoided by putting in a battery compartment where users could swap out an older battery and keep going for a nominal cost and minimal difficulty.

    The iPhone is a maturing platform and the differences between generations is generally less than earlier in development, so many should be expected to want to hold on to the phones for a longer time. Back when the technology jumps were bigger, few who could afford to kept their phones when an upgrade was available.

    At this point, Apple should integrate a user replaceable battery into at least one iPhone model. I would gladly buy one and doubt I am alone.

  5. My perspective on the phone side is a bit different..

    I love thin….and for my level of use there is more than enough battery capacity.

    This is how i see it :

    If u dont like thin and want more battery life…u can always add a bulkier battery case. Resulting in a thicker phone with longer charge.

    But if u do like thin and have more than enough battery capacity, you can not shave off your phone to become thinner.

    So Apple chose the route that offers both options… not just 1.

  6. This all comes down to Services Revenue it is way up and for good reason. Apple is working hard to make it so you have to bring you iPhone, MacBook eat in for service more often.

    My issue with the iPhone slow down when battery is aging out is this should show up so we can decide when to replace the battery. This is not happening and I believe for 1 reason. If my iPhone indicates the battery needs service and I have Apple Care the replacement is free. So you won’t see this indicator show up till after Apple Care expires.

    On another note, I had to take my daughters 2016 MacBook Pro in for service because of some bad keys. I was told they had to replace the whole top assembly witch includes the battery, had it not been under warranty the cost would be $660 Canadian (Aprx $500 U.S.) so when you need to replace that battery my guess is you will be hit with the same charge ouch.

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