Developers, learn from the iPhone battery glitch

Apple is forcing all of its older iPhone and iPad users to buy new devices by throttling their batteries as they get older. Countries that perceive this as unsavoury forced obsolescence have demanded Apple executives explain themselves. Class action lawsuits were launched, as Apple finds its business practices coming under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny. Apple has always been a lightening rod for both passion and angst, and there have no doubt been times in the past where Apple’s business practices were worthy of the public lashings it may have taken. But when it comes to the controversy over the legacy iPhone battery glitch, the backlash and public derision the company has suffered is not warranted. But, it is an important situation for developers to keep in mind.

The new iPhone battery update for legacy phones is actually a great feature. It’s a feature that we have not only in phones, but also on our desktop and laptop computers. On desktops it’s simply called Power Save. It’s that feature that enables your computer to reduce the power consumption to increase the amount of time your battery lasts on a single charge. Windows has it, Linux has it and Mac OS has it. Even Android phones have it too.

Will it slow down your computer? Yes it will. Does it give you less functionality than when you are not in power mode? Yes it does. But it is a powerful feature to help in situations where the battery is about to die.

So how is this new iPhone battery “glitch” any different from the corresponding one that Linux and Windows desktop users already enjoy?

I know what you are thinking: Power Save mode is optional on the desktop, and it can be turned on and off, and it is just to make a single charge last longer, rather than  about the life of my battery. And it is only on rare occasions that I would ever use it. Power Save mode is just that. However, what if you wanted to make your battery life last longer over many charges — wouldn’t it be a great feature to have too? It is just an extension of this design model.

Let us say you have a battery that lasts two years and allows 500 charges. Batteries have different ranges, but let’s assume they are all the same for this discussion.

If you have an Android phone and never use Power Save mode, at the end of two years, your phone battery dies. You now have to go get a new phone.

If you have an iPhone and never use Power Save mode and Apple did not code special protection for the battery, at the end of two years, you too will have a dead phone and battery which you now have to replace.

Now, let’s take the special Power Save mode Apple has developed. As the battery is getting closer to its two-year end of life, Apple will put it into this special Power Save mode so that the battery/phone now lasts longer than two years. Now you are getting a better longer lasting phone and reducing any planned obsolescence. How is that a bad thing? It’s really not an iPhone battery glitch.

It is a bad thing in one way and only one way — performance. That is the trade off Apple chose to take here. We can give up some speed nearer to the two year time span and make the phone last longer. Is it a bad thing that the speed is slower? Is it a great thing that the phone actually lasts longer?

It all depends on your perspective. Extend the battery life at the expense of performance near the end of life of the battery, or keep the battery life as is and cause earlier upgrades — which would you choose? I think that determines what your perspective will be towards Apple.

As a software developer, we make these trade off choices everyday. For instance, I am always asking questions like: do I write an SQL query to grab the data that might create a very complex SQL String with many joins that is extremely fast; or maybe use a couple of simple queries to gather some Java Entity objects that will be easier to loop through and do work on, are slower than the query, but much easier to understand, maintain and write. This happens a lot when writing reports in Jasper. I could write a 300-500 line SQL query inside the Jasper Report file, or write 20 lines of code to gather a List of Entities I can pass to the report.

From my perspective, I would have chosen to make the batteries last longer and therefore allow users to use the devices for longer. Performance is also very subjective; sometimes what appears to be slow might appear very fast to someone else.

But you can’t say that extending the battery life is a form of planned obsolescence or an iPhone battery glitch. And in recent news, Apple says in an upcoming release of iOS that it will become an option to turn it on and off, making it exactly like Power Save mode on computers.

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