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Do Smartphone Manufacturers Purposely Slow Down Your Old Phone?

Nov 01, 2018

Do Smartphone Manufacturers Purposely Slow Down Your Old Phone?

Cell Phone Speed Conspiracy: Is your software upgrade a ploy to slow down your phone?

Many smartphone users complain about new phone upgrades slowing down their phone. Does your phone company purposely slow down phones? Mobile service providers or carriers are certainly not going to do this. But is this a conspiracy by phone manufacturers and distributors to drive sales - or something else?

New upgrades and old phones don’t always mix due to lack of storage.

Here's one of many alleged claims: "With the newest phone coming out, my old phone suddenly started slowing down. You know what this is, right? It is planned obsolescence on the part of the big tech companies. Their products are designed to self-destruct just after warranties run out or new models come available. They are sticking it to the little guys, and it is just not fair."

Planned obsolescence has all the earmarks of a great conspiracy theory. Many credible websites are claiming that you have got the greedy companies profiting off the common consumer, the believable-sounding motive that devices are designed to fail with every new phone coming out, and anecdotal proof it must be true (My grandfather still uses the same toaster he bought back in '65 - They made products to last back then!).

Is planned obsolescence in cell phones really a thing? Plenty of people certainly believe their older model phones slow down when new models are released: The New York Times reports between September and November of 2017, when the iPhone 8 and iPhone X were released, searches for "iPhone slow" jumped by 50 percent. So are companies really slowing down older phones to trick consumers into buying new models, or are other, less insidious factors at work?

The argument for planned obsolescence.

First of all, planned obsolescence is enough of a possibility some countries have laws preventing or punishing the practice by companies. France has one such law, making it a crime for a company to intentionally shorten the lifespan of a product to encourage consumers to upgrade to a new model. In early 2018, the French government launched an investigation into Apple, after the tech giant admitted it was deliberately slowing older iPhone models through software upgrades.

This practice certainly looks like planned obsolescence on the surface, but it is important to understand Apple's reasoning for the deed. The company insists it slows older model iPhones through a phone upgrade because battery performance diminished over time, interfering with usable performance levels. The company now offers the option of disabling the slowdown.

France isn't the only nation investigating cell phone companies. Italy's antitrust organization, the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato, began two investigations in 2018 - One against Apple and one against Samsung. Both investigations seek to determine if the companies use phone upgrades to slow older devices, and whether the companies need to be clearer about the effects of software updates. If proven, both companies could find themselves in conflict with Italy's consumer protection code.

So planned obsolescence is a thing!

Well... maybe. Or maybe not. Other factors are at play if you're suffering from new iPhone update problems - Factors that have little to do with nefarious plots on the part of the cell phone industry and more to do with timing and how we use our phones. Let us deal with Android and iPhone problems after updates first.

Operating System Issues.

Cell phone makers tend to release operating system upgrades in conjunction with their newest phone coming out. A phone upgrade can slow down your phone if it requires more space and does not leave much memory room for saving all the files you try to save in the future. That, in essence, may cause slow down. Therefore, an upgrade itself does not contain a phone-destroying kill switch! Migration is a one time procedure that happens during the time of OS upgrade. It doesn’t slow down your phone on a daily basis.

The truth is much simpler: A phone OS upgrade is a very complicated process. All your files, photos, and settings must be migrated to the new OS. This takes time and eats processing power while it is doing it (thus freezes your phone while it is being performed). What feels like new iPhone update problems are often simply slowdowns due to shortage of free storage in some phones after new files are installed. Therefore, check the size of the new upgrade files and ensure you have room after installation. A few hundred MB should be fine as long as you don't plan to store even more data afterwards in the future.

There's another reason a phone upgrade can interfere with phone performance. When engineers design an OS upgrade, they are working with clean, blank phones. The same upgrade that works seamlessly with a blank phone may run into problems with it encounters 300 apps, 1,000 photos, and personalized settings. Add to this the fact a phone upgrade is always designed with the newest model in mind, and you can see how an older phone might struggle to deal with a new OS (especially storage-wise).

Storage issues and older phones.

The iPhone XS comes with 64, 256, or a whopping 512 GB of storage space. Just because you have 64 GB of storage, however, doesn’t mean you should use every byte. Smartphones use flash storage, which stores data across multiple points on the drive. When you open a file or app, the data is pulled from all these points - but that is not the cause of slowness. Slow processing occurs when most of your storage is full, making retrieval sluggish.

Fragmentation.

As discussed before, file fragmentation does not slow down phones. A full drive can appear sluggish but keeping even a few hundred Megabytes free should suffice. Files are deliberately fragmented thanks to Solid State storage technology which improves the lifespan of NAND storage. Access times are hundreds of times faster on mobiles than on traditional hard drives.

How apps respond to the newest phone coming out.

Third party app developers may not have the resources to respond to older phone OS upgrades. Instead, they focus on the most recent models of phone because their app future sales are dependent on them, and these are the models that will be in use the longest. It is a matter of economic sense for app makers - do you focus on the phones with a two to three-year lifespan, or write code for older models that may only see another few months worth of use?

Unplanned Obsolescence.

Before we move on discussing what to do with old phones to improve their performance, there's one other factor in the planned obsolescence debate we need to discuss: Ourselves. Consumer demand dictates every decision a cell phone manufacturer makes, and in retrospect, some of those decisions look like planned obsolescence. Non-replaceable phone batteries are a case in point.

Cell phones used to come with replaceable batteries, which extended the phones’ serviceable lives. Once the battery died, the user simply popped it out and added a new one. Today's cell phones don't have replaceable batteries. Instead they have built-in lithium ion batteries with life cycles of approximately 500 full charge and discharges, giving most batteries a two to three-year life.

Cell phone companies switched to built-in batteries because we, the consumers, wanted phones that were thinner and lighter. Phones with replaceable batteries were by necessity thicker and didn’t sell as well as sleek, thin phones with built-ion batteries, so the market went with the built-in option. In this case, at least, there was no conspiracy - just the natural effects of consumer demand.

What to do with old phones?

Does it really matter if new iPhone update problems slow down your phone due to planned obsolescence or not? The result, after all, is the same - A slow, sluggish device. What to do with old phones other than give in and buy the latest model? Here are a few suggestions:

How to speed up my phone.

  • During a phone upgrade, don't be too quick to click that convenient little upgrade button right away. Doing so forces your phone to migrate all your data to the new OS. Instead, backup your data, perform a factory reset, and then upgrade to the new system. The upgrade will take place faster and perform with greater reliability. Once the upgrade is complete, use your cloud backup to restore your data.
  • The more free storage you have, the better your phone operates. Back up photos and documents into the cloud, then remove any you don't use regularly to free up storage. Removing little-used apps will also free up space. There will be a cost, though (starting at $2 per month) because Apple has lofty plans of creating recurring income for themselves with their iCloud service.
  • Watch for consumer bias. With a new phone model now available, it is tempting to judge your old phone's performance harshly. Sometimes it is not that your old phone is operating slower than it used to, only that it suffers in comparison with the latest model.

Is it really your phone?

Sometimes slow speeds and poor phone performance aren't the fault of your cellphone at all. A slow or intermittent Wi-Fi system will slow any phone's online operations to a crawl. Investing in a new wifi signal booster can improve phone performance when using wifi, as can installing a cell phone signal booster in your home or workplace for using fast mobile data network.

Overall, if you experience smartphone problems after updates and the release of newer model phones, chances are good it has less to do with planned obsolescence and more to do with your operating system. Of course, we're not saying phone companies wouldn't get away with planned obsolescence if they could, and we're watching the European investigations with interest. We're just saying there are less sinister reasons for an older cell phone to perform sluggishly.

Resources used:

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/23/were-are-all-losers-to-gadget-industry-built-on-planned-obsolescence

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/technology/personaltech/new-iphones-slow-tech-myth.html

https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/18/16906658/apple-samsung-investigation-italian-antitrust-planned-obsolescence-software-slowdown

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ewanspence/2015/04/02/smartphone-obsolescence-android-iphone/#384002582fc8

https://hackaday.com/2018/09/24/planned-obsolescence-isnt-a-thing-but-its-your-fault/


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  • I was just reading somebody’s comment on this page that suggested that the telephone companies were making the phones thinner by making the batteries permanent near impossible to replace. I have an LG Stylo 3 my friend has a LG Stylo 4 same size screen same everything no thinner his battery is not removable I is I think the companies are doing it so we cannot replace the batteries I need to replace the phone.

    Mike Rohr on
  • When people ask, what can interfere with cell phone signals, they have no idea of the scope of the problem. There are a number of factors affecting cell phone signals ranging from tower proximity to weather to building materials, and now I’ve learned, make and models of cell phones. This article is a good complement to another article (elsewhere on the site) that asks whether cell phone companies purposely slow signals on older phones. I think this article challenges the assumption they do (but I wouldn’t put anything past them). Our ongoing quest to increase the mobile network in our homes has a lot of obstacles as you can see.

    Marty Bentley on
  • This is a subject my friends and I discuss, especially when it comes to Apple. I don’t do Apple, but I’ve asked does Samsung slow down older phones? There’s enough anecdotal evidence out there and the stories perpetuated by the media to make you think Samsung is slowing down their older phones (as well as Apple). However, I think your article raises some good points about other reasons why older phones slow down. There’s also the problem all cell phone users face (regardless of whether they have old phones or new phones)—the dreaded weak cell phone signals from cell towers. If you’re getting a weak signal, you can have a phone right out of the box and it’s still going to underperform.

    Mickey C. on

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