The real Apple iPhone battery scandal is that it took control away from customers

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  • Apple has confirmed a longtime conspiracy theory: Some older iPhones have their performance downgraded automatically by iOS.
  • Apple says it’s for a good technical reason, which is that as iPhone batteries naturally degrade over time, high power drains can cause the phone to restart. By throttling performance, iOS increases performance.
  • But if Apple is serious that there’s a good technical reason for this, it should give users the option.

On Wednesday, Apple acknowledged that there’s a large element of truth to a modern urban legend: The iOS operating system throttles performance on some iPhones and iPads that have older batteries.

This “power management” feature first came to iPhones in 2016, Apple says. There are good reasons for Apple to have done this, not least that some older batteries cause iPhones to randomly shut down or restart when the phone is running at peak performance.

That doesn’t really matter here. What matters is that Apple made the decision on behalf of users to enable this setting. There’s no option to turn it on or off. Worse yet, the decision was made in secret, with no official word from Apple that this “feature” even existed. Oh, and you can’t replace an iPhone battery yourself.

In so doing, not only did it keep a secret from customers, who now have plenty of reason to mistrust Apple about anything ever again. It also took the choice away from users and made loyal customers feel as if they were being paranoid.

If Apple really wants to set this right, it has a pretty easy solution available: Make it an option in the settings. Let users choose whether they want to slow down their phone to preserve reliability. For bonus points, iOS could even send a push alert when the battery has gotten to the point where enabling that setting is urgent.

Ultimately, the result is the same: a lousier iPhone experience. But at least this way customers have some modicum of control. And even if they do decide to upgrade to a new iPhone, at least it would be a more informed purchase.

This whole debacle, unfortunately, is entirely in character for Apple, which prides itself on making strong design choices that sometimes take choice away from the user – like the still-frustrating decision to remove the headphone jack. This time, though, Apple may have stepped too far over the line. Now, it needs to take action.