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Apple’s response to its iPhone slowdown controversy is good — and a lesson to be more proactive about communicating

In the meantime, here’s a $30 battery swap.

Apple CEO Tim Cook
A solid mea culpa from Tim Cook’s Apple.
Justin Sullivan / Getty

Apple’s latest iPhone controversy — that the company was caught slowing down some old iPhones to prevent them from shutting off unexpectedly — has become its biggest stain in years.

But Apple’s response today is a good one. In an unsigned letter to customers posted on its website, the company:

  • Apologized in the first paragraph.
  • Stated on the record that it has “never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades.”
  • Provided a transparent, believable explanation of why it was slowing down old phones, including a timeline of the changes and a complete list of the affected devices.
  • Announced it was cutting the cost of getting an old iPhone battery replaced out-of-warranty to $29 (seems reasonable) from its previous price of $79 (kind of a lot).
  • Announced it would provide more visibility into the health of your iPhone’s battery in an iOS update early next year.
  • Promised its team was “working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.”

Clear and good.

And noticeably different than, say, “Antennagate” in 2010, when Steve Jobs’s Apple first responded by telling users they were holding their phones wrong, then changed the way the iPhone’s antenna signal bars looked, then later scrambled to invite a handful of friendly reporters to Apple HQ for a tour of the company’s antenna-testing facilities, and finally offered all iPhone 4 buyers free cases to help fix the problem.

But: Different times, different leaders, different markets.

Apple had only sold about 60 million iPhones at that point. Since then, it has sold more than a billion.

The iPhone is a truly mainstream product, and little smartphone quirks — and the conspiracy theories that go along with them — are now everyone’s reality and daily obsession. It’s not just tech-nerd Twitter that discusses these problems today. Even a short Uber ride in Los Angeles last weekend exposed me to Top 40 radio for long enough to hear the DJ talking about Batterygate, assuming the worst of Apple for slowing down old phones.

So, how to avoid this in the future? In this case, a little proactive communication could have gone a long way, and should be Apple’s big lesson here. If Apple had noted to individual iPhone users that their batteries were getting old — and that it could lead to reduced performance — this probably would have never been an issue.

A simple one-time alert that effectively says hey, your battery is losing its potency so we’re going to manage your phone a little more to keep it stable would have been a good start, in hindsight. Or at very least, the battery info tool that Apple is now building.

It might have spurred some frustration, or complaints, or even some reluctant battery replacements or iPhone upgrades. But it wouldn’t have caused an uproar like this, where Apple’s entire hard-won reputation is being debated for what’s really a pretty minor thing.

This article originally appeared on

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