The new iPhone comes out today. Is Apple slowing down your old device to make you buy the new one?

Stock photo of an iPhone. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The new iPhone XR comes out Friday, and while some people might be lining up outside Apple stores to buy the latest device from the tech giant, conspiracy theorists have a different plan—wait until Apple intentionally slows down their old iPhones to the point of obsolescence. Then they’ll either buy a new one, or boycott Apple altogether.  

This theory, that Apple purposely slows down old devices as a ploy to make people buy new products, has been around for years. But is today actually doomsday for old iPhones?

Not quite.

It’s true that Apple used to slow down old iPhones. The company admitted to it last December, further fueling conspiracy theories, and was fined by Italy’s antitrust organization this week for intentionally using software updates to reduce performance. But Apple claimed that slowing down phones was an attempt to maintain the lifespan of old batteries, not a nefarious business scheme, as skeptics speculate.

Better batteries = faster phones

Ever since last year’s scandal, Apple has prioritized ways to preserve older iPhones. For example, the company decided to reduce the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement from $79 to $29 until December 2018.

But do new batteries actually improve the speed of your phone?

“Your phone will never be as fast as the day you bought it, so it’s really a question of minimizing how slow it gets,” said David Choffnes, an assistant professor in the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern. “When it comes to slow operating speed, the biggest culprits are usually apps that run in the background and use up a lot of battery power.”

Healthy batteries are necessary for supporting apps that use a lot of power. This includes messaging apps, which require a lot of memory and are constantly running in order to notify users when they have messages, according to Choffnes.

If batteries are old, iPhones will sacrifice speed for stability and run slower to prevent random shutdowns.

So a new battery won’t make your phone run like new, but it will probably improve the operating speed and prevent any further decline in performance.

iOs 12 improves old iPhone performance

Incompatible operating systems are also to blame for slowing down older iPhone models, but Apple’s new software, iOs 12.0.1, is supposed to improve the speed of old iPhones. (In the past, old iPhones have slowed down when paired with operating systems designed for new models).

When you update the software on a device, but everything else about that device stays the same, that new software, which is probably designed for a more powerful system, might overwhelm the old phone, making it slower, according to Choffnes.

New operating systems sometimes take up more space than previous versions, and “if the software is eating up more memory, then there’s less memory left over for apps, and that could also slow down your phone,” Choffnes said.

Delete unused apps

To improve the performance of your old iPhone, Choffnes suggested freeing up space by deleting apps, especially those that use a lot of battery power. “The same way people take clothes they don’t wear out of their closet, people should delete apps they don’t use,” he said.

iPhone users can determine which apps use the most power by going into their iPhone’s settings and selecting “battery.” Here users can see which apps use the most power, even when they’re just running in the background.