In December 2017, Apple confirmed that they were deliberately throttling CPU on iPhones with degraded batteries, which means that the processing speed of old devices were slowed down. Although Apple clarified that the purpose of this action was to bring the best experience for customers by preventing unexpected shutting down, it was not convincing enough for the public. It is topical that whether or not Apple can choose for the customers between longer devices run and higher performance.
Argument over this ethical issue is made from two sides of view, some supports Apple while others are against it. The response to the problem after debate is that, it is morally good for Apple to throttling CPU, but needs to be more transparent.
Apple is Optimising
From technical perspective, throttling CPU performance is an essential measure to prevent sudden shutting down and conforms to Kant theory. Due to data accumulation and natural aging of the lithium-ion battery in a smartphone, higher electrical power is required to complete the same operation than a new battery, which makes the device shutdown under peak operation to protect its electronic units. Throttling instantaneous peak is a technical agreement with a profession norm of electronic product manufacturing industry, in order to mitigate batteries ageing and smooth out overall performance. Therefore, focusing on the action itself, it is a good action based on Kant theory.
Moreover, CPU throttling through system updating might be the most effective, economical and wide-covered method. Compared with batteries replacement by recalling, logistical fees and extra capital investment is reduced for Apple and waiting time is saved for the customers. As the adoption rate of IOS 11 among iPhone users has reached 52% by November 2017, it was concluded to benefit more users than recalling. Therefore this measure conformed to utilitarianism by providing the greatest convenience to the largest number of users.
For engineers, code of conduct obliges their responsible behaviours. Following virtue ethics to be professional and objective, the prior concern of engineers is to make the life of device longer for customers and eliminates the likelihood of unexpected situations which may result in data loss. Furthermore, engineers are responsible to reduce the environmental contamination caused by the products. Since eventually all batteries will be disposed of and are quite hazardous wastes, prolonging the battery life is a useful way to lessen the adverse impact to the environment.
Moreover, the welfare and happiness brought to related industry are certainly a strong reason to throttle CPU. According to the utilitarianism criterion for good and bad, actions whose consequences lead to most values, including human pleasure, happiness, or welfare, should be chosen. In this case, properly shortening products lifetime would result in customers either replacing a new battery or purchasing a new iPhone more frequently. The acceleration of products consumption cycle provides more profits for shareholders and investment available for technology development of Apple. Additionally, technology and overall development of smartphone industry would be promoted in order to stay competent with Apple and more job opportunities can be created in related industries.
Finally, this measure is a good strategy on public relationship to solve technical problems without damaging reputation of the brand among customers. In this case, frequent shutting down is considered as a quality problem, updating IOS systems without informing the customer is a customer-oriented marketing strategy as faulty product would degrade the customer trust and further potentially decreases the selling quantity.
Apple is Depriving
Customers are using products that perform slowly due to this surreptitious behaviour from Apple. It hinders customers to acknowledge full product quality, which breaches the freedom principle. Meanwhile, the action also infringes the legislation rights to know. According to Customer Rights Act, customer should be offered with fair terms in a contract, and the information provided by Apple is clearly lack of transparency.
On the other hand, in terms of company, the integrated-processor speed of smartphone is still one of the main pursuits for buyers according to the market survey, and products such as iPhone SE is marked as the top 10 fastest in the business during 2016. By underclocking the devices to make battery last longer, Apple is also degrading own feature value in the smartphone races which can cause potential profits loss.
Technically speaking, based on Kant theory, Apple misapprehends the action itself as they should have developed an algorithm to distinguish battery health status rather than abruptly limiting all the CPU performance. Take iPhone 6 as an example, originally the device operates at 1400MHz frequency, but after throttling it can only perform 600MHz peak. This ultra conservative action may guarantee some users, who suffer from extreme battery wear to avoid emergencies, while the majority of the users are forced to accept unnecessary sacrifice on their phone performance without a second option. This occurs contradictions and not applicable to all people, which is against the Kant theory. To solve this controversy, ‘Battery health’ function is shown up in the latest iOS update, and users now can turn off the battery-throttling alternative. This feature proves Apple is capable of making more customer-friendly decision, however, Apple has not made further movements to fully allow devices to take measurements itself, such as throttling CPU when using high power consumption Apps or freezing background Apps when launching camera. In addition, since the current Apple battery generally fails to supply peak output, new competent batteries should be designed for recalling and replacing former devices, and further utilized in sequential products.
A large number of App developers also suffer huge loss from this action, especially those designated to run with high CPU performance. To provide better user experiences, they engaged in optimizing the performance of their products at the expense of a large amount of investment and time, while Apple made their efforts in vain, and even worse because the users blamed them for the unsatisfied experience. The slowing-down behaviour is clearly a hindrance towards the App developers which is against Freedom Principle.