Does your iPhone feel like it gets slower the moment the latest Apple smartphone gets released?
You’re not alone. Google Trends shows a spike in searches from people simply for “iPhone slow” the moment Apple releases its latest iPhone, showing that people perceive their older iPhones to suddenly slow down.
The Havard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan presented Google Trends data on the New York Times to posit that this could be a deliberate, preprogrammed action, to spur people to buy new iPhones.
While that is possible by any company who makes complex electronics and software – the Phoebus cartel of the 1920s and 1930s proved companies were willing to intentionally hobble their products to get consumers to buy more – it is highly unlikely in this case.
Bloated systems slow everything down
Smartphones and tablets suffer from similar issues to desktop and laptop computers. The longer they run, the more digital debris and detritus their software collects. Left over files, broken interlinks and conflicting software can quickly cause issues, tying up the device’s processor unnecessarily and making other necessary functions slow down.
Meanwhile the demands made of the processing hardware of devices by software ever increases as the systems and techniques improve and allow more and more powerful solutions to be developed.
The Facebook app for instance, does far more and requires far more of the hardware now than when it was first released, as does the Twitter app, Safari, Mail, and even the Guardian’s own app.
As apps get updated to do new things they can become slower on older hardware, but it might go unnoticed at first, until someone points it out. Hearing about a new smartphone release reminds the user that their phone is older, making them more sensitive to the lag and stutter they might previously have ignored.
A similar thing happens with cars when a faster, more powerful model is released, making an older (though still shiny) car seem a little less new and seem a little less quick off the mark.
But where Apple’s iPhone is more or less unique is that the release of a new iPhone also brings a new version of Apple’s iOS software for older iPhones, typically within days.
As the software improves and adds more features it demands more of the hardware, and could make older models feel slower than they previously were.
Millions of iPhone users promptly upgrade to the latest software when it is released, instantly highlighting small and subtle changes. Users excitedly update their smartphones and pore over every little aspect, causing many to wonder, "does it feel slower?".
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