Is a software update slowing my phone?

Apple and Samsung have been fined millions after an Italian watchdog found their software updates had slowed their phones.

Both companies urged people to install updates that weren’t “adequately supported by their devices,” the Italian Competition Authority said.

It added that Apple and Samsung had failed to warn customers the update would slow the phone. This pushed consumers to buy new devices, the watchdog said.

Both companies deny this charge.

So how do you know if an update has slowed your phone?

And should you trust the next update?

What phones are affected?

The Italian watchdog looked at:

  • Galaxy Note 4 users who downloaded an update from May 2016 (the update was based on the new ‘Marshmallow’ Android OS).
  • iPhone 6 users (including 6Plus and 6s/6sPlus) who downloaded iOS 10 from September 2016. This shortened the battery life and caused sudden shutdowns.
  • iPhone 6 users who downloaded iOS 10.2.1 from February 2017. This reduced speed of execution and functionality of devices.

If you still have one of these phones, (they went on sale from 2014), there’s a good chance at some point in its lifetime its been slowed by an update.

Lithium-ion batteries lose some of their ability to hold a charge over the course of a few years.

Apple says it throttles speed in order to improve the stability of devices with aging batteries. If you replace the battery, the performance tends to improve.

Following an outcry over these performance clamps, last year Apple reduced the price of battery replacements for iPhone 6 and newer through to the end of the year.

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Updates from iOS 11.3 also automatically disable the performance management features that might have been enabled by previous updates.

It’s also worth noting that Australian Consumer Law guarantees consumer protection for a reasonable length of time regardless of manufacturing warranties.

A reasonable length of time for a phone might be the length of the contract.

According to the ACCC, if your phone malfunctions during the course of a contract, (though not because you break it), you can go the retailer and demand it’s fixed or replaced.

Should I update?

JC Twining, who has been fixing phones for over two decades and owns the phone repair company Axiom Communications, told Hack he hasn’t had a lot of customers with phone speed issues, but that may be because most people expect their phone will slow as it ages.

“We replace a lot of batteries,” he said.

“It seems that people start loading a lot of apps on their phone and after a couple of years most phones run a little bit slow – it’s just accepted by people this happens.”

He recommended caution with software updates.

“I personally recommend holding back a few days to a week,” he said.

He said up to 20 per cent of updates seemed to have an initial unstable period, and it was better to let others do the beta-testing for you.

“If there’s a problem it tends to pop up in the news,” he said.

“Otherwise there’s not a lot of information you can get.

“Try it and see.

“If there’s no major issues it might be alright.”

In other words, there’s no one definitive site or resource that will tell you whether a software update is slowing your phone, but if the problem is bad enough there’s a good chance plenty of people will be complaining about it online.

University of Sydney Professor of Media and Communications Gerard Goggin recommended a quick google “to see what early adopters are doing”.

“Don’t rush to upgrade straight away,” he said.

He said the Italian watchdog’s finding puts “a bit more of a burden on all of us as consumers to be critically aware of what’s in software updates.”

What if my phone is too old to update?

JC Twining said software was usually the first part of a phone to become obsolete.

Phone makers tend to stop releasing updates for models of phones that are about three years old, meaning the security is no longer being patched.

This problem tends to be worse for budget models running Android.

Unlike iPhones, there are hundreds of smartphone makers that use Android.

The version of Android release in August 2016, Android 7 Nougat, could not run on Samsung Galaxy S5, LG G3 or OnePlus One released in early 2014.

In March 2017, according to Google, two-thirds of Android devices worldwide were running older versions that were no longer getting security updates.

“With Android especially with budget ones you do get stuck with unpatched versions,” JC Twining said.

“But then people who use budget phones are not pushing mobile tech to the limit.”