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Do Apple and Google Sabotage Older Phones? What the Graphs Don't Show 281

Posted by timothy
from the maybe-apple-fans-are-driven-by-pheremones dept.
Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan takes a look in the New York Times at interesting correlations between the release dates of new phones and OSes and search queries that indicate frustration with the speed of the phones that people already have. Mullainathan illustrates with graphs (and gives plausible explanations for the difference) just how different the curves are over time for the search terms "iPhone slow" and "Samsung Galaxy slow." It's easy to see with the iPhone graph especially how it could seem to users that Apple has intentionally slowed down older phones to nudge them toward upgrading. While he's careful not to rule out intentional slowing of older phone models (that's possible, after all), Mullainathan cites several factors that mean there's no need to believe in a phone-slowing conspiracy, and at least two big reasons (reputation, liability) for companies — Apple, Google, and cellphone manufacturers like Samsung — not to take part in one. He points out various wrinkles in what the data could really indicate, including genuine but innocent slowdowns caused by optimizing for newer hardware. It's an interesting look at the difference between having mere statistics, no matter how rigorously gathered, and knowing quite what they mean.
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Do Apple and Google Sabotage Older Phones? What the Graphs Don't Show

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  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @07:39AM (#47542313) Journal
    The methodology of testing the hypothesis is to look for google searches about "iphone slow" or "samsung slow". Assumption made is if people search for "iphone slow" Apple might have done something to slow down iPhones. The control group is Samsung which has the same motive as Apple but not the means because it does not control the OS.

    It is a big leap, there could be various other explanations of varying degrees of malice. As the new release comes through, bug fixes for older releases are put on back burner, apps are changed and tuned to take advantage of new version run slower in older version.. Or the way graphics subsystem is organized in iOS might have different bottlenecks based on the display resolution. So as new releases come in, default sizes for buffers and hashtables might change deep in the OS slowing down older apps.

    And if you are going to postulate "Apple might slow down older versions deliberately", why can't you postulate, "Google might spike and skew the history of the past searches to make Apple look bad"?

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @08:03AM (#47542417)

    The methodology of testing the hypothesis is to look for google searches about "iphone slow" or "samsung slow". Assumption made is if people search for "iphone slow" Apple might have done something to slow down iPhones. The control group is Samsung which has the same motive as Apple but not the means because it does not control the OS.

    Actually, the data was gathered to see if the professor's view that his phone had slowed down was also shared by other iPhone users; they found an interesting correlation between search spikes and new iPhone models but were careful to say that doesn't prove anything other than people perceive a slowdown when a new phone comes out. He points out some valid reasons why the Samsung / Apple data differs, primarily that Apple releases a new version of IOS with the new iPhone and thus the new iOS may not be optimized for older hardware while many Android users remain on an older version. In addition, since the Andriod device makers don't control Android they may find it cheaper not to spend a lot of time on the OS and rather invest in hardware improvements as the differentiator.

  • by jonbryce (703250) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @08:27AM (#47542495) Homepage

    If you turn off some of the animation stuff that has been added in iOS 7, it is fine.

  • Re: Not Just Phones (Score:5, Informative)

    by Karlt1 (231423) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @08:31AM (#47542523)

    I do suspect they do not even bother compiling the binaries for the older architecture by switching a couple of compiler flags though. The performance difference is just too big.

    Well your suspicion is incorrect. There is a separate build for the OS for each supported device. If you download the OS on the computer from iTunes you have to download a copy for your specific device.

  • by goombah99 (560566) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @09:47AM (#47543011)

    Studies have also shown that as humans age their rate of recall also slows down, not because their brains are slower but because they have to navigate a database filled with entangled excess information. I've noticed that google searches by voice are vastly more word-accurate than siri searches by voice. But that's because google is doing something in the context of something else-- it has clues to context. Siri is trying to do free-form semantics over a much greater realm of possibilities. When you narrow Siri to a phone specific function, it does better than google. As the AI realm grows, perhaps to include sarcasm and slang, these services will require even more compute power to keep going.

    However, these days, phone services are done on back end servers, so there is no great reason they should slow down in "modern" times.

  • Re: Not Just Phones (Score:4, Informative)

    by Karlt1 (231423) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @11:42AM (#47543713)

    Do you really think they are so incompetent that they have a different build setup for each device and not have different optimization set? We know they have some different flags set because it has to be built for both 64 bit and 32 bit chips.

  • by Karlt1 (231423) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @11:49AM (#47543777)

    So you're bragging about Google improving the very bad Dakvik engine after 7 years and you're comparing that to iOS which has been completely compiled to native code since day?

    Google has been promising 60fps animation for 5 years -- something Apple did in 2007.

  • by Krojack (575051) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @12:18PM (#47543955)

    Google doesn't supply updates to most of the Android phones. It's the device manufactures that do that.

    I have a Nexus 7 (1st gen 2012) and still get updates from Google.

  • by Macrat (638047) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @02:04PM (#47544583)

    Google doesn't supply updates to most of the Android phones. It's the device manufactures that do that.

    The manufactures don't either.

    HTC G2 (aka Desire Z) and HTC One S. Updated ended barely a year after purchase.

  • by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Monday July 28, 2014 @11:08AM (#47550551)

    Well, the available CPU power increased dramatically since the original iPhone was released back in 2007.

    Back then, the iPhone and iPhone 3G used ARM11 (ARMv6) processors at 400MHz. The iPhone 3Gs used a Cortex-A8 based CPU running at 600MHz - clock for clock, the A8 was practically twice as fast as an ARM11, and the 50% speed boost doesn't hurt, either (so nearly 3 times faster). Of course, with that added speed, the iPhone 3Gs doubled RAM to 256MB.

    The iPhone 4 doubled RAM again to 512MB, and upped the speed to an 800MHz Cortex A8, roughly a 33% increase in speed, but more importantly they also upgraded the GPU to run faster. The iPhone 4s went from a Cortex-A8 based CPU to a Cortex-A9 multiprocessing CPU and upgraded graphics again.

    The iPhone 5 upped it to 1.3GHz custom Apple A6 core (faster than equivalent Cortex-A9), just over 50% faster clock for clock, and doubled RAM again to 1GB.

    The iPhone 5s went to ARMv8, where running 64-bit code is so much more efficient that 64-bit code can outrun 32-bit code by up to two times. Running 32-bit code, ARMv8 is only marginally faster than ARMv7, but 64-bit code is where ARMv8's speed really shines.

    The spread of CPU speeds is probably anywhere from 3-5x for a supported iOS.

    Me, I'm running an iPhone 4s with iOS 7. It's snappy enough - the most sluggish times are when I make a phone call and it seems to linger at the contact screen for a second or two, and when I hang up and it lingers at the call screen for a second or two.

    It won't be supported on iOS 8, I don't believe. Given it's been 3 years, well, it's probably time to upgrade.

The ideal voice for radio may be defined as showing no substance, no sex, no owner, and a message of importance for every housewife. -- Harry V. Wade

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