Christmas comes early tomorrow for fanboys and tech geeks alike as Apple announces its next super cycle of products. While expanded details about the iMac Pro and Homepod will surely make us weak in the knees—frantic to complete that new credit card application—among the list of highly anticipated announcements comes the mother of all juggernauts: the iPhone.

As per usual, the months leading up to the big show have been saturated with rumors about the design and specs of Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone. Yet, one particular rumor has persisted over the past few years in the age-old battle between tech giants in the smartphone market: Apple sabotages its phones just before every new release cycle; Samsung doesn’t.

For those unfamiliar with the term planned obsolescence, it refers to the case where companies deliberately handicap or disable their own products in order to force consumers to upgrade to newer models. Time it right, and you’re guaranteed a windfall of cash at every upgrade cycle.

But before we get into the theory behind Apple’s diabolical plan to dupe customers into buying the latest (and most expensive) handset on the market, let’s get something straight:

Hardware and software products will always become obsolete, no matter what.

Being hardware companies, one might say that both Samsung and Apple are always “planning” for that shiny new CPU chip to go bust. It’s inevitable that today’s hardware will, at some point, no longer able to handle the barrage of image and video feeds everyone stares at all day long. The world’s markets may stop and gawk every year when the iPhone and Galaxy Note are released, but the Earth doesn’t stop spinning. Rival competition in the market spurs the natural evolution of product development that requires customers to abandon old models. Simply put: No tech company ever really NEEDS to sabotage their own handsets in order to persuade consumers to upgrade. Faster CPUs, more RAM, and ever more brilliant screens will always be enough to entice users to dig deep in their pockets.

Yet despite reasonable logic, the rumor that Apple deliberately slows down its users’ iPhones just before a new release has persisted. Someone on my Facebook feed even used the rumor as justification as to why he dislikes Apple and will never return to iPhone again. But upon closer review of the research article cited, two things became alarmingly clear:

1.) People rarely read past a sensational headline

2.) No detail is too small for exploitation by click-bait culture

The article, which dates back to 2014, cites a research study that examined the relationship between worldwide Google searches for “iPhone slow” and new handset release cycles. Results concluded that searches about slow iPhones spiked just before an Apple release cycle, but that no such correlation existed with respect to Samsung phone releases. The implied conclusion here is that Apple—perhaps through software—is coordinating a deliberate slowdown of the iPhone user experience just prior to the release of the newest model to compel users to upgrade.

That’s a pretty serious accusation. But luckily, it’s one that doesn’t require a PhD to dispel. It’s important to keep in mind that the study did not test the speed of users’ phones in order to objectively measure changes (or lack thereof) in actual performance. Instead, what’s being compared is only the relationship between the events of there being a spike in online searches about slow phones, and events for the release of new models.

So what’s really going on? Why do Apple users seem to be searching about slow iPhones just before a new iPhone release cycle, while Samsung customers don’t seem to be? The keyword here is “seem”. Putting aside the theory that Apple, the most profitable company in the world with an estimated $215 Billion in cash (Yes, that’s a “B”), would need to slow down iPhones to get users to upgrade, let’s talk about the power of suggestion, cost-aversion, and branding.

Apple Events are BIG News

Apple events are practically a national holiday. The fanfare and anticipation is such that I’m actually surprised there hasn’t yet been a petition to exchange the stars on the U.S. flag for little apples. Whether you’re an Apple fanboy or not, the September 12th event has iPhone written on the hearts and minds of anyone with a pulse. This is significant when considering the event where global searches for slow iPhones peak just before the release of a new iPhone. The notoriety and saturated media buzz surrounding the event itself acts like a primer for the minds of iPhone users. Simply KNOWING that a new iPhone will soon be released gets customers THINKING about their old phone—usually whether or not they are happy with its performance. Therefore, global searches about having a slow iPhone may be a reflection of customer research used to decide wether or not to buy the new iPhone. If users can find a way to speed up their old iPhone, they might forgo the hefty price tag of owning the latest release. This brings us to our second point.

The iPhone is REALLY Expensive

The average selling price (ASP) of a Samsung phone is just $238 compared to Apple’s whopping $695. Even with its high-end Galaxy S and Note series, Samsung’s overall price impact suffers due to its vast offerings of dirt-cheap alternative models. Meanwhile, all of Apple’s phones are priced for premium markets; its cheapest model, the iPhone SE, starts at $400. And the premium prices don’t just appear at the Apple Store. They carry over into secondary markets like Craigslist and Facebook’s new Marketplace, where bargain hunters are still willing to fork over $300 for a model made in the last two years. With a price tag that high comes high expectations and corresponding behaviors.

Paying top dollar for a handset spawns a consumer mindset that:

A.) expects long-lasting quality

B.) is hyper sensitive to any changes in the user experience

While it may be tempting to assume that all iPhone buyers belong to an affluent class of customers that won’t break the bank shelling out for the next big release, even penny pinchers will spend large on quality that saves in the long run. This goes back to the previous point: iPhone users looking to hang on to their older handsets for longer are more likely to be searching about slow iPhones just before the next release.

But there’s an even bigger picture when it comes to the iPhone user mindset. Beyond its premium price and fashionability, Apple has created a product culture that conditions customers to not only expect a physically well-made phone, but also a user experience that’s consistently fast and smooth. With its religious emphasis on the importance of hardware and software integration, Apple has taught iPhone users to expect a higher standard of accountability through and through. That’s why iPhone customers are more sensitive to any hiccup in performance issues when it comes to their user experience. Just the slightest inkling of a less-than-snappy load time—even as a natural progression of long usage—is likely to send users Googling into the night to find out why. Couple this with the psychological priming of an imminent new release and the spike in searches are easily explained.

Apple Storage Sucks

Though Apple has gotten better at this one, I’ll admit to feeling more than a little ripped off for paying north of $600 for 16GB. Samsung may only give you 64GB of internal storage, but with the ability to expand total capacity to a handy 256GB, you can at least avoid humiliation.

This brings us to the next relevant point: A large majority of iPhone users—especially those looking to save some bucks—will opt for the lower storage capacities. Unless you’re a power-user and world traveler who insists on having offline access to your entire photo and music libraries, 16GB seems just fine for browsing social media and taking a few selfies. But if experience has taught me anything, its that the casual user doesn’t underestimate their storage needs some of the time—they underestimate their storage needs all of the time. Trying to persuade my wife not to buy the 16GB iPhone was like going to court, but no matter what I said her story stayed the same: “I’m never going to use all that space.” And here we are years later, where every few weeks I’m offloading her pictures.

The storage factor is significant. If the majority of iPhone users are buying lower tiers of storage, it’s likely that by the time the next release cycle comes around, they’ve almost completely filled their capacity, thus, making their phones feel slower. Samsung users don’t have to worry about that.

Crazy Lines Look Pretty Crazy

Forget the spikes for a moment and notice that another interesting trend emerges between the spikes of Google searches about slow phones. While searches for slow iPhones level off before and after launch, inquiries about slow Galaxy phones continue steadily throughout, eventually climbing far above Apple handsets. Point being: Galaxy users are consistently searching about slow phones much more overall—not just before a launch.

But this points to another glaring problem with the study: the search terms. Searching the term “Samsung Galaxy slow” also includes models that compete below the premium space of its S and Note flagships. By including far more affordable (and less powerful) entry models like the Samsung Galaxy J7, the researchers have muddied the pool of data, flooding results with a greater number of users with cheaper phones that don’t compete directly with iPhone. Ideally, the study should have isolated searches about the Galaxy S and Note series as both compete in the premium space with iPhone, and therefore carry the customer expectation for longer-lasting quality. My guess would be that, when isolated, searches about Samsung’s flagship phones slowing down would have a correlation with release cycles as well.

Tomorrow, Apple releases the next iteration of its premium handset that speculators have all-but-confirmed to be named iPhone 8 and iPhone X. And in the excitement of your discovering which rumors hit their mark, rest assured that this one is soundly debunked.


Also published on Medium.