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Why searches for "iPhone problems" spike near new releases

For anyone not upgrading to the newest iPhone X which is available for purchase today, it's likely you'll start to notice or wonder why your older generation iPhone seems to have not been working as well lately.

The big picture: According to Google Trends data, every time Apple has released its newest iPhone or OS in the past, there have been significant spikes in searches for terms like “iPhone not working," “iPhone slow," and “iPhone problems."

Data: Google Trends; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why it's happening: This has led to a conspiracy theory that has been revived almost every year, claiming that Apple intentionally slows down old phones to entice iPhone users to upgrade to their newest, often more expensive product. But the phenomenon can also be explained by a few other reasons.

  • Older models have to work harder to run everything the newest, superior OS provides, and therefore consume more energy and battery life, Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for Creative Strategies, explained to Axios. "In the Android world, it's hard to see that because most phones do not get an upgrade to the latest OS. With Apple it's more obvious because the upgrade rate to the latest OS is very high."
  • Apps are upgraded: "One very important thing to consider is that at the same time of an OS upgrade, application developers upgrade their applications. Therefore at the same time the new OS is indexing for Spotlight, it is updating applications, which temporarily would slow down the phone," Patrick Moorhead, an analyst for Moor Insights Strategy told Axios. He pointed out that this slowness is usually just short-term, which would explain why searches drop back down fairly quickly.
  • Psychology: Most iPhone users are quick to update to the newest OS, and tend to be critical of every included change. This critical mindset might cause some to feel like like their phone is working slower than before at first. This could also explain why the interest spike quickly tapers off after a new release.

Case study: Last week, Futuremark released their own study on the performance and battery life of iPhones shortly after a new OS is announced. Their study found that new iOS's did not have any real effect on any model's GPU and CPU scores, which measure performance levels by running a demanding series of tests.

Bottom line: Nothing has been "proven" here, but there are many logical explanations for why iPhones might not run quite as smoothly after an OS update that don't include Apple maliciously hacking their own products.