Apple Myths Debunked — And Confirmed!

They’re listening to you over your mic. They’re slowing down your phones. Force quitting apps saves battery. Charging destroys battery. Steve Jobs would never… Antenna-gate was overblown. Apple hates Nvidia. Myths, misconceptions, misinformation about Apple… it spreads faster than an Android Virus… Kidding. Or am I? Because there’s no such thing as malware on Mac… or is there? Never mind reading it in black and white, we see it on Facebook. People doing their own research. Retweeting at the speed of social. But what’s even real… and what’s just really, really fake?

I’m Rene Ritchie, I’ve been interrogating Apple for almost a decade and a half, and I’m going to debunk some of the juiciest iPhone and Mac myths on the planet… and maybe just confirm some of the biggest ones as well!

MYTH: Social Media Apps are Listening In on Us

Social Media apps like Instagram are just so damn good — as-in-creepy — at showing us ads for things we talk or text about some people think they simply have to be listening in, spying on us through our iPhone mics. And no… but pretty much because they just don’t have to.

It’s been investigated a bunch of times and no one’s found any evidence to support it. Which is actually pretty compelling because Facebook’s been caught doing other creepy stuff like spying on the apps we use to figure out which to buy or copy. And recording us and uploading those recordings for analysis an exploitation on their servers would be such a big battery and data hit it’d be pretty easy to catch as well.

But they already track us like… the Military in a MrBeast video, through their apps and across the web, they know who we’re connecting with through their social graphs, and they even get our IRL transactions through data brokers. So, they basically have full-on behavioral profiles on all of us, which… forget predictive, border on precognitive at times. Also, we only really remember the super creepy ads anyway, and filter out the dozens of dumb ones we see all day, every day. So that just enhances fuels all the stories.

But it’s also exactly why Apple’s been building features like App Tracking Transparency and Private Relay into their products.

MYTH: Apple is sabotaging older iPhone

Apple is secretly slowing down our older iPhones to annoy us into upgrading to new ones. That’s something that bubbles up especially when new versions of iOS and iPhones hit all the world, all at once, and everyone’s Spotlight search and photo indexes are rebuilding and updated versions of Apps and libraries are downloading for a good day or two.

Also, when Apple decides not to push some of the most intensive new features to some of the oldest phones, because they think it’ll legit thrash performance, they get accused of withholding to force upgrades, so there’s some damned if you do, damned if you don’t at work there as well.

But, because Apple makes iPhones that can last 5 or more years, and provides iOS updates for up to 5 years, and as batteries and processors age out, and software and apps get heavier, bits rot, junk builds up in the Other truck, people complain and conspiracies spread. Even if fresh batteries and clean installs can take a lot of that load off. And, newer phones with faster processors and bigger batteries run everything smoother for longer by comparison. Because obviously.

But this really came to a head a few years ago when Apple was accused of secretly throttling performance on older phones. See, the year before, Apple found out their increasingly high performance chipsets were causing brown outs on phones with worn out batteries. Basically, if the processor spiked, and the battery couldn’t meet demand, the phone would shut down to prevent damage, and you had to plug in to reboot it, which could be super inconvenient or even dangerous. So, Apple fixed the reboot hassle, but also throttled those processors on worn out batteries to prevent spikes, which would prevent the brown outs. But they didn’t explain it well, or that a battery replacement could fix it, and they were hella aggressive about the throttling, and nobody even remembered it happened until a year later when Geekbench and Reddit exploded it all over the net.

Apple apologized, provided super-cheap battery swaps, added a switch for people who preferred the potential of a brown out to the constant throttling, and built better battery management software to greatly reduce the potential for it occurring on newer phones.

MYTH: Force Quitting Apps Saves Your Battery.

Some people insist on force quitting every app, all the time, thinking it’ll save battery life or increase performance. Others insist you should never, not ever force quit any app. The truth is, most of the time, force quitting apps actually wastes battery life. iOS doesn’t work like a traditional operating system, not like Windows, Android, even the Mac. It has no concept of swapping or paging memory out to SSD. So, apps stay in memory, in RAM, in a suspended state until you go back to them, and they wake up, or iOS needs that memory for something else, and so jettisons the oldest apps on the stack to make room for the new ones.

The exact same lack of swap is also why having 16 GB on an iPad Pro doesn’t mean you can have bigger apps, it just means you can have more big apps in memory for longer. But that’s another video.

Now, waking an app takes far less power than launching an app, so if you make it a habit of force quitting all your apps, just killing them to watch them die, you’re forcing iOS to relaunch them all from scratch each and every time, which takes more power.

The only exception is if an app goes rogue, doesn’t shut down properly, and leaves processes just churning away. Usually a super thirsty social network app like Facebook or cross-compiled game like Pokemon Go. Then you’ll feel your iPhone get warm and literally see your battery drain. In that case, just force quit away. Check battery usage in Settings if you’re not sure which app to yote, or if you’re desperate and don’t have time to narrow it down, go ahead and force quit everything so you can call that Lyft or whatever it is you need to do to be safe and sound, and then narrow it down the next time. Just don’t do it unless it’s an emergency, and never don’t ever make a habit of it.

MYTH: Charging destroys your battery

Batteries are fuel and using them depletes them. But some people believe if you don’t micromanage your charging, plug in long before it gets to zero and plug out way before it gets to 100, you’ll deplete them way way faster. And here’s the thing, I’ve talked to the actual battery engineers and testers at the actual companies that make this stuff, and they’ve taken all of that into account already.

Basically, there are really only three things that damage lithium-ion batteries: Exposing them to heat, keeping them in a high charge state for any length of time, and storing them at a low charge state for an extended length of time.

iOS will gate against excessive heat by cutting the brightness, throwing a temperature warning, and eventually shutting down, but point is — don’t leave your iPhone out in the sun on a hot day, like on your dashboard or pool side table, and don’t leave it on heater in winter, like in car dock mounted on a hot air vent. Cold it can recover from when it warms back up, but heat causes permanent damage.

For high and low charge states, Apple manages that by kinda lying about the percentages. 0% isn’t really 0%. Your iPhone will shut down a while before it actually discharges completely. If you do plan on storing your iPhone for a long period of time, charge it halfway before turning it off, but otherwise you’re fine. For high charge state, if you leave the setting on, iOS will idle it at 80% and only go to 100% based on machine learning algorithms that figure out when you’ll actually need maximum charge, like right before you typically leave for work in the morning.

Now, you still might be able to reduce gross charging cycles by micromanaging when you plug in and out, but you’re exchanging mental health for charging health, and losing time and convenience for what might amount to a few percentage points or a not very expensive battery swap a few years down the line. Especially when you consider impact like from drops or ambient heat can erase any and all effort you put into micromanaging at any time anyway.

MYTH: Antenna Gate was Overblown

Back in the Jurassic period, when BlackBerry and Palm still roamed the earth, Apple had a problem with the iPhone 4 — You could kill the cellular connection by putting your finger on the gap between the antenna bands on the bottom. In typical counter-conspiracy fashion, some people then and now think this was exaggerated, even all made up, that there was in fact no unintentional network pause play button.

Partially, because it just seems so ridiculous now, and because de-tuning and attenuation kept being conflated back then. See, you could attenuate pretty much any phone by wrapping your ugly meat paw of mostly water around it and disrupting enough of the antenna to interfere with the signal. But, the iPhone 4… that you could also de-tune by placing your capacitive flesh finger right on that naked stainless steel bridge spot.

Cases prevented both, but not everyone used a case and if you happened to be in an area with poor cellular service or signal strength, which wasn’t exactly uncommon back then, the drop could be enough to kill your reception.

But yeah, anyone could objectively see the de-tuning by going into Field Test Mode by typing 3001#12345# into the dialer and then just measuring the drop.

Apple ended up giving away free bumpers, which insulated the antennas from our death touches, and engineered full fixes for de-tuning with the Verizon iPhone 4 and, half a year later, all versions of the iPhone 4s.

Since then, antenna systems have gotten way smarter and more advanced, and RF transparency, way more sophisticated — insert your mmWave jokes here — so neither is really a problem any more anyway. But it sure as hell was back then.

MYTH: Apple Overcharges

The Apple Tax is a passive aggressive — or just aggressive aggressive — way of saying people want Apple products but wish they were less expensive. See, other companies typically offer a range of price points, from budget to premium. They have options with worse displays. Slower SSDs. Lower performance chipsets. Less durable materials and build quality. Sometimes supported by ads or other business goals. And Apple doesn’t do that. They’re not Toyota where you can get the Lexus version if you want. They’re BMW or Porsche, where that’s the only version. Even if every once in a while they throw out a Boxter.

And because enough of Apple’s customers are super satisfied with those premium products, Apple hasn’t been forced to sell at near zero margin or produce budget versions, the way many other companies have. And when Apple dabbled with it, like the iPhone 5c, or the crappy HD in iMacs, it’s been largely rejected by the market in favor of older premium products, like the previous few generations of iPhone, or with updated internals, like the iPhone SE or baseline iPad or MacBook Air.

Now, Apple’s margins actually stayed pretty much the same for many, many years after Steve Jobs. Hardware margins even went down as design started spending more on chamfered edges and 3D Touch layers, engineering wanted the latest technologies first, like 7 and 5 nanometer processes and endlessly more custom silicon, and marketing felt it critical to invest in more expensive parts like OLED and 5G. Which one of the main reasons Apple is now so all-in on services, because those margins are way, way, way higher — I mean, not makeup or fashion higher — but they do lift everything else up.

If you want Apple stuff but just can’t or won’t pay Apple prices, it’s still going to make you hella mad, and there’s no getting around that. But, if you go beyond simple up-front cost, and factor in how long Apple hardware typically lasts, how often you get software updates, all the free software, and the typically high resale values, the total cost of ownership on Apple products can end offering way more value than way cheaper alternatives. And there’s no getting around that either.

MYTH: Apple Hates Nvidia

Apple used to use Nvidia graphics cards. And then they didn’t. Much to the consternation of Cuda-stans everywhere. And yes, there was an incident, a defect Apple felt Nvidia failed to take responsibility for, and that caused some Tay Tay level Bad Blood.

But, ultimately, these are two hugely successful companies with two very different agendas. Nvidia wants to reduce PCs to commodity front ends for their massive graphics cards, so it doesn’t matter who you buy your box from or how you build your rig, it just has to have Nvidia inside and you’re golden. And Apple wanted to reduce GPUs to commodity cores for their Metal framework, so it didn’t matter which cards they sourced, they’d all just work with macOS. But where AMD was willing to let Apple do what they wanted, including bypassing everything and going straight to the lowercase metal if and when they wanted to, Nvidia was absolutely not.

In hindsight, now that Apple’s switched to M1 silicon, it’s easy to see why they wanted what they wanted. Apps that used Metal did in fact just work on M1, even the Intel versions, even under x86 emulation. And now Apple can focus on making better GPU and more specific accelerators, and profit. But it’s hard to fault Nvidia for being so… Nvidia about it either, even though going on a year later you still can’t so much as sell an organ for a 3090.

Because, when you have two companies that hugely successful, powerful, and, yeah, bull-headed, neither is going to flinch until the market hurts or motivates one or both of them enough to force it.

MYTH: There’s No Malware on the Mac

The idea that Macs don’t get viruses dates back to the days of Windows 98 and XP, where Microsoft had almost complete dominance of the personal computer market… but hardly a lick of security built into their operating system. And since malware is an economic crime, where bad actors want to hit the biggest target at the least expense, they cared almost nothing about the Mac, which not only had better-for-the-time security thanks to its BSD UNIX foundations, but also just nowhere nearly an install base worth bothering with.

Now, Windows security has steadily improved over the last decade, and thanks to the iPhone and iPad, Apple’s profile has risen considerably. Also, the types, goals, availability, and distribution methods of malware have evolved. Especially the growth of the internet, which has made adware and especially phishing a problem for everyone, because it really doesn’t care what OS you have. It just wants your accounts.

And you can see the effect of all of this just by looking at how much effort Apple’s been putting into hardening the Mac over the last few years. Everything from XProtect, which is their constantly updated Malware scanner, to Gatekeeper, which can prevent non-App Store or signed apps from installing, to sandboxes, secure boot, and read-only system volumes to mitigate against malware-level tampering.

But it’s never been not truer, so Apple has to keep tightening up those blast doors and we have to make sure we don’t open them back up every time a fake free app or dodgy porn link slides into our DMs.

Steve Jobs would never

Ritchie’s law — pretty much any time someone says “Steve Jobs would never do that…”, you can find several examples of Steve Jobs doing pretty much exactly that. The only major exceptions that come to mind is letting the Butterfly keyboard stay on the market as long as it did, given how fast he killed the G4 Cube and reverted the buttonless iPod shuffle and wide-body iPod nano. It’s just hard to see him not Mobile Me flame throwering that thing within a year… 18 months max.

But Steve was Steve and Tim is Tim and that was then and this is now, so either way it’s still one of the laziest logical fallacies to drop on any particular argument.

For actual insight into how Steve Jobs actually ran Apple, check out Ken Kocienda’s Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs… Ken helped build the Safari Web Browser, the iPhone keyboard, and Apple Watch Faces, and he details how Steve set up small teams, assigned direct responsibility, and insisted on intense focus to produce… amazing results.