OnePlus: Yes, we throttle some popular apps but not to manipulate benchmarks

While throttling of software has become a somewhat common practice from OEMs in pursuit of better battery life, lawsuits are still filed against firms when such discoveries become public knowledge. This time, OnePlus has admitted that it throttles certain apps in its OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro smartphones following a report from AnandTech.

OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro with displays on

AnandTech discovered that the OnePlus Performance Service makes changes to the CPU scheduler in order to throttle the performance of certain apps. While throttling based on app behavior isn't entirely uncommon, the issue here is that it explicitly identifies which apps to throttle. Some of these apps are quite popular, including Chrome, Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Microsoft Office apps, and even some of OnePlus' own apps. These apps are limited to the Cortex-A55 cores only instead of making use of Cortex-X1 core, which means that they suffer quite a performance hit. The report noted that this resulted in the blacklisted apps returning scores similar to a budget smartphone rather than a flagship device.

In response, benchmarking website Geekbench has delisted the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro from its Android performance charts, saying that:

It's disappointing to see OnePlus handsets making performance decisions based on application identifiers rather than application behavior. We view this as a form of benchmark manipulation.

Geekbench says that it will now investigate the benchmark scores of other OnePlus handsets as well, and if they exhibit the same behavior, they will be removed too.

In a statement to XDA Developers, OnePlus has officially admitted that it does throttle the apps in question, but this is not to manipulate benchmark scores. The company's statement reads:

Our top priority is always delivering a great user experience with our products, based in part on acting quickly on important user feedback. Following the launch of the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro in March, some users told us about some areas where we could improve the devices’ battery life and heat management. As a result of this feedback, our R&D team has been working over the past few months to optimize the devices’ performance when using many of the most popular apps, including Chrome, by matching the app’s processor requirements with the most appropriate power. This has helped to provide a smooth experience while reducing power consumption. While this may impact the devices’ performance in some benchmarking apps, our focus as always is to do what we can to improve the performance of the device for our users.

The problem here is twofold. The first issue is misrepresentation of performance in the guise of battery life optimization. The OS uses more performant cores while some apps are restricted to slower cores, potentially making customers believe that slow performance is an issue of app optimization rather than the phone itself. This also results in manipulated benchmarks scores, as pointed out by Geekbench. The second issue is that apps that are to be throttled are explicitly singled out rather than it being in response to their battery-hungry behavior. The developers of these applications certainly won't be happy to find out about this. Overall, this leads to the question of whether OnePlus has been doing this with its older phones too or is this is just an exception it made based on user feedback? More importantly, will it revert its design changes based on the backlash it is currently receiving or will it stick with its stance? We will let you know as the situation unfolds.

Source: AnandTech, XDA Developers

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