Samsung responds to discovery of app throttling and promises to deliver an off switch

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Enlarge / The Galaxy S22 Ultra. It has a pen.

Samsung

Samsung has responded to reports that thousands of apps are being throttled on the Galaxy smartphone range.

With the launch of the Galaxy S22, users found that the built-in “Game Optimizing Service” contained a list of around 10,000 apps that were being throttled. This list is basically every popular, well-known app you can think of and covers everything from games to core Samsung apps like the home screen. The only apps the service didn’t seem to target were benchmark apps, meaning benchmark ratings are inaccurate in how much performance the most commonly used apps have access to. Modifying a benchmark app like Geekbench to disguise it as a regular app causes CPU metrics to drop by as much as 46 percent. The new Galaxy S22 isn’t the only smartphone with this throttling feature; it goes back to the Galaxy S10.

Samsung issued a statement to The Verge today, saying: “We value the feedback we receive on our products and after careful consideration, we plan to release a software update soon to allow users to control performance when running gaming apps The speaker continued, “The Game Optimizing Service (GOS) is designed to help gaming apps achieve excellent performance while effectively managing device temperature. GOS does not manage the performance of non-gaming apps.”

There’s a lot to unpack. First, Samsung’s claim that the Game Optimizing Service only affects games is not true. The full database has already been published and only 3,200 of the 10,000 apps in the GOS database are games. So what are the 6,800 normal app lists doing in the Game Optimizing Service? Samsung has no reason to hardcode the package names of all these apps into its gaming service unless it’s messing around with them.

Samsung controlling your phone’s throttling remotely?

It might be difficult to pin down exactly what Samsung is doing. This post contains timestamped runs of Geekbench disguised as Instagram claiming that 1) Samsung is throttling more than just games (really, why else would they be in the database?) and 2) that Samsung only throttles those apps part of the time? The post shows that the Instagram Geekbench app is treated differently by the system throughout the day, scoring between 3200 and 2100 at various times. The thought is that in response to the complaints, Samsung will change how the optimization service works remotely. Android apps absolutely have the ability to ship with multiple behaviors, connect to a server, and change how they behave via server-side flags. An app may not function the same today as it did yesterday, even if you haven’t installed an update.

Geekbench’s John Poole also reports that the throttling that happened yesterday is no longer happening today.

It’s interesting to see that Samsung doesn’t mention “battery life” at all, essentially just saying that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Exynos 2200 would overheat if run at full speed for long periods of time. This is mostly normal for a smartphone SoC. Each SoC runs at a certain speed when cold and then throttles as it warms up. What’s not normal is enabling this for everything apart from Benchmark Apps. Samsung didn’t elaborate on why no popular benchmark apps made the list in its database of 10,000 apps (which is probably every app imaginable).

Samsung at least promises to deliver an off switch, but that part of its story doesn’t make sense either. If this throttling was necessary at all, why is Samsung producing a patch to allow users to turn it off? If Samsung uses the battery life excuse, it’s a variable where a user control feature would be a good idea. Sometimes you need more battery life, and sometimes you’re near a charger and you don’t care. But a variable slider for warmth is rather strange. Heat can either be dissipated or not and is either harmful to the components or not. It’s still hard to imagine why this code was written in the first place if it’s not just for gaming benchmarks.

Typically, SoCs are more agnostic and will automatically throttle as they heat up, no matter what type of program they’re running. Some OEMs will permanently downclock hot SoCs so they can’t reach higher MHz ratings due to heat issues, and these OEMs will disclose this lower clock speed on the datasheet. Samsung could have gone for either of those options, or it could have made the phone thicker and used a more powerful cooling solution. Instead, Samsung seems to have tried to solve heat issues without making any marketing concessions by allowing the spec sheet and benchmarks to display information that isn’t applicable to general use.




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