Third-party apps limited to 60Hz animations on iPhone 13 Pro [update]

Update: Apple has officially responded that some of the behaviors described below are the result of an operating system bug. Full 120Hz support in third-party apps will be available soon. Original story below.

One of the most important new features exclusive to the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max this year is the inclusion of high refresh rate displays, or what Apple calls “ProMotion”.

This means that the iPhone 13 Pro models have new OLED displays that can refresh their screen content up to 120 times per second, or 120 Hz. However, the developers who are receiving their phones today have found that , in many circumstances their animations can only run at 60Hz – the same as the cheaper iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini, as well as previous iPhone generations.

As it is with iOS 15.0, ProMotion takes effect in third-party apps during scrolling or full screen transitions. This means you’ll still get a very smooth and responsive experience when scrolling through your Twitter timeline, for example.

However, almost all other animation is capped at 60Hz in third-party apps. This includes special effects and animations for custom components. It can be particularly shocking for the same third-party app to offer smooth scrolling but a less smooth interaction experience elsewhere. Apollo Reddit client developer Christian Selig has previously reported complaints about it of its customers.

A bypass hidden plist key has been discovered which raises the limit for SceneKit and SpriteKit based applications, and PCalc Dice developer James Thomson currently sees if he will pass App Review. However, most animations in iOS apps are driven by the Core Animation framework and remain limited to 60Hz, even with this special undocumented plist input present.

Interestingly, these limits don’t apply to third-party apps running on the iPad Pro, which features a 120Hz display since 2017.

Apple seems to have specifically set these restrictions for new iPhone models. A source suggested this was implemented for battery life reasons. However, we are not sure if this is the case.

Perhaps more conspiratorially, the iOS 15 code review indicates that only third-party apps are constrained. The operating system code exempts proprietary Apple apps and allows them to run at a maximum animation speed of 120Hz all the time.

Apple apps appear to be exempt from these frame rate restrictions

Apple presents ProMotion on the iPhone as an adaptive system that goes up and down based on what the user does. For example, if the screen is asleep, the phone may lower to a 10Hz refresh rate to save power. However, customers and developers alike had a reasonable expectation that app animations could take advantage of 120Hz hardware for super smooth animations, just as they can with scrolling. Apple’s apps certainly seem to be allowed to do just that, as all apps can on the iPad Pro, but third-party apps on the iPhone 13 cannot.

It is still possible that this is just a bug in the 15.0 implementation, but unfortunately it seems unlikely in the presence of the code proof. We have reached out to Apple about this situation for clarification and will update if we have a response.

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