Apple does not find itself apologizing often, but when it does, it becomes a big deal, like in 2017 when customers questioned whether the company is quietly throttling the speed of older iPhones.
The tech giant explained that they designed it to protect these phones from aging batteries and offered 29 USD battery replacements to smooth things over. Nevertheless, the lawsuit followed Apple. It led to the company agreeing with a 500 million USD class action settlement earlier in 2020.
Apple has now agreed to a second settlement with 34 US states, and it may pay an additional 113 million USD. The state’s attorney general filed against Apple to hide the battery degradation and throttling from iPhone owners.
“My colleagues and I are trying to get the attention of these big tech companies, and you would hope a multimillion-dollar judgment with more than 30 states will get their attention. Companies cannot be disingenuous and conceal things.”
– Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (1).
They argued that the tech giant fully understood when it concealed the issue that it could spend a year profiting from people who thought they need to buy a new iPhone. However, in reality, they only need to replace their phone’s battery to avoid throttling or unexpected shutdowns.
Of course, Apple denied those allegations, and the settlement means the court won’t decide whether there was any wrongdoing.
iPhone Slowdown Drama
In December 2017, Apple had published an apology letter to its customers for the ‘misunderstanding’ about slowdowns of its older iPhones. It followed its admission that it was slowing down older phones to compensate for degrading batteries.
“We know that dome of you feel Apple has let you down, We apologize.”
– Apple (2).
In its letter, Apple says that batteries are consumable components, and it offered anyone with an iPhone 6 or later a battery replacement for 29 USD from late January to December 2018. Apple also promised to add features to iOS to provide more details about battery health, so users are more aware if their batteries can no longer support maximum phone performance.
It was a significant change in users’ attitudes around iPhone batteries. Notably, a decade ago, when the first iPhone came out, it stated that iPhone users would never need to replace their batteries (3).
Interestingly, iPhone owners have long presumed that Apple slows down older phone artificially to drive new sales. However, Apple’s further information regarding the performance management ignited long-simmering frustration, which led to a lot of bad press and multiple lawsuits.
“The problem here, in short, is Apple’s secrecy. In this case, Apple let its many advocates and apologists in the media and tech world confidently brush aside concerns about the iPhone slowdown for close to a year before it was forced to admit that there was something to the allegations after all. This episode underscores that iPhones do degrade rather quickly overtime for such an expensive product. Planned or not, the result is still obsolescence.”
– Will Oremus, Slate (4).
The performance scope penalty only came after a developer discovered it instead of a clear disclosure by Apple (5), making the situation even worse.
The iPhone 6, 6S, 7, and SE have a prolonged peak performance as they get older, and they can’t provide enough power to the processor. Previously, Apple had announced the performance change along with iOS 10.2.1 as a fix to a problem with iPhone 6 (6), causing unexpected shutdowns if older batteries could not provide enough power to the processor.
Apple would pay 113 million USD to settle allegations that it slowed down older iPhones. The deal is separate from Apple’s proposed settlement in March to pay affected iPhone owners up to 500 million USD in a class-action lawsuit.
Apple had acknowledged that its update reduces power demands after researchers found unusual slowdowns in 2017. The state had argued that Apple had acted deceptively and should have disclosed the issue and replaced batteries.
As per an Arizona filing, millions were users were affected because of the power shutoffs. However, Apple has denied that the slowdown was for fiscal gain.
Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, wrote in a court document that many consumers had decided to purchase a newer-model iPhone from Apple to improve performance. He alleged that Apple fully understood such sales effects.
Under the settlement, the tech giant did not admit any wrongdoing or breaking any law. It has also agreed to offer truthful information about iPhone power management across its website, iPhone settings, and software update notes.
Apple has continually insisted that it has never slowed down phones artificially. It stated that it has aggressively managed phone performance to maximize the lifespan of its batteries.
“This feature’s only intent is to prevent unexpected shutdowns so that the iPhone can still be used. This power management works by looking at a combination of the device temperature, battery state of charge, and the battery’s impedance.
Only if these variables require it, iOS will dynamically manage the maximum performance of some system components, such as the CPU and GPU to prevent unexpected shutdowns.” – Apple (7).
According to the tech giant, the processor speed is just one piece of the battery and performance management puzzle. It added that iPhones with older batteries might aggressively dim their screens, have lower maximum speaker volumes, and have their camera flashes disabled if the battery is providing less power than the system requirement. However, other core features, such as cell radio, camera quality, and GPS, are not affected.
Even though the whole approach is creative, it is not an excellent substitute for speed.
Nevertheless, Apple took a long way to rebuild trust with its customers. Many people already used to think that Apple deliberately slowed down their phones, and such lawsuits confirmed that for them.
Was Slowing Down Old iPhones Necessary for Apple?
According to Marca Doeff, a battery expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (8), think of the battery like a water pipe. As time passes, natural side reactions between battery chemicals cause pipes to clog up, and the water can’t flow as quickly as before and can get stuck.
It causes the battery to deliver less power, and a single charge doesn’t last very long. Everything is slowed down in the cold winter, which is more harmful. Since the battery charging depends on lithium ions moving back and forth between two sides of the battery, however, the movement gets slower in the low temperature. If the water stops moving altogether, the phone shuts down.
These unexpected shutdowns are common during ‘peak current demands,’ as what Apple calls. According to a battery expert, Venkat Srinivasan, at the Argonne National Laboratory, it happens when the system takes up high power for a short amount of time.
“Say you went to the app store and hit ‘update’ all on the apps, then you clicked on a few unopened apps and opened them, then the system is pulling a lot of juice to do all this.” – Venkat Srinivasan (9).
Srinivasan added that Apple is fixing to prevent such lockdowns by lowering the amount of water pushed in the pipes to avoid slowing down the entire process. He said that all lithium-ion batteries contain such a battery management system to track battery capacity.
According to Doeff, using an external battery would add to battery capacity, but there is no clarity whether it would cause the phone to run more quickly.
According to Gerbrand Ceder (10), a professor of materials science at UC Berkeley, there is a possibility that Apple could have avoided it. He added that the amount of batteries degradation over time and in cold weather is predictable and can be tested early.
Generally, battery designers trade between lifetime and energy density. The more energy, the more quickly it would degrade. Storing a lot of energy at first is very desirable from a commercial perspective since it is when critics review the phones and user calibrate their experience. However, it comes with intolerable performance decay.
Batteries are gaining more capacity every year so that new phones would have more efficiency and better-designed batteries. Moreover, batteries in more modern phones are more current.
500 Million USD Settlement
In March 2020, Apple has tentatively agreed to a 500 million USD settlement after it agreed to slow down older phones. The deal would offer small payouts for several iPhone owners in the US, along with more generous compensation for a few class members and attorneys. It covers people who bought any product in the iPhone 6 and 7 lineup, which the tech giant secretly throttled to conserve battery life.
Apple would offer 25 USD to any current or former owner of a covered iPhone. A few class members would receive 1,500 USD, 3,500 USD, and about 90 million USD would go towards attorneys.
Notably, the settlement has a minimum payout of 310 million USD, so that the payment may increase if a few people file claims. Conversely, if expenses exceed the 500 million USD cap, each iPhone owner would receive less money.
French and Italian authorities have already criticized Apple for the controversy. France has announced a 25 million EUR fine earlier in 2020, and Italian regulators have fined 5 million USD to the tech giant. The US Justice Department had also announced an investigation in 2018. Notably, Apple has also dropped its battery replacement and offered partial refunds to some people who paid for a new battery.
After the release of iOS 10.1.1 in late 2016, several reports surfaced about battery usage issues with the new update. These reports also mentioned device instability for some users on iPhone 6 and 6s models (11).
It also included situations where a device would unexpectedly shut down once its battery capacity had reached 30%. Some users also described the experience where the battery percentage suddenly jumped down to 1% before doing so; however, it still appeared as 30% once the device was plugged in and rebooted.
In December 2016, Apple had confirmed that specific iPhone 6s models made in September and October 2015 had suffered from a battery manufacturing defect. The giant stated that it was not a safety concern but could diminish phone capacity and cause shutdowns to protect its electric components (12).
Apple added that it would include an additional diagnostic capability in its next iOS update to improve algorithms for managing battery performance and shut down operations in future versions.
With the release of iOS 10.2.1 in February 2017, Apple announced that it had reduced unexpected shutdowns by over 80% on iPhone 6s and more than 70% on iPhone 6 (13).
In December 2017, the developers of Geekbench’s benchmarking tool issued a report showing a pattern of performance degradation on iPhone 6 models upgrade after 10.2.1 and iPhone 7 models upgraded after iOS 11.2. They emphasized that there are several pieces of evidence in the past where Apple had intentionally degraded older iPhone models’ performances on newer versions of iOS as a form of planned obsolesces to encourage sales of more recent models.
While responding to these reports, Apple confirmed to CNET that it had implemented software performance controls on older iPhone devices’ battery health to preserve system stability and avoid unexpected shutdowns. The titan added that its goal was to deliver the best customer experience regarding the overall performance and prolong device life. It explained that lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands in cold conditions, low battery charges, or age. It can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its component (14).
“Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands … as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components. Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2 and plan to add support for other products in the future.” – Apple (15).
The Formal Apology
Afterward, Apple issued a formal apology and admitted that it initially believed that the issues were because of iOS bugs and expected temporary performance decreases following an update. However, the continued chemical aging of the batteries in older iPhones was also a significant factor.
The tech giant stated that replacing the phone’s battery would restore full performance. It also announced that it would offer a 50 USD discount (16), from 79 USD to 29 USD on battery replacements for iPhone 6 and 6s from January to December 2018. Moreover, it would include more prominent battery health information in iOS later versions.
The company stated that it had never done anything intentionally to reduce any Apple product’s life or degrade the experience to drive customer upgrades. iOS 11.3 had the promised battery health information and also allowed these performance controls to be disabled. In July 2020, there were reports that Apple has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit for the battery gate for 500,000,000 USD (17).
According to Jefferson Graham, USA Today columnist (18), Apple should have made the battery replacement free. He argued that it would go an extended way for erasing global suspicion that Apple purposely makes its older products obsolete to coax customers into buying new ones.
Apple had received 32 class-action lawsuits over the issue as of January 2018. A Chicago lawyer had proposed a 5 million USD class-action and regarded the discount as an insult to loyal users who have consistently and with fanfare have flocked to Apple stores across the globe to purchase every version of the iPhone (19).
In January 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook (20) said that the company has to cut its earning projections because fewer iPhone upgrades than anticipated and lower than anticipated expected revenue in markets like China (21).
On February 7, 2020, French consumer authorities had fined Apple 25 million EUR (22) following a formal investigation into the decision. On February 28, 2020, Apple agreed to a 500 million USD settlement in a Californian court. The agreement plans to pay at least 25 USD to all US residents who had purchased an iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, or SE device (23).
A separate investigation from the District of Columbia and 34 states also looked into the giant’s battery practice. The investigation concluded in November 2020 with states and Apple agreeing to pay a 113 million USD fine related to throttling performance on the phones and for Apple to issue documents to become transparent about it throttles performance (24).
Apple Addresses to Customer Concerns
Apple has taken several steps to address its customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty, and regain their trust.
Apple had reduced the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by 50 USD, from 79 USD to 29 USD for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs replacement.
Early in 2018, it had also issued an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility for their battery’s health to if its condition is affecting the phone’s performance.
Their team is also working to ensure that the user experience is continually improving, including managing performance and avoiding unexpected shutdowns caused by an aging battery.
“At Apple, our customers’ trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We can do the work we love only because of your faith and support — and we will never forget that or take it for granted.”
– Apple (25).
A judge has not fully approved the settlement yet (26), but there is a chance that states may see their money sooner than iPhone owners. The process for 25 USD worth of the 500 million USD class action settlement in July 2020 is still underway.
On December 4, there is a fairness hearing to decide whether the firm has appropriately handled the settlement. At present, Apple would pay a minimum of 310 million USD to settle the earlier lawsuit and about 500 million USD according to the number of claims. Notably, it is too late in submitting new requests now since the deadline has ended in October.
These settlements have come after a series of allegations against Apple. It is currently in a legal battle with Epic Games who has accused the tech titans that it uses its stranglehold over its App Store to charge developers unfairly.