Apple has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused the company of deliberately slowing down older iPhones to encourage customers to buy new ones. The lawsuit, which was filed in 2017, claimed that Apple violated consumer rights and committed fraud by throttling the performance of iPhones with aging batteries. The settlement, which was approved by a judge on Friday, will require Apple to pay up to $500 million to millions of iPhone users who were affected by the issue.
What is ‘Batterygate’ and how did it start?
The controversy, dubbed as ‘Batterygate’ by some media outlets, began in late 2017 when some iPhone users noticed that their devices became slower after installing iOS updates. Some users suspected that Apple was intentionally degrading the performance of older iPhones to force them to upgrade to newer models. A Reddit post and a blog post by a developer confirmed that the speed of the iPhones was indeed linked to the battery health, and that replacing the battery restored the original performance.
Apple admitted that it had implemented a feature in iOS 10.2.1 that dynamically managed the maximum performance of some system components to prevent unexpected shutdowns in iPhones with older or degraded batteries. The feature was also extended to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and later to other devices. Apple said that the feature was intended to protect the devices from damage caused by power spikes, and that it did not reduce the lifespan of the batteries or affect other aspects of the user experience.
However, many users felt that Apple did not communicate this feature clearly and transparently, and that it should have given them more control over their devices. Some users also argued that Apple should have offered free or discounted battery replacements instead of slowing down the iPhones. As a result, Apple faced a backlash from customers, regulators, and lawmakers around the world, and was sued by multiple plaintiffs in various countries.
How did Apple respond to the lawsuit and what are the terms of the settlement?
Apple denied any wrongdoing and said that it never intentionally shortened the life of any Apple product or degraded the user experience to drive customer upgrades. The company also said that it had already taken steps to address the concerns of its customers, such as:
- Reducing the price of out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29 for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later in 2018.
- Issuing a public apology and explaining the rationale behind its power management feature on its website.
- Adding a new Battery Health feature in iOS 11.3 that allows users to check the status of their battery and disable the performance management feature if they choose to do so.
- Providing more information about battery health and performance in its user guide and support documents.
Despite its defense, Apple agreed to settle the lawsuit in March 2020 to avoid further litigation costs and risks. The settlement covers about 3 million iPhone users in the US who owned an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, or SE and ran iOS 10.2.1 or later (or iOS 11.2 or later for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus) before December 21, 2017. The settlement requires Apple to pay a minimum of $310 million and a maximum of $500 million, depending on the number of claims filed. Each eligible iPhone user who filed a claim will receive about $65, although the amount may vary depending on the final number of approved claims.
The settlement also requires Apple to provide clear and conspicuous information about battery health, performance, and power management on its website, software update notes, and iPhone settings. Additionally, Apple must maintain its Battery Health feature for at least three years from now.
What are the implications of the settlement and what are some other legal challenges faced by Apple?
The settlement is one of the largest payouts ever made by Apple in a consumer litigation case, and it may set a precedent for other lawsuits against the company in other countries. For example, in May 2021, a group of UK consumers filed a £1.5 billion ($2 billion) lawsuit against Apple over the same issue, claiming that more than 20 million iPhone users in the UK were affected by ‘Batterygate’. Apple called the lawsuit “baseless” and said it would defend itself vigorously.
Apple is also facing other legal challenges related to its products and services, such as:
- A lawsuit filed by Epic Games, the maker of Fortnite, accusing Apple of abusing its monopoly power over the App Store and imposing unfair fees and restrictions on developers.
- A lawsuit filed by Spotify, the music streaming service, alleging that Apple engages in anti-competitive practices that harm consumers and rivals in the music industry.
- A lawsuit filed by Tile, the Bluetooth tracker company, claiming that Apple uses its dominant position to favor its own products and services over those of third-party developers.
- A lawsuit filed by consumers accusing Apple of selling MacBooks with faulty keyboards that are prone to malfunctioning and failing.
- A lawsuit filed by consumers alleging that Apple knowingly sold iPhone 12 models with defective displays that exhibit a green tint or flicker.
Apple has denied the allegations in all these cases and said that it is committed to delivering the best products and services to its customers.