iPhone users in the UK may be in for a little mid-year financial bonus – at least if a new legal claim proves successful.
Back in January 2017, Apple released a software update aimed at fixing a problem where older iPhones would shut down without warning. A welcome move, you may think – except that the tech giant included in that update an unannounced, undocumented, and non-optional battery management system that purposefully slowed down the phones’ performance.
But the tactic was noticed, as these things often are, by someone on Reddit – and now, five years later, a claim against Apple has been launched at the UK’s Competition Appeal Tribunal by consumer rights activist Justin Gutmann.
“Instead of doing the honorable and legal thing by their customers and offering a free replacement, repair service or compensation, Apple instead misled people by concealing a tool in software updates that slowed their devices by up to 58 percent,” Gutmann said.
“I'm launching this case so that millions of iPhone users across the UK will receive redress for the harm suffered by Apple's actions.”
Should the claim be successful, UK users of the iPhones 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus, and X may be awarded around £768 million (around $940 million). That’s a lot of money, though when spread over the UK’s 25 million or so eligible claimants, it averages to a slightly more modest £30 per person. And that may end up being a realistic number, too: the claim (unlike the software, ha ha) is opt-out, meaning affected iPhone users don’t actively need to join the case to seek damages.
The discovery of this “throttling” mechanism led to accusations against the tech company of “planned obsolescence” – bringing out a device intended not to last past a certain timeframe in order to prompt customers to upgrade earlier – and has reignited the common rumor of iPhones slowing down or becoming less reliable immediately before the release of a new model. But while Apple has admitted to causing the issue, the company maintains that no ill intent was behind the decision.
“We have never, and would never, do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades,” the company said in a statement.
“Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.”
Since the controversy first erupted, Apple has introduced a way to check whether iPhones have the throttling measure in effect. Nevertheless, the company has recently faced a slew of financial punishment for the move – in 2018, it was fined €10 million ($10.5 million) in Italy, and in 2020 it was made to pay out around $600 million over two similar legal cases in the US – and Gutmann hopes that his case will prompt Apple and others to change the future practices.
“If this case is successful, I hope dominant companies will re-evaluate their business models,” he said, “and refrain from this kind of conduct.”