Frivolous Lawsuits Tell Bigger Story in Apple's iPhone Slowdown Scandal
While we were busy wrapping (and unwrapping) gifts and stuffing our stomachs full of food and cookies these past few weeks, one of the biggest consumer tech stories of the year was rapidly unfolding, and all we could do was sit back, watch the coverage, and wait to react. And, in hindsight, I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to wait a few days and digest it all—the food included—before sitting down in front of a computer to type out my thoughts on this whole Apple #iPhoneSlow scandal.
A quick glance at the headline for this article and you might think that what you’re reading is a gut reaction to everything, but in all honesty, it’s truly how I feel after taking the time to understand both consumers’ frustration as well as Apple’s handling of the situation. This isn’t a devout Apple follower defending a company that he’s basically sold his soul to. I’m happy to call them out when they’ve done wrong. And, to a certain extent in this instance, they have done wrong.
Apple should have been more forthcoming with consumers about how an aging battery affects the performance of an iPhone. And, on top of that, they should’ve done a better job explaining what their iOS updates were doing to older phones and why some users might experience a perceived “slowdown.” A tech enthusiast or members of the consumer tech media likely understand this science already, but the average consumer doesn’t. That’s all good and fine, but until all of this began to surface in the last few weeks, Apple really didn’t do much to help make those lesser-informed consumers aware of the impacts.
The company admitted to as much in a message to customers posted on its website:
We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.
First and foremost, 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. 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.
As a way to help reconcile their shortcomings and extend an olive branch to customers who felt let down by the company, Apple discounted its battery replacement program by $50 through December 2018. Now, rather than having to fork over $79 for a new battery, consumers with an iPhone 6 or later can pay $29 for a replacement.
The bigger issue here revolves around a lack of consumer handholding by Apple, which, unfortunately in 2018, is what is needed to ensure lawsuits like these can be avoided.
What’s the Problem?
The slow iPhone issue, to quickly explain it, has to do with the nature of lithium ion batteries. Simply put, they degrade over time. Some will age more quickly depending on how the user charges their phone, the conditions that they’re exposed to, and other varying factors. As such, when new software is installed on a phone (i.e. the latest iOS) those older batteries may be unable to deliver “peak energy loads,” as Apple calls them, which would result in the phone unexpectedly shutting down.
To remedy those issues, Apple has, over the past few years, issued iOS updates that enable those older phones with older lithium ion batteries to continue to operate efficiently while preventing those sporadic shutdowns.
So, while a phone might appear to be perform certain functions slower, it has nothing to do with Apple trying to force the consumer to upgrade their phone. Rather, they’ve been offering the consumer a way to continue to use their older device for a longer period of time. And, if the consumer would prefer to have a phone that experiences peak performance without manufacturer-induced “slowdowns,” they have the option of replacing the battery, which comes in at a much lower price than upgrading their phone.
All of that seems to make perfect, logical sense. Apple is giving the consumer a fix that enables their older phone with their older battery to continue to function. Without it, we’d be seeing complaints that Apple was leaving older phones high and dry. Oh, but wait…
To me, these lawsuits against Apple scream frivolity. It’s clear that these are consumers (and in some cases, consumer advocacy groups) that are trying to capitalize on misinformation and a few buzzwords to potentially pad their pockets. Their claims that Apple forced them into upgrades by changing their phones in “harmful ways” couldn’t be more misinformed, and shows a general lack of knowledge around lithium ion batteries. You might even say there's a lack of caring about their lack of knowledge, and that's where the real concern should lie for the tech industry.
The main problem these lawsuits face, though, is that they’ll have to prove Apple intentionally withheld information about the option to replace their battery and/or that doing so would improve the performance of their device. That information is and always has been readily available on the company’s website. A quick Google search brought it up as one of the first results, after you get past the trending news stories about iPhone battery replacements. Apple has said it'll make those pages more prominent and detailed in the near future, but the fact remains that they've been there all along.
The bottom line here is that while Apple made the mistake of not being totally forthright about what it’s updates were doing to the consumer’s phone and why they made the efficiency updates. They were simply intended to improve the overall performance of the device and ensure the consumer had a stable iPhone experience. But one way or the other that's on them for not being 100 percent transparent about what the updates did to users' phones. At the same time though, they have quickly taken steps to remedy the situation.
Among other changes Apple announced moving forward, there will be a software update early this year that will give the user more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery and how it’s impacting device performance.