For the past several years, Apple has been fighting a running battle in the United States of America over a troubling allegation. The claim, first made against them toward the end of 2017, was that the company deliberately slows down older iPhones in an attempt to make them unusable and force users to pay up for a newer model. Apple has even admitted the practice in the past but claims to have done it for the most innocent of reasons. The prosecution was never convinced of their innocence, and Apple has finally grown tired of fighting against the inevitable. This week, they’ve finally agreed to pay a settlement of five hundred million dollars.
For the overwhelming majority of companies, a settlement figure like that would be terminal. Even if they had sufficient cash reserves to cover the figure, the subsequent impact on their stock price would wipe further value off the company and put them in a hole that they would struggle to get out of. It isn’t like that for Apple. We’re talking about a corporation that’s twice been valued at more than one trillion dollars and is currently thought to hold more than two hundred billion dollars in ready cash. At that level, the settlement will barely even register. It’s more of a minor irritation than a punishment, and its thought to amount to less than twenty-five dollars per person affected by the slowdown in the event that all affected parties put in a claim. But how did we get here in the first place?
Gamers Go First
iPhone users have long suspected that their devices have been deliberately slowed down by the company that created them shortly after a new iPhone model arrives on the market. The slowdown would be imperceptible to most users at first, but the mobile phone gaming community noticed almost immediately. Not every type of gamer would notice. If your interest in playing games on your phone amounted to little more than using it to access an online slots website and check out the Slots promotions, you wouldn’t notice any difference whatsoever. The way that online slots are programmed means that they place as low a demand on your device as possible. The calculations that Apple was performing behind the scenes, however, were just as complicated as the mathematics that drive those online slots games. If it weren’t for people playing more demanding mobile-based games like PUBG and Fortnite, it’s doubtful that anybody would ever have noticed.
Once the charge that they were deliberately slowing phones down was put to them, Apple was surprisingly quick to confirm it – but said that they had altruistic reasons for doing so. According to Apple, the older a phone became, the faster their batteries would deplete. By slowing the phones down, Apple said they were extending the battery life, and therefore the operational life of the phones as a whole. Far from trying to push their customers into buying a new Apple phone, they claim that they were trying to make sure that their current phones lasted longer.
Many people rolled their eyes at this excuse when it was first reported in the media, and there was little sign that it ever held much sway in the eyes of judge Edward Davila, who was presiding over the ongoing case in the US court system. The majority of users and observers felt it was far more likely that the slowdown was the result of ‘planned obsolescence’ – the process of deliberately damaging the performance of the phone to the point where it became unusable, and the purchase of another model became a necessity. As was pointed out, if Apple wanted to release a tool to extend battery life by slowing the phone down, they could have made it optional. People who were having battery issues could have slowed their phones down if they wanted to, and people without issues could carry on as they were. Apple never did this, and so to the majority of ears, the excuse never rang true.
Faced with a media backlash on the issue, Apple began to offer cut-price battery replacements in 2018, but by doing so, they appeared to admit guilt on the issue. That promoted legal action both in the United States of America and further afield. Even though Apple has settled this case for half a billion dollars this week, they could yet find themselves paying out the same again – or perhaps even more – through European courts. Apple has already been fined $25m by French courts for the same issue, with the French court scathingly stating in its ruling that the updates downloaded by iPhone users made no reference to the slowing down of the phones, and therefore the process had been deliberately deceptive on Apple’s part.
Under the terms of the settlement, Apple accepts no wrongdoing on their part, and their stated reason for offering the settlement is that the ongoing cost of litigation is becoming excessive. With no end to the legal process in sight, they’ve decided that it’s commercially and strategically better in the long run to pay half a billion dollars now and hope everybody forgets about the issue than proceed further and risk being fined double that, or perhaps more. It’s also now expected that Apple will not artificially lower the performance level of any of their current-generation phones when newer models are released, although there will doubtless be suggestions from some users that the process is still happening the next time a new iPhone hits the market.
So long as the settlement is stamped and approved by Judge Davila, any current user of an iPhone 6 or 7 series handset, along with any user of an SE device, is entitled to a payment of approximately $25 as compensation for the issue. If fewer people than anticipated come forward to claim the payment, that number may go up. If more people than expected come forward, it will go down. Users will not be able to file claims until the settlement has been approved, so the precise method for filing a claim and receiving a payment is not currently known. If you believe you’ve been affected the issue and would like to pursue a claim for compensation, keep a close watch on the issue in the news over the next few weeks. Only users who purchased their devices on or before December 21st, 2017, are covered by the terms of the settlement.