Consumer champion Justin Gutmann alleges older iPhones made slower to cope with software updates
Apple is facing a multimillion-pound legal claim that could reimburse millions of iPhone owners over a secret decision to slow down older phones in 2017.
An undocumented battery management system, released in a software update in January that year, slowed down the performance of older iPhones in order to stop them shutting down without warning. But Apple didn’t give users the option to disable the setting, and did not warn them that their phones were being “throttled” deliberately.
Justin Gutmann, a consumer rights campaigner, has launched a claim against Apple over the decision at the Competition Appeals Tribunal. If he wins, the company could be forced to pay damages of more than £750m, spread out between the approximately 25 million people who bought one of the affected phones. The claim relates to the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X models.
Gutmann argues that Apple’s decision to throttle the phones wasn’t disclosed to users at the time, and was introduced to disguise the fact that older iPhone batteries were unable to cope with the new demands placed on them. Rather than introduce a battery recall or replacement programme, or admit that the latest software update was unsuitable for older devices, Apple pushed users to install the update knowing it would worsen their devices’ performance, he says.
“Instead of doing the honourable 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%,” 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.
“If this case is successful, I hope dominant companies will re-evaluate their business models and refrain from this kind of conduct.”
Apple acknowledged the throttling almost a year after it introduced it, and said that it slowed down phones that had older batteries, were running out of energy, or were cold, which can affect the performance of a battery. The company said that when a battery was in a poor condition it might not be able to supply the required maximum current demanded by the phone’s processor at full speed. Before the update, that would simply result in the phone shutting down, and the update was intended to instead allow the device to continue running, but at a slower pace.
“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,” Apple said in a statement on Thursday. “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.” iPhones now include a report in the settings menu, under “battery health”, that discloses whether the throttling is in effect.
The UK claim is the latest in a long line of lawsuits against Apple over the throttling. In Italy, the company was fined €10m, alongside Samsung, which was fined €5m for a similar program. In the US, a class-action lawsuit saw the company agree to pay $25 per iPhone, capped at $310m, in a settlement agreed in March 2020.