Apple Faces £750m Claim Over Battery Slowdown

Apple is facing a potentially expensive claim in the United Kingdom over its 2017 decision to throttle older iPhones handsets, in order to avoid “unexpected shutdowns” due to old batteries.

The Guardian reported that Justin Gutmann, a consumer rights campaigner, has launched a lawsuit against Apple in the UK for misleading iPhone users over the slowdown for older handsets.

It should be noted that Apple in December 2020 faced fresh lawsuits in Belgium, Spain, Italy and Portugal from advocacy group Euroconsumers over this matter, dubbed by some as ‘battery gate’.

Battery gate

Apple has been in trouble over the matter for years now, after it had admitted the slowdown would help avoid unexpected handset shutdowns and preserve older batteries, but many felt Apple had done this was a ploy to force users to purchase new devices.

The whole battery gate issue began back in December 2017, when it was discovered that Apple had deliberately slowed down older iPhones, which it claimed at the time would help avoid unexpected handset shutdowns.

The issue was discovered when an iPhone user shared performance tests on Reddit that revealed that a iPhone 6S had slowed down considerably as it had aged.

However the handset suddenly sped up again after the battery was replaced, pointing to a deliberate policy by Apple to slow older iPhones.

In the ensuing outrage, Apple apologised over the matter and lowered the price for replacement batteries to $29 from $79, but it denied accusations it was a clumsy attempt to force customers to upgrade to new handsets.

Apple’s official position on the matter remains that lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying and maintaining peak current demands, as they age.

Apple insisted its slowdown (or throttling) was designed to stop older iPhones unexpectedly shutting down, so as to protect its electronic components.

Legal troubles

But just one week after Apple’s admission in December 2017 that it slowed down older iPhones, three class-action lawsuits were launched in the US against the iPhone maker.

Plaintiffs argued they didn’t consent to the company’s “interference”, and the lawsuits were eventually combined into a single case against the tech giant.

Apple was hit with a 5 million euro fine in France back in 2018 for releasing software updates that “significantly reduced” the performance of its iPhones.

Apple was also fined $12 million in 2018 in Italy, over the matter.

And the payouts kept coming.

In March 2020 Apple reached a litigation settlement of $500 million in the United States.

Then in October 2020 Apple also confirmed it was to pay $113m (£85m) to settle an official investigation by 33 US states into its deliberate policy of slowing down older iPhone models.

UK lawsuit

Now the Guardian has reported that a UK lawsuit is seeking damages of more than £750 million from Justin Gutmann, who launched a claim against Apple over the decision at the Competition Appeals Tribunal.

If he wins, the £750m payout would reportedly be 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 alleged 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 alleged.

“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 percent,” Gutmann was quoted by the Guardian newspaper as saying.

“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 response

“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 was quoted by the Guardian as saying 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,” it said.

Apple iPhones now include a report in the settings menu, under “battery health”, that discloses whether the throttling is in effect.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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