Apple facing lawsuit for “throttling” iPhones

Hands holding iPhone 6 Plus

Up to 25 million iPhone owners could be due compensation if Apple is found guilty of fitting iPhones with mobile batteries which weren’t fit for purpose.

A UK court has allowed a court case to proceed that could result in a billion-pounds payout from mobile giant Apple.

It’s alleged the company fitted certain iPhone models with batteries which weren’t up to the job, knowing they wouldn’t be able to keep up with operating system demands. This would mean that customers would either have to pay to have their iPhone repaired or fork out for a newer handset

The case is being brought by consumer champion Justin Gutmann, who’s seeking expected damages of £853 million for consumers, although up to £1.6 billion could potentially be awarded.

Rather than recalling or replacing batteries, it’s alleged that Apple pushed software updates to extend battery life. It’s said that the company didn’t make it clear to users that updates would slow down handset performance – a process known as “throttling”.

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Which iPhone models were affected?

The models allegedly affected include:

  • iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus
  • iPhone SE
  • iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

What is Apple accused of?

It’s claimed that Apple pushed iPhone users to download a power management tool in software updates. While Apple said that this would help the older models to run newer versions of the operating system (iOS), it actually slowed them down.

Mr Gutmann alleges that Apple effectively forced handset owners to buy replacement batteries or – in some cases – purchase new iPhones.

It’s claimed that Apple knew handsets would struggle with running power-hungry new operating systems. Despite this, it went ahead with software updates rather than recalling the devices or replacing batteries.

While Apple ran a battery replacement service at the time which cost £25 plus return shipping, Mr Gutmann argued that this wasn’t well publicised, meaning consumers might have easily missed it.

What happens next?

On Wednesday 1 November, the Competition Appeal Tribunal approved the case to proceed to a full trial. It advised Mr Gutmann’s legal team to clear up some “clarity and specificity” issues before going to trial.

The case seeks compensation for each of the relevant models owned in the UK, meaning that anyone in the UK who owned an iPhone impacted by this could be eligible for a payout. And it’s an opt-out claim, so you don’t have to do anything to join the legal proceedings. If the case is successful, anyone who owned one of the iPhones listed above should receive damages.

Calling the case “baseless”, Apple has strongly denied that its handset batteries were defective, with the exception of a few iPhone 6S models. In these cases, free battery replacements were offered to owners.

In a statement, Apple said: “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.”

Describing the decision as “a major step towards consumer justice”, Mr Gutmann said: “I’m heartened that the Competition Appeal Tribunal has given the nod for our groundbreaking claim to proceed to a full trial. This paves the way for millions of consumers, who were left paying for battery replacements or new phone models, to receive the compensation they deserve.”

Apple has previously settled two similar cases in the US, with $113 million (£93m) being paid to claimants in Arizona and $500 million (£413m) to claimants in California.

It’s worth noting that the alleged issue only affected older models, plus there’s no guarantee that the court will rule against Apple.

If you’re a devoted iPhone user, and are in the market for a new mobile, see which iPhone you should buy.