Apple Served a $935M Lawsuit in the UK for Throttling iPhone Performance


A former employee of a U.K-based consumer advocacy group is claiming almost a billion dollars in damages from Apple on behalf of tens of millions of iPhone users. The legal action stems from a software update pushed by Apple that allegedly deteriorated device performance.

As many as 25 million users of older iPhone models in the UK could earn as much as £768 million (~$935 million) as compensation from Apple, provided they win. In the lawsuit filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, Justin Gutmann, the petitioner, claims that Apple intentionally misled consumers into downloading a software update in 2017 by stating that it would improve the battery performance.

In reality, he alleges, the software update deteriorated system performance in the updated iPhones. A throttled phone delivers a fraction of the performance its hardware is intended for.

The primary purpose of throttling is to boost the existing phone battery to support the user’s needs. Years of battery charge and discharge cycles reduce the capacity of Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries, the same used in iPhones and several other smartphones. So after some time, usually years, the battery may not be able to deliver the processing demands.

Thus, a device may shut down abruptly and spontaneously. So a simple solution would be to replace the aging battery to continue harnessing peak processor performance. However, according to the legal claim filed in the UK, Apple took a different route.

Gutmann claims that the 2017 software update that was supposed to enhance battery life degraded the performance. Gutmann said that Apple believed that its batteries would be incapable of handling the updated software requirements, which is why the company concealed a power management tool in the update that limited the processor’s power demand from the battery.

Through the claim, which a tribunal heard, Gutmann added that details of the power management tool weren’t made available by Apple at the time of the update release. While Apple later added the tool description, it failed to clarify that the tool would play havoc with system performance.

“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,” an Apple spokesperson stated.

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If found guilty, Apple could be made to pay affected users anywhere between £30 (~$36) to £60 (~72) each. Users who replaced batteries or devices due to the throttling issue could be entitled to an amount in the hundreds.

The legal claim pertains to the following ten iPhone models: iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and iPhone X models.

The iPhone has previously been embroiled in a similar controversy. A class-action lawsuit from December 2015 alleged the iPhone 4S slowed down after being updated to iOS 9. Apple was accused of “deceptive trade practices and false advertising.” In May 2022, the company agreed to a settlement under which eligible iPhone 4S users will get $15.

In March 2022, complaints began spiraling against Samsung’s Game Optimisation Service (GOS), which reportedly throttled nearly 10,000 other apps on Samsung Galaxy S22. Samsung Device Experience division CEO Jong-Hee Han apologized to shareholders and consumers and promised to roll out an update that hands over the performance control to users.

Another smartphone major, OnePlus, found itself in the deep end last year when AnandTech discovered it was throttling even its then flagship, the OnePlus 9 Pro. A week later, OnePlus responded with the same response: to optimize processor performance for higher battery performance.

A member of the OnePlus global product team wrote in a forum, “In recent years, the performance of smartphone SoCs has reached a point where their power is often overkill in certain scenarios for many apps including social media, browsers and even some light gaming.”

He added, “With this in mind, our team has shifted its attention from simply providing sheer performance to providing the performance you expect from our devices while reducing power consumption and heat dissipation. To be more precise, we want to match each app with the most appropriate performance it needs.”

Does the statement indicate that smartphone processors are now too powerful for present-day needs or that battery tech is lagging behind?

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