Since Apple acknowledged it had been slowing down old iPhones running newer operating systems to prevent shutdowns, lawsuits from angry iPhone owners have been stacking up.
At least 10 lawsuits have been filed against Apple, including complaints filed in California, North Carolina, New York, Illinois, Israel, Australia, and France. Two law firms in South Korea say they are preparing to file. Others may be on the way.
Apple said in a statement that it did indeed change the dynamic power management in older iPhones via a software update last year, to prevent the phones from suddenly shutting down.
Dynamic power management is nothing new. It’s a technology that attempts to control the charge and discharge of Lithium-ion batteries according to the power required of them by the device. Apple actually implemented the technology on iPhone 6/Plus and 6s/Plus last year via an iOS update.
I’m so pissed at Apple for purposely decreasing my battery life on my iPhone 6
— Alexandra (@alexschroettner) January 1, 2018
But Apple changed the performance of people’s devices without telling them directly that they were doing so.
Attorney Bobby Saadian of the Wilshire Law Firm (which was first to file a class action suit in this matter) said in a statement: “Apple is a global brand. They should know better.” The complaint was brought to Saadian’s firm by a couple of USC law students, Stefan Bogdanovich and Dakota Speas. (See the full suit here.)
Apple probably should have known better than to secretly mess with the performance of the central computing hub in most people’s lives. Many users are very sensitive to the speed at which their phone launches apps and renders video. And Apple knows that; note that in its statement the company did not apologize for throttling down phone performance, but did apologize for not telling consumers.
So score that one for the plaintiffs.
It also seems possible that some users of older iPhones may have found themselves the owners of less functional devices after Apple throttled down performance. (Although the dynamic power management is supposed to slow down the processor only in high power demand situations like 3D game play.)
But proving that the kinds of performance degradations (slow apps, sudden shutdowns) reported in the lawsuits actually happened, and that they were the direct result of an Apple software update will be hard. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff, not Apple.
Plaintiff’s counsel will have to prove, not just say:
- That iPhone owners in the class in fact experienced slowdowns in phone performance, or other events like shutdowns
- That the problems were the direct result of the specific update that adjusted the “dynamic power management” in the phones (This might require some forensics work to reveal a historical record of performance levels of the phone.)
- That the reduction in performance led directly to the consumer ditching their phone for an expensive new one before they normally would.
“Apple isn’t fooling anyone when they say the software updates were to save battery life,” said Wilshire Law Firm partner Colin Jones. “The only thing Apple was considering was improving their bottom line.”
But that last one may be the hardest to prove of all. How does a plaintiff prove that a specific performance drop was the sole reason for heading to the Apple Store with a credit card?
I submitted the above questions to Wilshire Law Firm, the Los Angeles firm that filed the original suit in a federal court in California’s central district. But the attorneys declined to respond. A spokeswoman said the attorneys hope to learn more about such “technical” questions later on during the discovery process.
The next step in the case will be when a federal district court (Central California) judge decides whether or not to certify the class action. This depends on whether the complaints of the various class members line up in a standard way and involve the same general legal questions.
A Wilshire Law Firm spokeswoman said the judge could make the decision “within the next month, few months, or a year.” It’s entirely up to the judge.
If the judge certifies the class, the spokeswoman told me, it’s very likely that the other similar class actions filed around the country will be consolidated under the Bogdanovich/Speas case.