Earlier this year, Apple admitted to what many consumers have long suspected—the company has been slowing down the performance of older iPhones. Apple has claimed it did so to prevent phones with degraded batteries from shutting down spontaneously. However, many view this as another instance of Apple trying to drive consumers toward unnecessary upgrades.
Before the announcement, consumers may not have known that their phones’ modems, processors, or memory chips were not to blame for the slow down. Rather, an Apple software function to prevent battery failure was at fault. If iPhone owners think “aging” hardware is responsible for their phones’ slow performance, they may buy a new device prematurely.
Upon learning about this issue, I attempted to make an Apple Genius Bar appointment to replace the battery in my iPhone 6—a process that has been less than smooth—but instead, I found myself on a waitlist for a battery. Apparently, the company did not maintain sufficient inventory to meet this unexpected demand. According to a source for Fortune, Apple’s battery supply may not be “back to normal” until summer 2018. In total, I had to wait five weeks to get my replacement battery – three weeks beyond Apple’s initial two-week delivery estimate. In the meantime, I was stuck with a phone that operated with a less-than-effective battery and was slower than it otherwise could be.
This slowdown “feature,” as Apple calls it, has multiple downsides for consumers. Many of the class-action lawsuits related to this issue note that Apple customers may have felt they needed a new iPhone, which retail starting at $349 for older models and $999 for the latest model, when what they needed to keep their current phone running well was a $79 battery replacement. Consumers have spent time and money chasing what they believed to be a hardware problem, when in reality the issue was an intentional choice Apple made.
This is only the latest incident in a series of actions that undermine Apple’s credibility and the public’s trust. In February 2016, it emerged that Apple was “bricking” iPhones with screens that had been replaced by third-party repair shops. Apple claimed that the repairs compromised the security of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor and that a software update disabled phones accidentally. However, customers perceived that Apple sought to punish them for third-party or do-it-yourself repairs.
This also hasn’t been the first instance of Apple artificially limiting the performance of its devices without informing consumers. In the midst of its dispute with chip supplier Qualcomm, independent testing found that Apple had throttled the processing speed of the Qualcomm chips in its Verizon iPhone 7s so that the phones did not outperform those offered by AT&T, which were fitted with slower Intel chips. Apple has not commented on the record about this practice, but it’s not unreasonable to conclude that Apple slowed down its customers’ phones to have leverage over Qualcomm when negotiating chip prices.
A group of lawmakers sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, asking many pressing questions about the throttling for which legislators, regulators, and consumers alike would like answers. Lawmakers asked whether Apple has explored options to prevent shutdowns other than processor throttling, and if Apple has applied this software to models older than the iPhone 6 or to the new iPhone 8 or X models. They also asked whether the company has an adequate supply of batteries to meet demand, and if Apple will extend the discounted battery replacement program beyond December 2018. It has been more than a month since lawmakers sent the letter, and Apple has yet to release a public response.
In the wake of its latest scandal, Apple has made some efforts to mollify consumers, such as offering discounted battery replacements, but the company still has a lot to answer for regarding its business practices. Its repeated lack of transparency surrounding the choices it makes on behalf of consumers who purchase iPhones call its integrity into question.
Despite Apple’s assurances that the slowdown was intended to “smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down,” many consumers aren’t buying this explanation, judging from the 45 class-action lawsuits consumers filed against Apple regarding this issue. Apple products aren’t cheap and consumers deserve to enjoy the full benefits of the products they’ve paid for. Apple should do better by its customers and should be held accountable for its anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices.