In a rare public apology, Apple yesterday said it was sorry for how it handled an operating system upgrade that slows the performance of older iPhones to prevent them from unexpectedly shutting down due to aging batteries. Apple also said it would lower the price for iPhone battery replacements, and add new features to iOS to provide greater transparency into battery health.
However, that response doesn't appear likely to save Apple from user lawsuits over the operating system fix, which intentionally slows down processors and other components to dynamically manage device power usage. To date, 15 class action lawsuits have been filed against Apple alleging misrepresentation, breach of good faith, and deceptive business practices.
Apple's latest troubles began coming to a boil earlier this month after a Reddit user described problems with a slow iPhone 6s and traced the problem to the device's aging battery. Upon checking the phone using the processor benchmarking service Geekbench, the user discovered the device's CPU was significantly slower with the old battery.
'Some of You Feel Apple Has Let You Down'
After the Reddit post was published, Apple acknowledged that its 2016 release of iOS 10.2.1 added a feature designed to smooth out peak power demands in the iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE by slowing down processor performance. It added that it had also extended that feature to the iPhone 7 with this year's release of iOS 11.2, and planned to "add support for other products in the future."
The revelation led to numerous complaints from iPhone users that Apple was deliberately throttling their devices without informing them why or giving them the ability to opt out. Some also expressed concern that the strategy looked like planned obsolescence intended to drive users to replace aging devices with new iPhones.
"We've been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process," Apple said yesterday in its online apology. "We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize."
The statement noted that despite "a lot of misunderstanding... 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."
Long-Term Silver Lining?
In response to customer concerns, Apple said in yesterday's online message that it will be discounting the price for out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29 for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced. That offer will be available worldwide through December 2018, and Apple said details will be provided soon on on its apple.com web site.
The company also said it will continue working to improve user experience, with plans to release an iOS update in 2018 that will "give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone's battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance."
For now, it appears that Apple's efforts to correct its past mistakes might be too little and too late. In response to the company's statement that it would never degrade performance to drive replacement purchases, one user on Apple's support forums yesterday wrote, "You mean like making it very difficult for people of average technical skill nearly impossible to replace the battery and not using a generic battery form factor? Sure, Apple might not intentionally limit the battery life but you limit how long someone might be inclined to keep an old device given how expensive it is to replace the battery given the relative battery replacement cost for other devices."
Today, the tech site BGR also took Apple to task for the company's "far from perfect" apology. BGR said Apple failed to provide its customers with full information about how it was handling the performance of aging batteries, and took users' support for granted. By not recognizing the battery-related performance problems earlier, Apple also basically acknowledged that it doesn't test new releases of iOS on iPhones with older batteries.
In the long run, however, Apple and its customers could benefit from the current hit to user goodwill, Business Insider observed today.
"Assuming that the data the battery-monitoring feature shares is helpful and that the battery-replacement program goes off without a hitch, Apple customers will be better informed and have better-functioning iPhones," according to Business Insider. "Maybe this will serve as a positive lesson to Apple about the value of openness and transparency -- things it has long lacked."