Apple has faced intense scrutiny over the past few years regarding allegations that it intentionally slowed down older iPhone models through software updates. The issue, commonly referred to as “Batterygate,” sparked lawsuits, government investigations, and a public apology from Apple.
Lawsuits and Investigations Over iPhone Slowdowns
In late 2017, Apple confirmed that it introduced power management features in iOS updates starting in 2016 that could slow down iPhone 6 models and later under certain conditions. The goal was to prevent unexpected shutdowns as the phone’s battery aged and became less capable of supplying peak power demands. However, Apple failed to properly communicate this to users at the time, leading to speculation that the company intentionally crippled older iPhones to drive customers to upgrade to newer models.
Multiple class action lawsuits were filed against Apple in the United States, Israel, and other countries, alleging violation of consumer protection laws and accusing Apple of planned obsolescence. Plaintiffs argued they were misled into believing their phones were nearing end-of-life and had no choice but to purchase new phones or batteries from Apple when simple battery replacement could have restored performance.
Apple faced additional legal scrutiny from government regulators over its lack of transparency. In early 2018, the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission launched investigations into whether Apple violated securities laws by not properly informing investors about the update that could slow phones. Apple was also criminally investigated in France, where planned obsolescence is illegal.
Apple’s Explanation and Apology
In response to the backlash, Apple published a letter to customers in December 2017 apologizing for poor communication and denying that it would ever intentionally shorten the lifespan of its products.
Apple explained that all lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands as they age. This could cause iPhones to unexpectedly shut down to protect internal components if the processor demanded more power than an old battery could provide. The power management features in iOS updates were designed to smooth out power demands and prevent shutdowns, but Apple acknowledged it should have provided clearer information to users on how this could slow phone performance.
As part of its apology, Apple reduced the price of out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29 for iPhone 6 and later models through December 2018. The company also promised to add new features in iOS 11.3 to provide greater visibility into battery health and allow users to disable the power management feature if desired.
Impact on Older iPhone Models
Battery performance and throttling due to power management features primarily impacted iPhone 6 models and earlier. These phones had smaller batteries and older processors that were more prone to drawing too much current from a depleted battery.
Tests showed the iPhone 6S scored up to 40% lower on performance benchmarks after the iOS 10.2.1 update that introduced throttling. The iPhone 7 was also affected, but to a lesser degree. Replacing the battery restored the iPhone’s original performance in nearly all cases.
For most users, the performance limitations only occurred intermittently when the battery was cold, low, or worn out. However, many felt Apple should have been more transparent that a software update would deliberately slow phones under certain conditions. Even if it improved reliability, customers were upset they weren’t given a choice.
The throttling issue received less complaints on newer iPhones starting with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X in 2017. These models had more efficient processors and higher capacity batteries that were less prone to performance restrictions as they aged.
Settlements and Fines
Most of the class action lawsuits were consolidated into a single case that Apple agreed to settle for between $310 million and $500 million in March 2020. The settlement provided payments of approximately $25 per eligible iPhone, but some plaintiffs argued this was insufficient compensation.
Apple also agreed to pay $113 million in November 2020 to settle an investigation led by over 30 U.S. states into its battery and performance practices. The settlement required Apple to provide clear information about iPhone battery health and throttling in iOS updates.
Additionally, Apple paid a $27 million fine in February 2020 imposed by France’s Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Prevention for failing to inform iPhone users that installing iOS updates could slow their devices.
The Batterygate controversy highlighted Apple’s lack of transparency around changes it made to optimize iPhone performance as batteries aged. While Apple maintained it was never its intention to accelerate device obsolescence, the company faced immense public pressure to be more forthcoming about the trade-offs around battery life versus peak performance.
Apple has since incorporated battery health data and controls into iOS settings, so users can now disable performance throttling if desired. But the incident damaged Apple’s reputation for product quality and its willingness to be direct with customers about the limitations of lithium-ion batteries.
Despite the backlash, Apple reported record iPhone revenue in the years following Batterygate as interest in new models like the iPhone X remained strong. But the lawsuits and fines were an unusual humbling experience for a company that typically sets the standard for customer satisfaction and trust in the tech industry.
Going forward, Apple must continue working to balance innovation and transparency as batteries evolve and new power management techniques emerge. Maintaining trust with customers who keep devices for several years will require clearer communication around the relationship between battery condition and real-world performance.