A consumer rights campaigner is suing Apple for more than £750 million (around $1 billion), alleging that the company intentionally slows down older devices to avoid the expense of repairing or replacing a device that was suffering from poor battery life.
In a claim submitted at the UK Competition Appeals Tribunal, Justin Guttman alleges that Apple included a secret battery management system in an update to iOS, intended to disguise the fact that older iPhone models were unable to handle the new version. This practice is known as ‘throttling’.
Guttman says the system was not included in the software notes and that consumers had no option to disable it, meaning the ‘upgrade’ was effectively a ‘downgrade’ in terms of performance.
Because Apple would not admit that its older models could not handle the update, and did not provide an alternative course of action, the case claims consumers were harmed.
“The claim is against [Apple] for breaching UK competition law by abusing their position of dominance in related markets by applying exploitative and unfair commercial practices that caused widespread harm to UK consumers and businesses,” reads the case website.
“These practices include: pushing users to download iOS updates which placed demands on the iPhones that exceeded the capabilities of the batteries installed, therefore increasing the likelihood of unexpected shut-downs; pushing iOS updates on users which contained a ‘throttling’ function, which resulted in significant reductions in the performance of these iPhones; and failing to communicate in a transparent manner about the unexpected shutdowns and subsequent ‘throttling’.”
If successful, anyone who owned an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus or X, would be entitled to seek damages.
Apple has faced accusations of ‘throttling’ devices to encourage consumers to purchase new hardware before. In 2020, it filed a settlement in a California court, agreeing to pay up to $500 million (with a minimum of $310 million) in the form of payments to affected US customers. Similar lawsuits have also been filed in France and Italy.
Although the company has denied ever deliberately slowing down older handsets for nefarious reasons, it has confirmed that it does do this for older phones in certain circumstances. This might be because of a very old battery or because the device was cold – scenarios that would otherwise result in the device shutting down. More recent features include a ‘battery health’ dashboard and the ability to choose whether or not to optimise charging.
TechRadar Pro has contacted Apple for comment.
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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.