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Although accusations of Apple slowing down older iPhones to encourage sales of newer models aren’t anything new, a consumer advocacy group in Spain is now putting forth one of the boldest claims of “planned obsolescence” we’ve yet seen.
According to iPhoneros, Spain’s OCU (Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios) is suggesting that Apple is already slowing down the iPhone 12 in most iOS updates to encourage users to upgrade to the yet-to-be-released “iPhone 13.”
The OCU has apparently already sent a letter to Apple asking the company to compensate iPhone 12, iPhone 11, iPhone 8, and iPhone XS users who have allegedly experienced performance slowdowns and poorer battery life since upgraded to iOS 14.5 and beyond.
While the group says that it’s only looking to open a dialogue with Apple at this point, the letter is basically making a polite but firm demand that Apple compensate users. It sounds like they aren’t going to take “no” for an answer, however, as they’re pointedly threatening formal legal action if they don’t get the response they want from Apple.
As iPhoneros notes, it’s somewhat unusual that the group is calling out only a few specific models, excluding versions like the iPhone X, released the same year as the iPhone 8.
Since the iPhone XR is also notably excluded, it’s also unclear if the references to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 are intended to encompass those full product lineups or only the specific 6.1-inch non-Pro versions.
The OCU claims that the iOS 14.5, iOS 14.5.1, and iOS 14.6 updates have “significantly damaged consumers’ devices,” slowing down performance “drastically,” and causing the battery to run out faster. They claim that there are numerous media reports to back this up, although they haven’t provided any specific references in their press release.
These updates have significantly damaged consumers’ devices, which has caused their processing speed to decrease drastically and the battery to run out faster, according to numerous media, both technological and non-technological.Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios press release (machine translated)
The group also notes that this is the second time that “Apple’s obsolesce practices have been identified,” citing class actions in Belgium, Spain, Italy, and Portugal from several years ago regarding the iPhone 6.
OCU considers that the excessively fast wear and tear of iPhones after updates promoted by Apple is not only unfair to consumers, but also damages the environment. In OCU’s opinion, consumers want to be treated with respect and expect Apple to offer quality and sustainability.Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios press release (machine translated)
Several other European consumer organizations appear to have joined OCU in this latest complaint as well, including Portugal’s Deco Proteste, along with Italy’s Altroconsume, both of which launched lawsuits earlier this year accusing Apple of “planned obsolescence” with the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s models.
In this case, the Deco Proteste lawsuit came after three years of waiting for Apple to respond to its requests for compensation. The Portuguese consumer protection organization claimed that Apple “deliberately manipulated” its users, slowing down the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s models for the sole purpose of forcing users to replace their batteries or buy new smartphones entirely.
It’s not uncommon for new software updates to run more poorly on older hardware. It’s always been somewhat ironic, however, that the same users who would never suggest that Dell and Microsoft colluded to make their PCs run slower with Windows 10 seem to think that Apple is deliberately making older iPhones run slower when newer iOS updates arrive.
We’ve previously debunked the theory of planned obsolescence in Apple products. Unfortunately, Apple didn’t do itself any favours back in 2017 when it quietly began throttling performance for iPhones with older batteries — a move that led many people to believe that their worst fears about Apple products were, in fact, true.
In the case of the so-called “batterygate” scandal — and a wave of rather insane lawsuits that accompanied it — Apple explained that it was simply trying to protect the user experience by ensuring that iPhones with deteriorating batteries would continue to function.
The problem is that as Lithium-ion batteries age, they become less capable of handling with the same kind of power consumption curves that they can when they’re brand new. The result is a choice between slowing down the iPhone, so it doesn’t demand as much from the battery, or letting it continue to run at full speed and risk sudden shutdowns when iOS asks for a surge of power that’s more than the battery can deliver at that moment in time.
Before Apple quietly added this throttling in iOS 10.2, it wasn’t uncommon to hear reports of these kinds of seemingly random shutdowns. In fact, we encountered them ourselves, as did some of our friends and family — and they usually came at the most inopportune times. I once missed a cute photo of my young daughter when my iPhone 6 Plus died at 45% as soon as I opened the camera app.
Unfortunately, Apple made a serious tactical error when it implemented this feature: It failed to actually explain to iPhone users what it was doing.
Hence, when users discovered that their iPhones were suddenly running slower after iOS 10.2, many immediately assumed the worst, buying into the planned obsolescence conspiracy.
Apple paid for this mistake, however, with class-action lawsuits and several government regulators coming down hard on it. Investigations were launched in the US, in France, and in Italy, with Apple ultimately paying out $27 million and $5 million in fines and settlements in those countries, plus another $113 million in the US. On the other hand, Brazil ruled that Apple did nothing wrong.
Further, a series of class action lawsuits from the U.S. to Quebec, Canada resulted in Apple having to pay out $500 million to affected consumers. That worked out to about $25 per person, although the lawyers collectively got $93 million of that in “reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
Despite all of these investigations, payouts, and fines, it’s important to note that in no case was Apple found guilty of planned obsolescence. The fines and settlements were expressly a result of Apple’s failure to communicate what it was doing.
In other words, nobody disputed Apple’s decision to throttle performance in iPhones with older batteries, nor did any of the courts or government regulators rule that it was doing this for nefarious purposes. In the end, what Apple was guilty of was not telling users that it was doing this.
While government regulators have long since put this issue to rest, this hasn’t stopped private consumer advocacy groups from continuing the fight, insisting that Apple’s decisions were part of a ploy to force users into more expensive paid upgrades.