While much of the tech world has since moved on, there’s no denying that the 2018 ‘batterygate’ incident was one of the bigger scandals to hit Apple in recent years, prompting a loud hue and cry from users who believed that Apple was secretly slowing down older iPhones in order to encourage users to upgrade to newer models.
As is usually the case in situations like this, however, the truth was naturally a bit more complicated. Apple quickly admitted that recent versions of iOS had been designed to slow down older iPhones under certain circumstances, but that it actually had good reasons for doing so, and it had nothing to do with planned obsolescence.
Instead, Apple’s intention was to solve a poor user experience problem that resulted from aging batteries.
It’s a simple matter of chemistry that as lithium-ion batteries age, they can no longer keep up with sudden spikes in demand for power, which can cause sudden shutdowns of mobile devices like iPhones. If you ever had your iPhone suddenly die when the battery is still at 40%, the most likely cause is a deteriorating or faulty battery.
By slowing down the performance on older iPhones, Apple could ensure that even though the devices would be running more slowly, users wouldn’t find their iPhone suddenly shutting down when they’re trying to make an important phone call or take that once-in-a-lifetime picture of their kids.
Unfortunately, as Tim Cook later candidly admitted, Apple wasn’t as clear in communicating this to users as it should have been.
While Apple never made a big secret over its decision to make this change in the underlying iOS code, it buried the explanation of it in the release notes for the very minor iOS 10.2.1 update.
Unfortunately, this didn’t stop a spate of lawsuits, some of which were downright ridiculous, along with senate inquiries and fines from foreign governments for Apple’s “dishonest commercial practices.”
Back in 2018, Italy hit Apple with a 5 million dollar fine and earlier this year France joined in with a $27 million fine over the issue, although in both cases, the penalties were for simply for Apple’s lack of communication on the issue; in other words, it wasn’t about Apple’s decisions to throttle iPhones with older batteries, but merely the fact that it didn’t clearly tell users that it was doing this.
It’s also worth noting by contrast that Brazil ruled that Apple did nothing wrong.
The End of the Matter
Earlier this year, Apple agreed to a settlement in the massive consolidated class-action lawsuit that had been brought against it. While Apple explicitly denied all wrongdoing in the case, the company did agree to a payout of up to $500 million to bring the matter to a close and avoid the cost of further ongoing litigation.
Specifically, Apple proposed to pay consumers $25 per iPhone, with a minimum total payout of $310 million that could go as high as $500 million, depending on how many iPhones are eligible.
This suggested that Apple expected to pay out between 12.4 million and 20 million iPhone users, although only U.S. owners of specific models that were running specific iOS versions will be eligible, and there are also other costs such as lawyers’ fees that would need to come out of that sum.
Apple’s proposed settlement was given preliminary approval back in May, and while it was unclear when it would get the final seal of approval — there were concerns that the global health pandemic could push it off to December — it appears that Apple is at least ready to start the process of arranging the payouts.
Despite some earlier rumours that the amounts could be higher, Apple will still only be paying out “approximately” $25 to the bulk of iPhone users — those who were not named as part of the case; named plaintiffs could receive payments of between $1,500 and $3,500 each.
As usual, however, the lawyers are the only real winners here, as the lawyers will be receiving a payout of around $93 million for “reasonable attorneys’ fees” for their work on the case. Although the 60 class action lawsuits being consolidated here means there were likely more than just a few lawyers and law firms involved, but that still works out to a substantially larger payout for the lawyers than for the iPhone users.
How to Get Your $25
Firstly, the settlement is proposing an “approximate” payment, since it may vary based on the number of claims submitted, but it should still be around $25 for each applicant. Those who are eligible can submit their claim online, and in order to be eligible you must:
- Be a U.S. resident; and
- Own or have previously owned an iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, or iPhone SE that ran iOS 10.2.1 or later before Dec. 21, 2017; or
- Own or have previously owned an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus that ran iOS 11.2 or later, before Dec. 21, 2017.
Technically speaking, in order to be eligible you must have also experienced “diminished performance” on one of those devices, but obviously that’s a subjective matter, and you won’t be asked to prove it.
On the website, you also have the option of excluding yourself from the class if you don’t want to receive the payout, which you’d generally only do if you plan to bring your own lawsuit against Apple individually, although you can certainly exclude yourself on principle too.
You’ll also be asked for your iPhone serial number as part of the claim, however there’s a search tool available to help you look it up if you no longer have ready access to it, which could very likely be the case for many users since it involves 4–5 year old iPhone models.
The deadline to submit claims is October 6, 2020, however there’s still a final hearing scheduled for December of this year where a judge will need to sign off on the final settlement, so cheques won’t be sent out until after that happens.