back to article Unlike your iPhone, Apple's batterygate controversy refuses to die

Half a decade after introducing a software feature designed to dial back performance on iPhones with degraded batteries, Apple is still dealing with the reaction to what became known as "Batterygate". The feature – which Apple explained is designed to slow down older iPhones to prevent aging batteries from tripping low-voltage …

  1. Korev Silver badge
    Coat

    sparked a $2 billion (£1.6 billion) UK class-action suit against the iGiant last year.

    So you could say Apple are being charged...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      with battery.

      1. EricB123 Bronze badge

        Puns anonymous

        "with battery."

        Are you the same guy who posted the pun about "a patche helicopters?"

  2. ElRegioLPL

    Let us be clear. The only winner here is the ambo chaser and not the individual users who will get about £1.20 each before admin fees.

    1. Wade Burchette

      The outcome I would want with any lawsuit against Apple is to require them to make the battery user replaceable and the device must allow any battery that is fit for purpose, even if it was not made by or bought from Apple.

      I would also require Apple to provide repair manuals and parts for all their products. And if I manage to get that result, I would immediately set my sights on Samsung too.

      1. ElRegioLPL

        A legal firm on the other hand who are billing for millions cannot pay their bills and get a nice new car with phone batteries

      2. In Like Flynt

        Your odd of winning the lottery... hell, winning the next 10 lottery draws in a row, are far more likely than Apple ever making the battery easily replaceable for the average user :)

      3. ThomH

        Alas this is a civil case before a tribunal so compensation is probably the limit of its powers.

        Also the actual feature, of reducing performance as your battery decays, isn't actually the issue — it's that Apple did that, knew that it had done that, yet still directly advised visitors to its shops that the only solution for slow old iPhones is new iPhones, which isn't true. For at least some proportion a battery replacement would be a much cheaper solution. Therefore Apple profited from the convenient omission of advice.

    2. ThomH

      The verdict's never going to be more than a slap on the wrists for Apple at the absolute most, but possibly the bad publicity — something that will upset Apple a lot more than potentially having to pay damages, I'm sure — will be a win in terms of deterrence?

    3. Franco

      "Let us be clear. The only winner here is the ambo chaser and not the individual users who will get about £1.20 each before admin fees."

      That's true to an extent, and the lawyers always win, but stopping Apple (or Google/any of their OEMS, or anyone else) rolling out features like this and not telling anyone in the future is (IMO) a good thing

  3. Phones Sheridan Silver badge

    In the UK we don't have class action lawsuits, so this isn't a class action lawsuit, instead it's an appeal on behalf of 1 person, Justin Gutman to the Competition Appeal Tribunal to get them to agree that Apple abused it's dominance in the market to mislead it's customers about faulty batteries and deliberate performance degradation. If the appeal is successful then the CAT could order Apple to pay Mr Gutman compensation. A side effect of that could be that Apple could be instructed to pay compensation to anyone that has had an affected iPhone in that period, in which case a pot would be set up for people to make, and prove they have a claim against. This second part would be a lot harder if people have not kept their receipts etc from the time. Expect lawyers to jump on the bandwagon offering to make your claim for you like they jumped on the PPA bandwagon to get their cut for essentially fillling out a form on your behalf. Apple would be the arbiter of who they own compensation to. It becomes a bit of a mess.

    Alternatively the CAT could simply say that faulty hardware is outside of their remit, and instead point out that consumer redress for faulty goods is covered by the Sale of Goods Act and that iPhone owners need to make their own claim to the Small Claims Court under the provisions of that act.

    It's an interesting use of the CAT to try get around the UK lack of class action lawsuits, but my money would be it doesn't get anywhere because the Sale of Goods Act already covers faulty goods and redress.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      If Apple were trying to hide the problem with the battery, I would sympathise with claim. But according to the article, Apple offered a free battery replacement to all affected users. So I'm not sure what leg Mr Gutman has to stand on.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        re: what leg Mr Gutman has to stand on.

        It does not matter. He has taken a stand and like many politicians and union leaders... refuses to budge.

        If he does lose then he'll be on the hook for ALL of El-Fruity's legal fees unlike the USA.

        Where's the popcorn?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I had one of those free battery replacements. I have no idea what they used for those batteries, but I just gave away that iPhone 6 to someone showing 100% battery health.

        I kid you not, 100% (and yes, it keeps its charge as if it was new, it's not a software or sensor error). I have more recent phones which don't show that.

      3. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

        I don't think the logic quite follows, though.

        If it was just a batch of faulty batteries, why did they add a software "feature" to manage those batteries rather than just 'fess up and replace them?

        Also, why was the "feature" added, and triggered, on all phones, and not just the ones with "faulty" batteries. Could it be that all the batteries were actually inadequate.

        One could contend that Apple knew very well that the batteries they had specced for the iPhone 6 were inadequate for the purpose, and would have a short lifespan. It could be suggested that the faulty batch of batteries just provided a smokescreen for this. One could then argue that this was done intentionally, to force the users to "upgrade". The "battery management feature" was just a symptom of this, an attempt to manage the situation to make it look as if they weren't just trying to push the users to "upgrade". Gotta protect that revenue stream, eh?

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          What are they on about anyway?

          "But the cost of a potential improvement to stability was slower performance."

          I'm writing this on a Samsung S9. It's years old. The screen has really obvious burn-in, and the battery charge evaporates faster than printer ink, but the phone isn't any less capable or stable. It just... has a battery that doesn't last as long as it used to. So this guff about stability seems like a rather handwavy attempt to pass off throttling onto people (and, oh, look how much faster this new shiny is compared to your old tarnished).

          1. imanidiot Silver badge

            The complicating factor is that Apples power management is absolute shit and that gen iPhone uses rather power hungry chips. The combination does lead to the effect where a sudden spike in power consumption can cause the battery to drop below useful voltage level and cause the power regulators to brown-out, which then causes a shutdown of the phone. After which it will just power back up again as long as the startup process doesn't stress the battery enough to cause another shutdown.

            1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

              "The complicating factor is that Apples power management is absolute shit"

              Evidence?

              Thought not.

          2. Slipoch

            I have an s3 that still works, you should just get the battery replaced in the s9.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          The problem I have with this is that Wintel laptops have had battery and power management since whenever and as a user I can select various options between max. Battery life and max. Performance. Additionally, the battery pack itself tends to also have some intelligence to potentially prolong the life of the battery, important when we know rechargeable batteries have a finite life which is massively impacted by poor charging and discharging practices.

          So Apple finally introducing some sensible battery management utility (particularly one which throttles the power demand to keep it within what the battery can supply) should on the face of it be welcome. I suspect this is one occasion where the absence of Steve Jobs shows, as I suspect Steve would of made a feature of this new functionality, given it probably extends the useful life of an iPhone’s battery.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            The problem comes because the feature was turned on without people knowing and because the problems when the feature is not turned on is so bad. When a normal computer's battery is old and the maximum performance setting is set, the battery doesn't last very long because it discharges to zero quickly. When the iPhone's switch is turned off, or even sometimes when it's turned on, the phone spontaneously reboots even though the battery says it has, and actually has, plenty of charge left. I had one of those phones. I never disabled the throttling. Even with the throttling on, it got to the point where doing something as simple as answering an incoming call would sometimes require more voltage than the battery would give and cause the phone to shut down. I would have to plug it in to reawaken it, the phone would come up saying that the battery had 45% or so of battery remaining, and I could call the person back and apologize for the downtime.

            Other devices don't do that.

          2. Franco

            It was a big problem on laptops years ago as well though, largely because it was a new thing.

            Anyone who dealt with large numbers of D-series Dell Latitudes will remember Quickset, Dell's power management utility. It turned off unused devices on battery to preserve battery life, but it wasn't well documented that one of those devices was the ethernet port, to the point that many users got new motherboards that weren't required because of "faulty" NICs that were actually just turned off.

            It was never an undocumented feature and Dell honoured the warranties, but cost themselves a huge amount of money by not making the feature well known.

      4. Slipoch

        The issue was not the battery, it was the artificial slowing down of the device (something that they have applied to most old iphones, not just the ones with faulty batteries), then the device causing so many issues (rather than just running out quicker) when the optional part of that feature is switched off (there is also non-optional slowdown built in too)

        The attempt to hide behind the 'it's for you not us' argument after denying they did it etc. The failure of their software to be able to detect remaining charge, resets instead of shutdown etc.

    2. nematoad
      FAIL

      In the UK we don't have class action lawsuits,

      I agree, we don't.

      If there are a group of similar actions against one defendant the court may order what is known as a group litigation order. See Bates v Post Office Ltd.

      Oh, on a nit-picking point, it should be a £1.6 billion claim against Apple, not $2 billion. Old fashioned I know but the UK still uses the £ Sterling and not whatever kind of $ you mean.

      Note to residents of the USA: Other countries apart from the US title their currency Dollar i.e Australia, New Zealand and Canada for starters, so if you are going to quote a sum it might be helpful if you stated which kind of dollar you are referring to.

      1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
        Joke

        And don't forget Zimbabwe!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While I don't agree with hiding the performance limiting I do agree with the action of limiting performance to keep the phone functioning.

    I wish they had made this an option on their older phones when batteries were performing oddly rather than just giving what appeared to be a crash if you attempted to record more than 20 secs of video with 80% or less battery in winter

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The irony of this is that Apple actually did this with the intention to ensure the battery would last LONGER as excessive load will wear out the battery sooner..

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Which would have been fine if they had made it a voluntary feature and informed the iSheep about it, instead of pushing it (very conspicuously timed) right when they announced the next generation iGadget.

  5. VoiceOfTruth

    It was written in the annals

    -> Apple uncovered a defect affecting a "small number of iPhone 6s devices."

    Verily, it was the number-never-stated small number of users. Aye.

  6. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

    The root of this

    would appear to be the makers of iThings making them with insufficiently specced batteries for a reasonable lifetime. They are by no means the only culprit - I had an HTC phone a few years back which, after a year or so, had a battery that would last about five minutes if actually used, and would need an external battery pack connected at all times if I wanted to use the camera.

    This can be all traced back to the push to make "slimmer" and lighter phones, which was always going to be a trade-off between size, weight, performance, and battery capacity / life. A higher capacity battery which could supply a higher current would always last longer, not only for a single charge, but the overall lifetime, as the power draw would be a lower percentage of the capacity. This means the battery has to be either larger, and heavier, or use a more advanced battery technology to up the power density.

    Personally, I'd accept an extra 20g on the weight of my phone to have a better battery in it, but that's hard to do spiffy marketing on, with all the pretty colours and the flashy lights that so attract the victims of the iCult.

    1. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: The root of this

      There's a certain degree of variability with batteries. I used to do repairs for Apple laptops, and sometimes you'd run into the immortal battery. It could have like 2000 cycles on it (batteries are usually warranted for around 500) and still be just as strong as when it was brand new, and then you can have brand new batteries that fail almost immediately. Most fall somewhere in between obviously, but it's not simply a matter of there wasn't enough physical battery.

      Though I do still agree with your notion that this obsession with making things smaller, thinner, and lighter is kind of an issue. I'd love to have a phone that's roughly the thickness of say the old iPhone 4, and then use that extra space for additional battery. There comes a point where you need a certain thickness to be able to hold the device in your hand comfortably. My iPhone 6 and 8 were slippery little buggers I didn't dare use without a case to add some extra grip because they were too thin to get a good handle on.

  7. Johnb89

    Let the user decide

    All apple should have done was let the user decide. Tell me "So here's the thing, your battery is getting older. You can a) let me slow your phone down to prolong its life, b) Keep using it at full power but your phone might crash, or c) get a new battery." But all that discussion breaks the 'it just works' thing, which anyway is a marketing slogan not backed by reality.

    If they'd told me that I would have got a new battery, Instead I blamed software bloat and traded my SE for an SE 2020, costing me a pile of money. That is what this lawsuit is about.

    1. Slipoch

      Re: Let the user decide

      The option to turn it off only appeared after the first lawsuit, the crashes and reboots should not be happening (just a shutdown should occur),and for the price premium it should have lasted longer.

  8. aerogems Silver badge

    No good deed

    While I will definitely grant that Apple should have been more up front about this, and their obsession with secrecy is biting them in the ass, this just seems like a case that should get tossed out immediately. In an era of planned obsolescence, here was an example of a company trying to keep older devices working properly for a longer period of time.

    1. Johnb89

      Re: No good deed

      Or you could say 'here was an example of a company that made older devices seem slow to encourage upgrades.'

      I, for one, think apple probably did it for good reasons, not that... but you could say that.

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: No good deed

        If they were looking to get people to upgrade they wouldn't have bothered going out of their way to throttle phones with weaker batteries. They would have let them reboot when they stressed the aging battery too much, and when they showed up in an Apple store asking about a fix, tell them the device is out of warranty (and that batteries are considered consumables) so they can either pay $400 to mail it in for repairs or buy a new phone.

        This is just one of those "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations companies sometimes find themselves in. It still would have been the right thing to do to have documented this change in behavior publicly and lay out the reasoning for it. It probably wouldn't have stopped some people from suing anyway, but it would have probably made it easier to get the case dismissed.

      2. MrDamage Silver badge

        Re: No good deed

        Given that they deliberately withheld WiFi capability form the first iPhone specifically so they would have a major selling point for the iPhone 2, one could definitely consider the possibility that it was done to force an early upgrade cycle.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: No good deed

      "here was an example of a company trying to keep older devices working properly for a longer period of time."

      That wasn't it, and it wasn't about slowing down the devices. They had specified batteries that couldn't run their devices, and they were trying to hide their design error. Their batteries were not sufficient to run the electronics they attached to them, and they figured this out, so they artificially hampered the electronics to avoid crashing their users' devices so frequently. They still ended up crashing, but it took a bit longer to get there, meaning that warranties and consumer protection timelines ran out before the problems became as evident.

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        Re: No good deed

        Any proof to back up those claims? Everyone loves to create these stories about the shadowy cabal of anonymous black robed figures meeting in a secret location where they conspire about how to screw over consumers, but that's rarely the case. Most of the time it's a case of unintended consequences. What's more often the case is that after something happens the company will try to cover it up, which is always a risk because it makes things significantly worse if you're found out, but rarely was it the intention of anyone in the company for that to happen in the first place.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: No good deed

          It looks like we're saying the same thing. Your summary is exactly what I think happened: "Most of the time it's a case of unintended consequences. What's more often the case is that after something happens the company will try to cover it up,"

          I don't think Apple deliberately specified the wrong batteries. I called it a "design error" and that's what I think it was. When they discovered that they had built millions of devices whose batteries wouldn't work for very long, they went into panic mode and released software to automatically and silently reduce the hardware's capabilities so the batteries would last longer. Their changes were unable to make the batteries always work, but they prevented the crashes from happening even more quickly after purchase and frequently. Probably most of the desire was to avoid the bad press of three generations of iPhones keeling over after only a little use, but another factor would be the cost of repairing all those faulty devices under warranty. By pushing it out, they managed both to have the failures noticed after the warranty period and several months longer without people noticing.

          This would have worked out quite well for them except some people noticed that they were slowing down the processors and assumed that was the plan. As I said, I don't think that was the plan at all, since their new processors were going to be faster anyway. The fact remains, however, that other devices don't have the kind of battery problems that these phone models did. Laptops don't tend to fail abruptly when their battery's a year old. Even the ancient ones I have whose batteries last twenty minutes just show the battery level dropping frequently, not claiming to have 90% and dying anyway, only to show that the battery really does have 90% when connected to the mains. Other iPhone models don't do it either, neither those before or after the faulty models.

  9. CommonBloke

    Replaceable batteries

    I remember when they were considered a feature, instead of a bug that got "fixed"

    Apple led the "fuck you and your rights to repair" since the beginning, but when most android phones also began being manufactured with the back tightly shut with glue, it was pretty easy to point back at Steve Jobs as the culprit.

    Faulty hardware happens once in a while. If Apple didn't glue in everything, their lawyers wouldn't have to worry about this.

    1. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Replaceable batteries

      It has more to do with it being easier and cheaper to manufacture and also the only way you can really seal the device to add waterproofing features. It also makes it possible to cram in a tiny bit more battery if you don't have to have a couple cm worth of shell to prevent someone from grabbing the battery the wrong way, puncturing it with their bare hand, and then suing the company for being on the business end of nasty chemical burns.

      1. Slipoch

        Re: Replaceable batteries

        The shell still exists and the glue is inside the waterproofing and the shell (the ip waterproofing standards are pretty rubbish anyway), the glue can actually cause a puncture when attempting to remove the battery (the fire in the iphone repair place in spain was caused by that) and any space saved is negligible. Internal memos show a lot of these 'features' were about stopping people from extending the life of older devices, they did not allow switching off the cpu throttling feature until after the first lawsuit and negative press started coming out.

        Besides if someone opens to replace the battery then they should be responsible for their own safety as long as instructed how to do so (it's a battery, it shouldn't be that problematic)

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Replaceable batteries

      I change iPhone batteries, the only glue involved is the double sided tape stuff that secures the battery itself to the case. The phones open with screws and a bit of force.

      My iPad is glued, but comes apart with a heat gun. I believe the iPod touches were also glued.

  10. FatGerman

    I'm not sure what the big deal is

    I've got an iPhone SE of that vintage. I just checked and it is indeed being throttled. If you hadn't told me I'd never have noticed, so what's the big deal? Apple didn't try to hide what they were doing. Batteries degrade over time. If you can fix it in software so that I get a few more years out of my battery then that's a win, I'll buy that.

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