A proposed class action alleges three recent iOS updates released by Apple have “significantly damaged” newer iPhones by causing a drastic drop in the devices’ processing speeds and battery power.
The 23-page complaint, filed Monday in California, alleges the iOS 14.5, 14.5.1 and 14.6 software updates, released between April and May 2021, have harmed the iPhone 11, 12, 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max, among other models. According to the suit, consumers “never authorized such access and damage to their iPhones.”
Despite hundreds of online complaints, reports from tech blogs and social media posts slamming the apparent adverse effects of the updates, Apple, the case alleges, has failed to acknowledge that it has damaged users’ iPhones without disclosure and hinted at only “reduced performance” experienced by some devices “during start up.”
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Bug fixes, new features, security patches
Apple’s proprietary iOS software is the pre-installed system on which the company’s mobile devices run, and it allows users to interact with their phones. The software is updated periodically to correct bugs, patch security vulnerabilities and introduce new features. Users are generally informed of new iOS updates available for download through either a display notification in their iPhone’s settings icon or a pop-up prompting them to either install the update immediately or do it later, the case shares.
Apple “strongly encourages” users to download its iOS updates, especially given the security improvements that come with each new version of the operating system. The lawsuit alleges, however, that three recent updates have irreparably and without authorization tampered with the processing and battery power of the devices.
iOS 14.5 – So far, so good
Released on April 26, 2021, iOS 14.5 contained an array of new iPhone features for models 6s and newer. The update included mask support for the devices’ Face ID capability, which gave qualified iPhones the ability to be unlocked through another Apple device, such as an Apple Watch, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also included in iOS 14.5 was the long-anticipated, privacy-strengthening App Transparency Tool, which required apps to receive permission before sharing a user’s activity and data with websites and apps owned by other companies. Further, iOS 14.5 included support for AirTags, devices that allow users to find certain items through the Apple app FindMy, as well as a variety of new emojis. According to the complaint, the iOS update also included “a recalibration of iPhone battery utility, amongst other new tools.”
The case says that Apple, notably, pulled the iOS 14.5 update from being “signed” for devices, meaning the update is no longer downloadable. The suit contends that this is “uncommon” for Apple, which normally only stops “signing” updates when they increase in age as a means to encourage users to stay current with the latest operating system.
iOS 14.5.1 – Wait a minute here…
A week later, on May 3, Apple rolled out iOS 14.5.1, which provided bug fixes and important security updates, including one that resolved an issue with app tracking transparency. According to the lawsuit, however, the iOS 14.5.1 update is also responsible for dramatically slowing down iPhones and causing their batteries to drain faster.
Apple did not disclose this important information at any time prior to installing it on their devices.”
Two days after the release of iOS 14.5.1, a page titled “BEWARE! IOS 14.5.1 is Throttling!” was added to the forums on the MacRumors website, the complaint says. The first post on the new page was from a user who said they’d noticed while playing a game that something was most certainly off after installing the iOS update:
Updated from iOS 14.5 yesterday to iOS 14.5.1 on my iPhone 11. After the update finished, I was playing CODM and noticed the frame rates were horrible. I checked my settings to make that [sic] it was set to the max frame rate, which it was. I then ran a geekbench8 test, and the scores I got were horrible for the multi-core. I then rebooted my phone to no avail; it was still super slow in games and in opening apps. I then proceeded to do a clean install which seems to have fixed the issue. Now my geekbench score is normal, and performance is what it used to be. What is going on, Apple? Anyone else having this issue? Upload a screenshot of your geekbench score on iOS 14.5.1 and tell us what device you have.”
According to the suit, the “throttling” post on MacRumors “grew exponentially” over the coming weeks, ballooning to nearly 500 posts from users claiming iOS 14.5.1 had slowed down their iPhone’s performance.
Per the lawsuit, media reports began to spring up on May 6 with regard to the apparent throttling of iPhones after Apple’s latest update. The case relays that popular online tech reviewers, including a YouTuber named Nick Ackerman, had conducted speed tests that confirmed iPhone processing speeds had been downgraded after iOS 14.5.1:
“Apple did not disclose that the function of iPhones would be downgraded dramatically either in the Release Notes or anywhere else, and no iPhone owner consented to have their devices damaged in such a way,” the complaint says.
iOS 14.6 – Another update, and so soon
Apple released another update, iOS 14.6, three weeks after 14.5.1, the case continues, noting that the company typically does not issue weekly updates “unless it is to address serious issues with a prior update or an emergent security issue.” According to the complaint, iOS 14.6 included subscription support for channels and individuals shows, the ability to unlock an iPhone using voice control after a restart, and a “fix” for issues specifically related to devices having reduced performance at start up.
As the lawsuit tells it, Apple, with the release of iOS 14.6, essentially stopped just short of acknowledging the performance-throttling effects of iOS 14.5.1:
So, while Apple admitted that devices with iOS software prior to 14.6 had ‘reduced performance,’ it only admitted that said reduction in performance was ‘during start up’ and it did not admit to the performance issues – even though benchmark testing by consumers showed as much.”
The suit goes on to claim that although some users reported that their iPhone processing woes were resolved by the iOS 14.6 update, many did not. The lawsuit alleges that iOS 14.6, for some users, damaged their devices by causing the battery to drain even faster, thereby materially affecting the smartphones functionality and utility.
What’s in it for Apple?
Apple has “long positioned” its iPhones and iOS software as the “safe, more secure, and more privacy-oriented alternative” to Google’s Android system amid a battle for supremacy in the smartphone market, the suit says. According to the case, Apple benefits from the conduct alleged in the suit simply by being able to keep to itself the fact that updates are not entirely beneficial to users’ devices as they seem on the surface.
Although the claims alleged herein do not require an element of motive, Apple benefits from not having to tell existing and prospective iPhone users that updates touted to add desirable features and to fix security and other bugs have a significant countervailing downside in the form of decreased processing speed and battery life.”
In general, informing users that iOS updates are harmful to their devices is one thing Apple hopes to avoid, in part because consumers are more likely to buy a new device as long as they assume their iPhone is degrading naturally.
“Telling iPhone customers the truth—that an update will significantly degrade the operation of the Devices—is not something Apple is happy to make explicit,” the lawsuit reads. “Without telling customers the truth, iPhone users are far more likely to assume that the degradation is simply a natural consequence of the aging of the phones and of the battery.”
Who’s covered by this class action?
The suit looks to represent all buyers, owners, users or lessees of iPhone devices, ranging from the iPhone 8 through the present models, who experienced reduced functionality on their iPhone in the form of reduced battery life, functionality and/or processing speed caused by iOS 14.5 and/or iOS 14.5.1 and/or iOS 14.6.
How do I get added to the lawsuit?
For typical class action cases, there’s nothing you need to do to join or be considered part of the lawsuit. Class actions generally take time to work their way through the legal process, usually toward a settlement, dismissal or arbitration outside of court. The bottom line is that it’s only if and when a case settles that people covered by a lawsuit, called “class members,” will need to take action. This will usually entail filing a claim online or via mail for whatever compensation the court deems appropriate.
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