Apple, Inc. is facing another lawsuit, this time in Florida, in which a consumer alleges the tech giant “broke” FaceTime in order to force iPhone 4 and 4S users to upgrade to iOS 7. The scheme, according to the lawsuit, was nothing more than a ploy to reduce costs at the expense of customers whose iPhones no longer functioned properly after installing the new operating system.
The lawsuit explains that Apple’s FaceTime application, which allows Apple device users to engage in real-time video and audio communication, was first released on the iPhone 4. The application apparently operated by using either the “peer-to-peer method,” whereby a direct connection was formed between the two devices, or the “relay method,” which used a relay server to exchange data on behalf of the devices. Prior to November 2012, 90 to 95 percent of FaceTime calls were placed using the peer-to-peer method, while five to 10 percent were relayed through third-party-owned servers for which Apple paid a usage fee, the suit says.
In November 2012, Apple, the case explains, lost a lawsuit to VirnetX, who claimed the tech giant’s peer-to-peer connection method infringed on its patented secure encryption technology. After the 2012 trial, Apple began routing 100 percent of FaceTime calls through relay servers in order to avoid paying royalties to VirnetX, the suit says, and therefore began racking up millions of dollars in monthly fees for the use of the relay servers. A potential solution came in September 2013 when Apple released a new operating system, iOS 7, that would allow FaceTime calls to be placed using a peer-to-peer method “in a way that had not yet been found to infringe on VirnetX’s patents,” the case says.
The problem, according to the lawsuit, was that by the time April 2014 rolled around, a significant number of Apple devices were still operating on iOS 6 or previous versions due to concerns that iOS 7, which was “the most significant iOS update since the original iPhone,” would cause severe functionality problems on older devices that lacked enough processing power to run the new system effectively.
As the lawsuit tells it, Apple devised a solution to lower its relay costs by essentially holding FaceTime hostage until iPhone users upgraded their devices. To accomplish this, the defendant allegedly arranged for a digital certificate to prematurely expire on April 16, 2014, which essentially “broke” FaceTime on devices using iOS 6 or older OS versions. On this date, the case says, iPhone 4 and 4S users were left with three options: either continue using their devices without FaceTime, upgrade to iOS 7 and suffer severe slow-downs and operating problems on their phones, or buy a newer device.
“Thus,” the complaint reads, “Apple decided to exploit the enormous popularity and importance of FaceTime by breaking FaceTime on iOS 6 and earlier operating systems, making it impossible for those users to regain FaceTime capability on their devices unless they transitioned to iOS 7.”
The lawsuit claims that although Apple attributed the FaceTime failure to a “bug” that would be fixed with the new operating system, the company intentionally caused the application to fail in order to force users to upgrade, and thereby reduce Apple’s relay costs that were still being incurred with the older operating system.
In another lawsuit filed over similar allegations, a California judge certified a class of iPhone 4 and 4S users in California only. This lawsuit looks to certify a proposed class of “[a]ll owners of non-jailbroken Apple iPhone 4 or Apple iPhone 4S devices in the State of Florida who, on April 16, 2014, had iOS 6 or earlier operating systems on their iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S devices.”