Unlike your iPhone, Apple's batterygate controversy refuses to die
iGiant now battles to kill off $2B UK class-action suit
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 protections – sparked a $2 billion (£1.6 billion) UK class-action suit against the iGiant last year.
This week, Apple showed up at a London tribunal in hope of preventing the suit from proceeding. Consumer affairs advocate Justin Gutmann, who has championed the cause of speed-deprived iPhone users, alleges Apple used the performance throttling to disguise the use of defective batteries in millions of iPhones.
Apple's lawyers have refuted these claims and denied intentionally using defective batteries. However, Apple's position is complicated by a number of factors.
The controversy over the power management feature stems from botched batteries appearing in some iPhone 6s units. After reports of iPhones randomly shutting down began to surface, Apple uncovered a defect affecting a "small number of iPhone 6s devices."
According to Apple, some battery components were exposed to a "controlled ambient air" longer than they should have been during the assembly of the 2015-vintage smartphone. In response, the US giant offered to replace the batteries on affected handsets for free.
About a year later Apple rolled a software fix in iOS 10.2.1 that capped the CPU speed on some older iPhones – 6, 6s, and SE – to prevent them pulling more power than the battery was able to deliver.
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The power management feature was later rolled out to all iPhones in December 2017 in iOS 11.2. Once an iPhone's battery degraded below a certain threshold, the handset would throttle itself to avoid unexpected shutdowns due to power loss. But the cost of a potential improvement to stability was slower performance. While this performance mode is set to trigger automatically below a certain threshold, it can be disabled by the user.
If you want to check whether your iPhone is being throttled, navigate to Settings > Battery > Battery Health & Charging.
Apple's decision to make the power management, er, feature part of iOS didn't go over well with folks. Within days of the update rolling out, a class action lawsuit was filed in the US. As we reported at the time, the claimants contended that Apple tried to hide the CPU limitation to juice sales of iPhones and/or force customers to pay for battery replacements.
Apple eventually agreed to settle the case for $310 million (£250 million), and after a brief challenge, the settlement was approved by the courts earlier this year.
If Apple's bid to block the UK suit from proceeding fails this week it could end up costing Cupertino even more. ®