iPhone owners could cash in on a portion of over $1 billion in what lawyers are touting as Australia’s largest-ever class action, after tech giant Apple admitted to slowing down some phones.
Australian compensation law firm Shine Lawyers confirmed to The New Daily on Friday that investigations have begun and it intends to file a class action against Apple in early 2018.
This has come a week after Apple’s admission that it has been slowing iPhone 7, 6, 6S and SE models during iOS upgrades – its explanation being to prolong battery life and ensure phones did not suddenly stop working, despite an overall slower user experience.
In part of its investigation, Shine alleged Apple’s behaviour “misled” consumers into believing their iPhones were malfunctioning and caused them to upgrade to newer, more expensive models.
However, a leading software development expert says it may be difficult to prove that Apple slowed down these phones to increase sales.
Jan Saddler, Shine Lawyers’ class-action expert, estimated more than five million Australians have been affected.
She said that the total amount of compensation sought through the class action would likely be “well in excess of $1 billion”.
Finder research shows Australians purchased 2.7 million iPhones in 2016 alone, with total costs equating to $3.2 billion dollars.
“This could be one of the largest class actions Australia has seen,” Ms Saddler told The New Daily.
“Consumers download updates with the belief that it will improve or enhance the operation of their devices.
“There was no express consent among iPhone users to have their phones slowed down.
“Corporate deception is a serious and punishable offence. Apple, by its own admission, has misled millions of consumers globally into believing that their iPhones were malfunctioning, causing them to upgrade to newer and more costly devices.”
She said Shine has had no correspondence with Apple at this stage.
Similar legal action has been taken against Apple overseas, including eight lawsuits in the United States.
Some of these lawsuits have also claimed the problem could have led to customers choosing to buy a new phone for a faster-performing device, arguing that the weak battery could have been replaced for a fraction of the cost.
But Dr David Glance, director of the Centre for Software Practice at the University of WA, said there wasn’t “any evidence” Apple deliberately slowed phones to force users to pay for an upgrade.
“That is just conspiracy talk,” he said.
“It isn’t clear what you would have to prove – probably that you had one of the affected models of phone and that you upgraded before a reasonable amount of time had passed with the old model?
“It is still not even clear that the observable slow-downs are actually a manifestation of the tactics that Apple employed to stop spikes in power needs.”
Dr Robert Merkel, a software engineering lecturer at Monash University, agreed that it “did not appear unreasonable” for Apple to throttle the (central processing unit) to avoid a reboot due to a battery that cannot supply enough current.
“Lithium-ion batteries are known to degrade over time,” he said.
“However, I think there is at least an arguable case that Apple could have been more upfront about this.”
Apple Australia did not respond to The New Daily‘s request for comment in response to the class action.
It instead referred The New Daily to a statement issued on Friday in which Apple denied claims that it intentionally shortened the life of its products to drive customer upgrades.
“We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process,” the Apple statement read.
“We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologise.”
Apple has promised that from next year, it will drop the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement from $US79 ($101) to $US29 ($37) and update its software to allow users to track their phone battery’s health.