March 9, 2020
Apple to Pay Big for Slowing Down Older iPhones
A bombshell headline hit the tech world when, in December of 2017, Apple was forced to admit something customers had been claiming for years: the company was “slowing down” or “throttling” older iPhones through software updates.
When this news was confirmed, technology consumers fired back, venting years of frustration. Apple’s argument for the practice didn’t hold water with them at all. They said the process was done for safety reasons. Customers argued that, to them, it was clear that Apple was doing this to “force” customers to buy new iPhones.
In an instance of taking bad digital PR and making it worse, Apple responded to these complaints and allegations by offering to swap out handset batteries… if consumers paid them around $80 per battery. Backlash to this follow up offer was intense, and that price point didn’t last long. About a month later, the price was dropped to around $30. Later, Apple CEO Tim Cook would claim the price reduction created a revenue hit for the company in 2018.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Now, thanks to the settling of a class action lawsuit, Apple will have to pay up to half a billion dollars to customers who purchased certain iPhone models before December 21, 2017. The settlement breakdown is that owners of these specific devices should receive about $25 per device, which is estimated to cost the company between $300 million and $500 million.
The announcement of this settlement, which still has to be approved by a judge, brought this digital PR challenge back front and center for Apple. The company has been trying for the past two years to put this issue behind them and move forward into the imminent 5G era. But, on social media, iPhone owners are not letting go of the frustration they feel.
Many still believe the company intentionally “sabotaged” their phones, making them function slower, so that the user experience was diminished and they were motivated to go out and get a new handset. This assumption is fast becoming the truth for millions of aggrieved, but loyal, iPhone customers. While there are no clear numbers on if, or when, consumers have switched to other brands over this PR issue, the negative narratives online should be some cause for concern for Apple.
With these new headlines, and the issue moving back into the tech news cycle, Apple should do more than just stay silent. The brand needs to put a positive, customer-first message out to give consumers something new and interesting to focus on. Something interactive that draws consumers in and gets them focusing on the benefits of owning and using an iPhone, rather than the frustration of feeling like the company is actively ripping them off.