Suit Claims Apple Knew About iPhone 3G Issues With iOS 4


A new class action suit accuses Apple of intentionally hamstringing the iPhone 3G with iOS 4. The 4.0 update seriously affected performance on the 3G, making it sluggish and unreliable. iOS 4.1 helped alleviate the problem a little, but didn’t fix it.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Bianca Wofford, claims the update effectively turned her iPhone into an “iBrick,” rendering it pretty much unusable. She says Apple informed customers that iOS 4 would be an upgrade for their 3G phones, even though it wouldn’t bring all of the features that later devices would get. Instead, she got a device that’s not only much, much slower, but also prone to crashing.

The complaint, filed with the Superior Court of California, asserts that Apple did this knowingly:

Since the release of iOS4 in conjunction with the sale and release of the fourth generation iPhone, or the iPhone 4 in June 2010, Apple has falsely, intentionally and repeatedly represented to owners and consumers of the iPhone 3G that its new operating system for the device, iOS4, was of a nature, quality, and a significant upgrade for the functionality of all iPhone devices, when in fact, the installation and use of iOS4 on the iPhone 3G resulted in the opposite – a device with little more use than that of a paper weight.

Wofford and her attorneys further justify this claim by pointing out the Apple practice of not allowing customers to downgrade their iPhone’s operating system. She says there isn’t a way to get back to iOS 3.x without resorting to “hacker tactics” that void warranties and iPhone user agreements.

All of these, taken together, amount to an intentional move by Apple to force customers into a situation where they’d have to purchase new hardware in the form of the iPhone 4. According to Wofford, Apple knew full well that iOS 4 was actually a downgrade for older devices, and used its release as an artificial upgrade incentive.

Wofford is seeking restitution, the return of Apple’s “ill-gotten” gains and damages resulting from false advertising, unfair competition and the violation of state consumer protection laws for herself and each member of the plaintiff group associated with the class action suit.

Is Wofford right? Apple has held back updates in the past from legacy hardware, presumably because it knew those devices weren’t up to the task of running them. It must have conducted tests in-house to determine how well iOS 4 worked on older iPhones before releasing the software. But then why release a limited version of iOS 4 for the 3G and 3GS, instead of the full one if its intention was to slow performance? Maybe the full update rendered it actually unusable instead of just badly hobbled?

Regardless of the accuracy of the claims, Apple will probably move quickly to either quash this or settle out of court, since it could be potentially damaging to its reputation among consumers. If the upcoming iOS 4.2 brings any relief to iPhone 3G owners, that could go a long way toward preserving that reputation.

What do you think? Did Apple intentionally encourage iPhone owners to do harm to their own devices? And even if not, shouldn’t they provide a legitimate downgrade process in instances where performance, stability and usability are affected?

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