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Apple Issues Apology After Admitting To Slowing Down Older iPhones

Dec 29, 2017
Originally published on December 29, 2017 5:33 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Apple is doing some damage control. iPhone owners were furious when the company admitted that it intentionally slowed down older phones to preserve battery life, Apple said. Some users filed class-action lawsuits. Now the company has put out an unsigned apology. Will Oremus is covering the story for Slate and joins us now. Hi there.

WILL OREMUS: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Apple says it is trying to clarify a misunderstanding by releasing this statement. What is the company actually telling customers?

OREMUS: There had been these rumors going around for a long time that Apple was intentionally slowing down older iPhones each time it came out with a new one in order to get people to buy the new phone. Now, Apple assures everyone this is not what was happening, but it was discovered that Apple was in fact slowing down older iPhones for a different reason.

As their batteries degraded, the phone was unexpectedly shutting down. And so to keep that from happening, they put in place a software mechanism that limited the processor speed. They didn't tell people they were doing that. Now that's what they're apologizing for.

SHAPIRO: So part of the apology includes an announcement that they are going to lower the price on a new battery from 79 to $29, at least for a little while. People were pretty outraged about this initial revelation. There are at least a dozen class-action lawsuits. Do you think this is likely to satisfy angry users?

OREMUS: You know, I think it is going to cause a bit of a dent to Apple's reputation in some quarters. The people who are familiar with the technical details and people who are longtime loyal Apple customers are likely to forgive the company, especially with this apology and the discount on new batteries. It really does seem like this was an error of communication and not the nefarious scheme that the conspiracy theorists had in mind.

SHAPIRO: If this is damaging Apple's reputation, it does not seem to be reflected in holiday sales. According to the analytics website Flurry, which looked at the activation of new devices, about 44 percent of those new devices were iPhones or iPads. Only about a quarter of the new devices were Samsung, which is Apple's biggest rival.

OREMUS: Yeah, Apple has some leeway here. I mean, they can make a mistake like this and get away with it because they command such loyalty from their consumers. It also doesn't hurt that their chief rival, Samsung, underwent a much worse PR problem recently with its exploding phones.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Right. I guess if you have to choose a dying battery or an exploding phone, you'll go with a dying battery (laughter).

OREMUS: That's right (laughter). And in fact, Apple does say that the effects whereby they've slowed down the processors on older phones has addressed the unexpected shutdown issue, at least.

SHAPIRO: You've written that Apple's big mistake was not slowing down old phones but hiding the fact for so long. Explain what you mean.

OREMUS: Apple has this entrenched culture of secrecy. I used to live with a couple of Apple engineers who were dating each other, and they couldn't even talk to each other about what they were doing. This kind of secrecy extends to Apple's communications with the public. They prefer to give information via these carefully stage-managed launch events that we've all come to anticipate. Now, in this case, I think it backfired because it set the stage for the types of rumors that went around, and Apple's refusal to address them earlier allowed these conspiracy theories to flourish. I think Apple has itself to blame for that.

SHAPIRO: Will Oremus is the senior technology writer for Slate and co-host of the podcast "If Then," speaking with us on Skype. Thanks so much for joining us.

OREMUS: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.