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iPhone court battle could result in payout for 25 million Britons

Apple misled users over an upgrade that actually slowed iPhones’ batteries, a tribunal will be told, and 25 million British users could be eligible for hundreds of pounds each if a consumer champion wins a legal claim launched today.

Justin Gutmann, a campaigner who formerly worked for Citizens Advice, has issued a £768 million claim alleging that Apple abused its market dominance by secretly impairing iPhones.

According to the claim in the competition appeals tribunal, the tech giant “throttled” ten different models of the device to disguise overloaded batteries and avoid costly recalls and repairs.

Models from the iPhone 6 to X were said to have been affected, with the claim alleging that Apple “misled customers about a power-management tool that slowed devices, resulting in some users upgrading early or paying for a replacement battery”.

Lawyers for Gutmann have estimated that if successful, the claim would result in British consumers with those iPhone models being awarded between £30 and £60 each on the grounds of substandard performance. Many other users would be eligible for payouts of hundreds of pounds each if they can show that they replaced batteries or the entire device because of the perceived degenerating performance.

The claim alleges that Apple, which is valued at about £1.8 trillion, abused its dominance in the market to engage in “exploitative and unfair commercial practices”. The legal team representing Gutmann will tell the court that expert analysis showed that the devices slowed by up to 58 per cent “after installation of [a] throttling software update”.

According to the claim, that behaviour resulted in UK iPhone users experiencing substandard performance, with some having to pay for a replacement battery and others opting to upgrade to a newer model.

Gutmann has alleged that Apple introduced the tool to hide a fault that led to iPhone batteries being unable to handle updated processing demands.

That fault triggered the devices to shut down suddenly, according to the claim. To combat that problem the company is alleged to have encouraged users to install operating system updates that contained a concealed power management tool.

Gutmann’s claim alleges that Apple chose that surreptitious solution to the problem rather than launch a product recall to replace the batteries.

Lawyers for the consumer rights activist said that if he succeeds in the claim, up to 25 million UK customers who bought iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, SE, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and X models would be entitled to compensation for each model owned.

The claim is being brought under so-called opt-out procedures, which mean that Apple customers who have owned those models of the iPhone need not actively join the legal proceedings to benefit from any resulting compensation order. The tribunal will deem that they are part of the claim, apart from individuals who actively opt out.

Apple said it had “never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades”.

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