You may remember the controversy that erupted last year when Apple was accused of purposely limiting the speed of older iPhones to improve their battery life. It appeared that the controversy settled down after all the drama, but it has not. Italy has fined the iPhone maker for the wrongdoing. Authorities have fined Samsung as well for slowing down older phones.
First such fine for Apple and Samsung
On Wednesday, Italy’s Authority for Market and Competition revealed that it fined Samsung and Apple €5 million ($5.7 million) each for using software updates to slow down their smartphones. Italian consumer groups complained that the software updates limited the devices’ functionality and were aimed at encouraging users to buy new handsets. In a statement, the Italian agency said updates from Apple and Samsung “had caused serious dysfunctions and reduced performance significantly, thereby accelerating the process of replacing them.”
Apple was hit with an additional €5 million fine because it failed to provide adequate information to users on how to effectively replace handset batteries. According to the Italian watchdog, the company failed to provide information about the impacts of its update “or any means of restoring the original functionality of the products.”
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The agency fined Samsung and Apple on the back of two separate investigations launched by the Italian regulator in January. In one investigation, the agency found that both smartphone makers violated many consumer codes. This ruling by the Italian agency is believed to be a first against smartphone makers, which have long been accused of pushing updates that indirectly encourage users to buy new phones.
Double fine for Apple
In 2017, Apple admitted that certain software updates slowed some phones with battery issues. However, the company denied that it intended to shorten the life of its handsets. Apple said it changed the software to improve “power management during peak workloads to avoid unexpected shutdowns.”
Apple noted that some users might not notice the new power management, but it may sometimes lead to “longer launch times for apps and other reductions in performance.” However, following the outburst, Apple apologized for its actions and, as compensation, reduced battery replacement costs. The U.S. firm also promised a software update to let users know if their handset’s battery is working well or not.
Apple has mainly been fined for issues related to the iPhone 6 after users installed iOS 10, which was optimized for the iPhone 7. Since the new iOS version demanded more energy, it often led to unexpected shutdowns in older iPhones. Apple then issued a fix in iOS 10.2.1, but it failed to inform users that in fixing the random shutdowns, the update could throttle the CPUs of older devices with aging batteries.
A surprise that regulators fined Samsung
What came as a surprise was that regulators fined Samsung. Apple’s actions were well-known, but there had been no questions raised before over Samsung doing anything like this. According to the Italian regulator, it fined Samsung based on complaints by Galaxy Note 4 users. Samsung released the handset in 2014.
In its extensive investigation of customer service records and Samsung’s internal emails, the Italian watchdog found that an Android update in 2016 was not optimized for the Note 4. As a result, Note 4 users faced several issues like automatic restarts.
The regulator found that the update placed too large of a load on the old Note 4 devices. In some cases, it even resulted in high out-of-pocket repair costs, as the Note 4 was out of warranty then. The update in question is Android Marshmallow 6.0.1, and it was optimized for the Galaxy Note 7.
Even though Samsung’s action was not as widely publicized as Apple’s slowdown controversy, many forums were flooded with complaints about the Note 4 issues after the 6.0.1 update. In its investigation, the Italian watchdog noted that Samsung failed to inform users that this could happen to the Note 4 because of the update. However, it is not known if the Korean firm did such a thing intentionally.
Samsung told Reuters in a statement that the decision is disappointing, and it will appeal it. In fact, the Korean firm denies that it issued any such update to throttle the Note 4’s performance.
“In contrast, Samsung has always released software updates enabling our customers to have the best experience possible,” the company said.