After public outrage, a US Senator has posed questions to Apple about its deliberate slowdown of older iPhones due to aging battery issues. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), who chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook questioning the level of transparency the tech giant should have provided users before slowing down its devices.
According to a Reuters' report, Thune writes in the letter that "the large volume of consumer criticism leveled against the company in light of its admission suggests that there should have been better transparency."
Thune asks Apple if the company had made any of these practices known in software update details and if users had the option to decline installing software updates. Thune then also questions if Apple considered offering free battery replacements to affected customers or rebates to those who had already paid full price for a battery replacement. Thune's deadline for Apple to reply with answers is January 23.
The news of Apple intentionally slowing down old iPhones came to light at the end of 2017, when Apple officially confirmed its practices after years of customer speculation. Apple claims it does so due to the effects of aging batteries, but it formally apologized for not making its practices known to customers. In addition to promising new, forthcoming UI features that inform customers of the health of their iPhone's battery, Apple also reduced the price for out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacements from $79 to $29.
Essentially, Thune is asking the same questions many customers have since Apple revealed its practices. Last year, Apple admitted to issuing a fix in iOS 10.2.1 that reduced the occurrence of iPhone 6 and 6S models unexpectedly shutting down, although that software update didn't explicitly detail the company's slowdown methods. Software updates are optional—users have to manually initiate the download and installation of any official iOS update. But since there was no detailed disclosure from Apple at the time, users wouldn't have known that a software update would purposefully slow down their devices.
When these performance speculations arose at the end of 2017, Apple then released a statement that said its fix would be included in newer iPhone models in the future. "Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions," the statement said. "We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future."
Regarding battery replacements, Apple is trying to make it easier for those without AppleCare coverage to replace aging batteries by lowering the fee. The company will likely still profit from the more affordable battery replacement program, and currently there have been no rumors of Apple offering free battery replacements to out-of-warranty iPhones. The French website iGeneration claims Apple plans to refund the $50 difference to those who paid the original fee to replace their device's battery, but Apple hasn't confirmed this.
Senator Thune's letter comes as more class-action lawsuits were filed against Apple, with the total count rising to 30. It also comes as French prosecutors investigate Apple's intentional slowdown methods as possible "planned obsolescence." In France, it's illegal to deliberately shorten the lifespan of a product with the hopes that customers will replace it. While Apple maintains its practices are meant to prevent sudden shutdowns and keep devices running optimally, some of the class-action lawsuits previously filed claim customers were encouraged to buy new iPhones rather than replace batteries in old models.