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Lawsuit pending over iPhone 3G's iOS 4 performance issues

Chris Rawson
Chris Rawson|@@rawsoncj|November 3, 2010 10:00 PM

By now it's no secret that the iPhone 3G's performance suffered tremendously following the iOS 4 update. Soon after widespread reports of stuttering, freezing, and crashing, Apple said it would "look into" the problem. A month went by with no relief for iPhone 3G performance issues, but Steve Jobs himself promised a software update was coming "soon" -- and "soon" turned out to be a couple weeks later. With the release of iOS 4.1, the iPhone 3G's performance issues under iOS 4 finally disappeared.

Those two months or so were hell for iPhone 3G owners, but reports (and our own personal experiences) indicate that the 4.1 update resolved most, if not all performance issues. That's not good enough for California resident Bianca Wofford, however, who is filing a class action lawsuit against Apple over the iPhone 3G's performance. Her claim? "In essence, Apple knowingly and intentionally released what it called a system software 'upgrade' that, in fact, made hundreds of thousands of the Third Generation iPhones (sic) that were exclusively tethered to AT&T data plans 'useless' for their intended purpose."

Let's ignore for the moment the lawsuit's issue with terminology (the iPhone 3G is the second-generation iPhone) and concentrate instead on its core claim. Wofford's lawsuit alleges that Apple knowingly and intentionally released an OS update that would render the iPhone 3G and 3GS "useless" in order to pump up sales of the new iPhone 4. That particular theory got thrown around quite a bit on the internet during the early weeks of the iPhone 3G under iOS 4 debacle, but does the claim hold up? Well, maybe... but only if you think Apple's "evil geniuses" have intellects comparable to Wile E. Coyote's.

For more juicy bits from the law brief itself (hat tip to Wired), grab your tinfoil and click "Read More."

Wofford's suit claims the iOS 4 update rendered the iPhone 3G "a device with little more use than that of a paper weight." I agree that iOS 4.0 on the iPhone 3G was a pretty terrible experience, but slow and unstable as it was, my iPhone 3G wasn't as bad off as the suit claims.

"What's worse is that Apple's own test engineers and its tech support site are acutely aware of the thousands of complaints lodged, and still waited for nearly 3 months to take any corrective action."

That claim is false; iOS 4.0 was released to the public on June 21, and the 4.1 update, which resolved the issues, was publicly released on September 8. Saying that Apple "waited" for that entire period before taking corrective action is easily disproven; Apple's communications with the media and consumers clearly show that while it was aware of the problem, it was also taking steps to solve it.

The lawsuit claims Apple had "the intent to induce and deceive consumers into downloading and installing iOS4 -- with full knowledge that the operating system is optimized only for the iPhone 4 circuitry and provides essentially a "downgrade" to all users of predecessor iPhones, particlurarly (sic) the iPhone 3G/3GS."

First, we didn't receive widespread reports of issues on the iPhone 3GS -- issues were mostly confined to the iPhone 3G. Second, the crux of this claim is that Apple deliberately screwed up the iPhone 3G... a claim clearly negated by subsequent software updates that restored functionality.

"The iOS4 'upgrade' has essentially curtailed usefulness of the 3G/3GS devices and left consumers, like Wofford, without any ability to restore the device to its prior acceptable functionality."

While the brief acknowledges at one point that the 4.1 update was released, at no point does it state that Wofford downloaded or installed the 4.1 update. Thus, this claim is also false.

"Plaintiff Wofford is informed and believes that this whole situation was created to be a consumer catch-22 by Apple in order for the company to promote sales of its just released iPhone 4 and to cause consumers to simply abandon the earlier 3G and 3GS platforms. After all, what better way to underhandedly create incentive to purchase a newer product than by essentially rendering an earlier product useless by the false promise of a software 'upgrade.'"

I can think of a lot of better ways to create purchase incentives for a new product than deliberately crippling old products in a manner so transparently illegal. Like improving the display, putting in a better camera, increasing processor performance... you know, features. Plus, during the period the iPhone 3G suffered terrible performance under iOS 4, the iPhone 4 was mostly sold out. The number of people who threw up their hands and gave up on the iPhone 3G, then purchased an iPhone 4, is probably very small -- and based on the content of the law brief, Wofford doesn't seem to have bought an iPhone 4 herself, which also kind of hurts her claim.

"In all, plaintiff believes that AT&T data plan account holders with iPhone 3G/3GS devices suffered real and tangible degradation in data service and device functionality from the release of iOS4 until approximately September 30, 2010, when a iOS4.x patch was released. Apple knew it was a problem, Apple did nothing about (sic), and essentially interfered with its exclusive carrier's ability to perform on its data plan contracts in damages according to proof."

The iOS 4.1 patch was released on September 8th, not September 30th. Apple did know iPhone 3G performance was a problem, but claiming that Apple did "nothing about" it and interfered with AT&T's ability to satisfy its contractual obligations to customers is demonstrably false.

So what does Ms. Wofford want out of Apple?

"In addition to actual damages and restitution of fees imposed, Plaintiff also seeks the recovery of an additional $5000 for herself and each member of Plaintiff Class."

Hold on, what? $5000? 79 days of craptastic iPhone 3G performance is worth more than the cost of a fully kitted-out MacBook Pro? That's $63 per day between the release of iOS 4 and iOS 4.1. Sure, the performance issues were irritating, but $63 a day irritating?

So how can Apple avoid this lawsuit business altogether?

"1. Ms. Wofford demands that Apple, at its own expense, recall the iPhone 3G and supply her and others similarly situated with upgraded iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4 models that are capable of actually benefitting from iOS4."

To paraphrase Oprah: "You get a free iPhone. And you get a free iPhone. And YOU get a free iPhone!"

"2. Apple must immediately issue on its web site a downloadable fix to re-install iOS 3.x firmware for all iPhone 3G users who wish to 'undo' the iOS4 'upgrade.'"

There's already a software fix for iPhone 3G issues. Here, I'll even give you the link.

"3. that Apple offer to purchase issue $150.00 credits for all iPhone 3G consumers who now have installed iOS4"

As near as I can tell, this is intended to compensate iPhone 3G owners for three months' worth of AT&T data charges. Because iOS 4 rendered the iPhone 3G completely incapable of connecting to 3G or EDGE for three months.

Honestly, I hope that whatever judge sees this brief is smart enough to throw it out before it even makes it to court. The suit's claims are all but impossible to prove. Unless you raid Steve Jobs's iMac and find e-mails to iOS 4 software engineers saying, "Kneecap the iPhone 3G," it's going to be difficult to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Apple intentionally gimped the iPhone 3G with iOS 4 -- especially since the company later released software updates that addressed those issues.

If the case does somehow make it to court, Apple's defense attorney can easily torpedo the entire suit by showing off an iPhone 3G functioning perfectly fine under iOS 4.1. Call it defense exhibit F, for "frivolous."