Apple Alters Quality of Old iPhones

The battery of an iPhone 7 Plus. PHOTO: IFIXIT/REUTERS

Within the past two months, tech giant Apple has been facing criticism from both lawmakers and customers about the quality of their old iPhones. Apple, a global company known for high performance technology, is being investigated by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) after it was discovered that the company was throttling the performance of older iPhones as batteries matured. Apple’s customers initially complained about the issue, but the situation was intensified when John Poole, founder of the computer-performance testing group Geekbench, wrote an article explaining how Apple was intentionally slowing some devices. In a note on their website (see link below), Apple admitted to manipulating some of their phones, explaining that it slowed down the performance and quality as batteries aged to prevent unexpected shutdowns. This news comes at a time when Apple is receiving slower-than-expected sales of their new iPhone models, specifically the iPhone X. The Justice Department and SEC are specifically probing the company over potential securities violations that might influence the company’s public value; it is possible that Apple did not disclose all of the proper information in regards to a software update.

These defects (any instance when a process fails to satisfy its customers) that customers have discovered and have had to deal with do not come from common causes (purely random, unidentified sources of variation that are unavoidable with the current process); instead, they stem from assignable causes (any variation-causing factors that can be identified and eliminated, such as a machine needing a repair). The causes for the defects, however, are purposeful, placing Apple in an extremely unique and difficult position. It is clear that Apple will have to bear some external failure costs (arise when a defect is discovered after the customer receives the service or product). For instance, Apple will have to spend money in order to try and fix the issue that they have purposely caused. In addition, acknowledging what they have done, Apple has has cut the price of an iPhone battery replacement from $79 to $29. They will also pay an expense for lawyers when dealing with the Justice Department and SEC.

Due to their actions and these defects, Apple might not only bear financial costs, but they could also face social costs; this is certainly a business ethics issue. This situation could alter the loyalty and faith of their huge customer base.

At the end of their website note, Apple says that ” our customers’ trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support – and we will never forget that or take it for granted.”

  • Do you think that Apple throttled the performance of old iPhones with the best interest of their customers in mind? Or, did they do this to possibly increase the sales of their more updated iPhones?
  • Should Apple be punished for its actions? If so, how?




8 thoughts on “Apple Alters Quality of Old iPhones

  • February 13, 2018 at 9:11 pm

    In this case, Apple is not only harming their image, the company is also harming the consumer’s perception of their product’s quality. Apple prides itself on being the most innovative and best quality choice out of all the smart phone options. By slowing down the battery life, although they are increasing demand for their products, the company is also severely hindering the quality of the product. For Apple, they are becoming desperate to make profits above all else. Like the post said, these defects are caused by assignable factors and was done intentionally. Overall, I believe that Apple did not have their customers in mind when they hindered their battery performance.

    • February 14, 2018 at 4:55 pm

      I completely agree with Lauren. This is a horrible image for Apple, a company who advertises the ways their products can improve your life. Considering their recent sales struggles with their newer products, it is easy to come to the conclusion that they might be doing this intentionally in order to improve sales of their new product. Not every consumer is obsessed with wanting the next new thing, in fact I have a hard time justifying purchasing a new model if my old one is working just fine. By slowing down older phones it makes people justify buying a new one, therefore making their new products so desirable. It is unclear if Apple considered this slowing down a “defect” or if this was just something they reasoned they needed to do. I think this is more of a social quality issue than an issue with the product itself. Nevertheless, as stated in the post, Apple is going to have to deal with costs of failed quality.

  • February 14, 2018 at 7:42 pm

    When this news became public I think it confirmed what many people already believed was true. For myself personally, I definitely noticed that my iPhone did not seem to age well. Especially after a new phone was released. To answer your question, I believe Apple crippling the performance of old phone is most likely a combination of protection for the consumer as well as a way to increase sales for the newly released iPhones. It would be interesting to see how Apple’s control charts would compare to another smartphone company such as Samsung. If Samsung shows less defects, what could be the cause of that? I think it’s possible that the other companies spend more on prevention costs and quality control. This is because they have less market share compared to Apple, so they must create products that are reliable. Aside from this, the low sales of the iPhone X and their issues with older phones are definitely hurting their brand image.

    • February 14, 2018 at 9:49 pm

      I definitely agree with Michael. Anecdotally, as mine and my friends and family’s phones aged, they became slower, with worse batteries and more issues over time. This always seemed to coincide with the announcement of the next iphone. I feel as if this study just confirmed what most people already thought, but I wonder now that it has officially been confirmed, will people’s opinion-or more importantly, buying habits-change?
      This is very bad PR for apple, and the fact that this defect is seemingly purposeful (as the company knows and could easily fix it), this could be a major hit for people to buy new apple devices in the future. Already, Apple has had to cut down on the amount of new iphones it will be producing in the coming year. It seems like Apple’s reign with unfaltering brand loyalty may soon come to an end.

  • February 14, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    I agree with Michael. I definitely saw this coming, it was just a matter of time until the evidence was finally released. I have to wonder if this wasn’t an elaborate, but also pretty brilliant, scheme by Apple to minimize costs. Did they create the defect themselves or did they purposefully hold back on the prevention costs and ignore the internal failure cost to have the defect fixed knowing it would generate a higher demand for the product therefore greater sales/revenue. I feel like Apple was secretly hoping that the consumers would never discover the defect therefore allowing them to also pass over the external failure costs (but now we see it has eventually caught up to them). Cleary Apple hasn’t lived up to its Top Quality Management ideals that consumers have believed it upheld for so long. Not only have the customers not been Apple’s top priority, but the process for continuous improvement has clearly been ignored as well. Side note: I searched to see their Certifications and apparently they met both the ISO 9000 and 14000 which is a tad bit concerning considering the quality of their program was indeed faulty. Maybe that should be reassessed.

  • February 14, 2018 at 11:20 pm

    The truth of Apple altering the quality of old phones is a topic that we have discussed in a previous blog submission, but I believe it is important that it resurfaces as we cover the subject of quality. Apple is known for its marketing strategy of high quality products; products that can last for years and rarely catch viruses. Quality was a competitive priority that Apple dedicated itself to standout from its competitors. For years this ideal stood true. The present chief design officer, Jonathan Ive once said, “[y]ou can make one chair carelessly, thoughtlessly, that is valueless. Or you can make a phone [that will eventually go on to be mass produced] and invest so many years of care and have so many people so driven to make the very best phone way beyond any sort of functional imperative that there is incredible value”. Despite the quotation being a few years old, I believe that the chief design officer would still like to believe in these words that he spoke.

    Within the total quality management, I once would argue that Apple dominated two of the three principles: customer satisfaction, and continuous employment. Many of my friends bragged about how amazing their Apple products were, and everyone constantly wanted to stay up with the latest technology introduced by Apple. However, suddenly Apple is starting to see their sales go down, especially with the introduction of the latest iPhone. It seems as if Apple has decided to focus on their time strategy with constant new product developments, allowing their quality strategy to lag. I believe that Apple needs to take this failure and work hard to regain the trust of its customers. Apply statistical techniques to help determine whether their products are delivering what the customer wants is important for Apple right now (i.e. statistical process control). Reconnecting with its customers is a must for the continuation of Apple’s technological reign.

    Article Link:

  • February 14, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    Apple’s admission of manipulation of its iPhones did not come as a surprise to most of its customers. Most people were already aware that Apple slowed down its phones through its software updates but still continued to buy newer versions of iPhones. However, if you compare iPhones to most android phones, iPhones generally last longer than android phones with the same price range. Not only do iPhones last longer, even the experience of using an iPhone is much better. I think if Apple did not slow down its old phones, there would not have been a reason for customers to switch to new iPhone models. Even though this decision is unethical, it seems important for Apple to survive in the industry. Apple gives security to customers in a lot of ways which android phones do not even come close to offering. Apple is more particular about the apps available in its App store so users do not have to struggle to find real apps from junk apps. Recently, a fake version of the Whatsapp app was available on Google Play (android version of App store) which was downloaded by around one million to five million people before it was removed from Google Play (read more here: Such shortcomings can lead to significant breach of customers’ personal information and content. Moreover, most junk apps on Google Play are loaded with viruses and malware. Downloading these apps to the phone significantly slows them down or in extreme cases, also damages the software so that softwares have to be replaced. In the case of Apple, customers do not have to worry about such issues. This example gives one of the many reasons why the experience of an iPhone is much better than that of an Android phone. Therefore, even after its admittance of manipulating its older phones, Apple is still a better value-for-money than most Android phones with its superior experience. As a result, I believe Apple’s sales should not take a big hit after this news.

  • February 15, 2018 at 8:44 am

    This article is very interesting when considered in relation to our current class subject. So far, we have discussed quality control in manufacturing, but this issue with apple goes beyond the manufacturing process and into the software development realm. If anything, this report actually solidifies Apple’s position as a producer of refined, clean, and precise products. While most people expect to turn over to a new phone every 2 years or so, it seems as if iPhones stay reliable longer. Because of this, Apple has decided to incorporate this strategy of intentionally degrading older iPhones to push customers towards the new product. On the other hand, in defense of Apple’s stance on the performance based slowdown, a recent IOS update allows customers to have control over whether their phone slows down to increase the reliability of the software in older devices. Whether this is a true function or just an established justification for what they are doing is up for debate.

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