Monday, 20 August 2007

The iPhone battery lawsuit

Another day, another Apple battery lawsuit.

The whole thing is at for those interested in the detail.

The substance of the allegations against Apple is:

  • an iPhone battery only lasts 300 charges, and this implies a battery must be replaced in less than 2 years
  • only Apple can replace the battery because it is soldered in, and this imposes not only an unacceptable cost but unfair "enrichment" on Apple's part
  • sending in the battery results in total data loss

First, the battery replacement policy is not great – most cell phone users who need a new battery would at worst expect to wait in a shop while it was replaced. Second, the cost is high.

However, the substance of the allegations doesn't stand up to detailed scrutiny. The "loss of data" is not as serious as it is made to sound. As Apple makes clear, you should back up your data before sending the phone in – not exactly the same thing as total, irrecoverable data loss, as the law suit would have you think.

Also, the number of charges is stated by Apple as follows:

    A properly maintained iPhone battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at 400 full charge and discharge cycles.

Nowhere does Apple equate a "charge and discharge" cycle to about one day's use as the lawsuit attempts to claim. Let's for example take a day's use as:

  • 1 hour of music
  • 2 hours of video
  • 2 hours Internet
  • 1 hour of talking
  • 18 hours standby

Given Apple's claims of 8 hours' talk time, 6 of Internet, 7 of video playback, 24 hours of audio playbackand up to 250 hours of standby time, these numbers represent about 85% of a full charge on a good battery. You might do something like this if you were travelling (watch a moving on a plane, catch up on your email, listen to some music, do some long business calls).

What if you have a day at the office, and only use the phone for a few phone calls, and to listen to some music on public transport to and from home? The usage could look something like this:

  • 1 hour of music
  • no video
  • no Internet
  • half an hour of talking
  • 22.5 hours standby

On Apple's numbers this would use less than 20% of a full charge. So with this sort of usage, you could go almost a week between charges.

On these numbers, the phone would still be reasonably usable in a wide range of scenarios if Apple's 80% of capacity after 400 cycles is correct. With moderate usage – mostly phoning with occasional music in daily use; videos only while travelling – a full charge cycle every 4 days seems likely. This would mean the battery would still be reasonably useful after 1600 days – over 4 years.

My own low-end Nokia phone which is a couple of months shy of 4 years old has a battery which is holding about 50% of its original charge.

So unless Apple is lying about the battery specs – which is not claimed in the lawsuit – I can't see that the claim that the battery's life is inadequate by industry standards holds up.

Of course it is possible that Apple did not have all the information I found on their web site the day the phone was launched. However, I do recall discussion of the battery issue pretty early on and, as others have pointed out, the plaintiffs always had the option to return the phone if they didn't like it.

So, in summary – I don't like the battery policy but don't see the basis for the lawsuit. It looks to me like a fishing expedition.


Anonymous said...

Your analysis is an excellent response to a "trolling for dollars" lawsuit. A fitting follow-up would be an investor based class action lawsuit against the two clowns who started this whole mess for attempting to driving Apple's stock price down. Who knows maybe they were selling Apple short or just looking to grab some when the price fell.

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