24 May 2019
After coming under fire over slowed older handsets, Apple has offered battery replacements for iPhone 6 and later models at much lower cost. Photo: Bloomberg
After coming under fire over slowed older handsets, Apple has offered battery replacements for iPhone 6 and later models at much lower cost. Photo: Bloomberg

Apple acts fast amid criticism over slowed older iPhones

As the world was preparing to usher in 2018, senior executives of Apple, the world’s largest firm by market capitalization, were busy trying to contain a public relations crisis sparked by media reports that the company had slowed down older iPhones in a surreptitious manner.

The tech giant admitted last month that it made some software changes that can slow down older phones, claiming the move was aimed at easing demands on older batteries to prevent the handsets from shutting down suddenly.

A week after the acknowledgement, Apple posted a message on its website last Thursday saying it could have handled the battery issue better and been more forthcoming with its customers.

The company apologized to users and sought to make amends, announcing that it is slashing the price for battery replacement.

Under the initiative that will run through December 2018, Apple will charge just US$29 to replace batteries for the iPhone 6 and later models, instead of the regular US$79.

iPhone users seemed to have accepted the arrangement, with many people making bookings online to avail of the low-cost battery replacement program.

As a top smartphone player in the world with hundreds of millions of users, Apple has settled the battery crisis much quicker than what some industry experts had anticipated. The firm also surprised the market by offering more transparency on battery life information through the next iOS update.

Clearly, Apple is striving to put the entire controversy behind it firmly and seeking to rebuild trust among users who had begun to suspect that the firm was trying to force them to ditch old devices and upgrade to newer and more costly models.

Apple used to be proud of its closed-ecosystem which was a key competitive advantage over rival Google’s Android operating system, as Apple took control of everything in the system to ensure unified user experience. Apple’s users trusted the company to provide the best user experience through such ecosystem.

But the battery issue sparked criticism that Apple had abused the trust of its users. Had the tech behemoth not responded to the concerns, it would have risked ruining the loyalty of its supporters, which could in turn have affected iPhone sales in the future.

Across the smartphone industry, battery issue has come under increased public scrutiny in the recent past after problems with Galaxy Note 7 in 2016 led to a global recall of those Samsung devices and damaged the Korean firm’s brand credibility in some markets.

Apple management has clearly learned from the Samsung lesson and moved quickly to prevent the so-called battery-gate issue from spreading to 2018, and taking the opportunity to boost component transparency to win back users’ trust and put an end to negative chatter during the holiday period.

That said, we must acknowledge that “battery-gate” may not affect the die-hard Apple fans who swear loyalty to the brand. Some market observers have speculated the iPhone battery issue has been exaggerated by the media or key opinion leaders, as loyal iPhone users were aware that the battery life of the old phones could be affected by the latest iOS upgrade.

The fans don’t believe Apple was cheating on them on the issue, and tend to support the view that the company took some steps just for the sake of safety, as the Note 7 incident proved that battery could be a critical problem for all smartphone makers. The slowdown was aimed to protect users, rather than forcing people to buy the latest model, supporters argue.

But some users pointed out that battery life and the phone’s processor speed are two different issues. While they understand that battery function could decrease as times goes by, the processor performance should stay the same, they argued.

Using this logic, such users did not accept Apple’s explanation of slowing down the phone to avoid sudden shutdown of the device. If the battery life cannot support the much more advanced processing work under the latest iOS version, the only way for users is either to skip the upgrade or to trade in for the latest model, skeptics pointed out.

Following its apology and assurance of more transparency, Apple will no doubt put the whole controversy behind it and continue to win more sales. The firm’s quick apology and battery price-cut could be taken as a reflection of a change in the company’s business philosophy amid tough market competition from rivals such as Samsung and China’s Huawei Technologies.

The management is aware that misstep could affect iPhone shipments, especially at a time when other brands are catching up in terms of features and advanced technologies.

The truth is that the company, despite all its established strengths and huge brand power, can hardly afford any negative media chatter in these hyper-competitive times. 

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EJ Insight writer

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