When Apple released a new version of its iPhone operating system this summer, droves of iPhone 3G owners turned to the company's discussion forums to gripe about slow performance and functionality issues.
One iPhone owner went a step further last week, filing a lawsuit against Apple claiming the company deliberately released a software upgrade that would turn earlier models of the iPhone into "virtually useless iBricks."
In a class action complaint filed with the San Diego Superior Court, Bianca Wofford alleges that Apple engaged in "unsavory, dishonest and deceptive business practices" when it encouraged iPhone 3G and 3GS owners to install its updated mobile operating system, the iOS4.
Instead of boosting performance, she said that the "downgrade" significantly diminished her phone's speed, functionality and reliability.
And she doesn't stop there. Wofford also claims that Apple pushed the new operating system on customers to "create a false incentive on the part of third generation iPhone consumers to purchase the iPhone 4."
"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 platform. 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,'" the complaint says.
Apple told ABCNews.com that it does not comment on pending litigation. But a couple of weeks after performance complaints related to the iOS4 started surfacing online, Apple reportedly investigated the issue and later released a fix (iOS4.1) that many owners said addressed their concerns.
But Jason Hill, Wofford's attorney, said that even though Apple released a patch about two months later, it still doesn't change the fact that, during that period, Apple customers were paying about $100 a month (in data and cell charges) for significantly degraded phones.
He also said that the lawsuit is vague in its language about the operating system's fix because they want more expert input on whether the patch addressed the problem. While it seems that the patch did provide some relief, he said Wofford reports that the patch only restored about 90 percent of her phone's performance.
He said the company should have warned consumers that the new operating system would negatively impact their phones or given them the option to re-download the old system. But since Apple did neither of those things, he said the company could be found in violation of California consumer law.
Hill also said he would be "completely and utterly shocked" if Apple did not know about the iPhone 3G performance issues before releasing the new operating system.
"Apple tests everything. They have an entire wing devoted to software and hardware testing There is no possible way that Apple test engineers did not report 'Oh by the way, once people on the third generation platform download this operating system, at the time we released it , they are going to have substantial speed, operability and [functionality] issues,'" he said.
Since news of Wofford's lawsuit hit the Internet, Hill said his firm has been contacted by many other iPhone owners around the country.
"My e-mail is jammed – with people in California and, in fact, now across the nation," he said. "There is considerable interest to say the least."
He said the firm plans to hold a discussion in the next few days on whether to amend the suit to accommodate new class members.
Wofford seeks $5,000 for herself and each member of the class, as well as other damages.
Despite the patch Apple released to fix the iOS4 issues, iPhone 3G and 3G customers continue to complain about degraded performance on Apple's discussion threads.
"Since I updated my Iphone to the 4.0 is working really slow. Now I have the 4.1 but still the samew [sic], even I erased all the data because I thought that was too full, but even that didn´t work," one customer posted early today. "The 4.1 is much 'pretty' than the older one, but really deteriorates the 3G performance."
"As many people here, my iPhone 3G was very slow after update to iOS 4.0. I had hoped that the problem would be corrected with iOS 4.1. But it is still the same. After a few months, i'm fed up with waiting !," another owner wrote on Oct. 31.
Since June 24, one discussion thread in Apple's forums has accumulated more than 1,600 comments.