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Apple and Samsung fined for slowing iPhone and Galaxy handsets via OS updates

Apple and Samsung have been fined by Italian regulators for slowing the performance of older handsets, in order to nudge consumers into upgrading.

In a landmark ruling against the two biggest players in the smartphone market, Italian investigators found Apple and Samsung used software updates to hinder the performance of older devices.

In fining Apple and Samsung €10m and €5m respectively, the Italian anti-trust watchdog claimed: “Apple and Samsung implemented dishonest commercial practices,” the Guardian reports.

The report found that OS updates for older devices “caused serious malfunctions and significantly reduced performance, thus accelerating phones’ substitution.” Furthermore, the companies were criticised for failing to provide consumers with “any means of restoring the original functionality of the products.”

The investigation found that both firms had advised users to upgrade to software intended for newer, more powerful phones, leading to sluggish performance. The watchdog used the example of Galaxy Note 4 users having access to a version of Android optimised for the Galaxy Note 7. In Apple’s case, the investigators took issue with the iPhone 6 update that provided users with access to a version of iOS designed for the iPhone 7.

While consumers have long been aware that updating to the newest software could cause slowing performance of lower-grade hardware, the Italians’ bone of contention is that neither company communicated this knowledge to consumers, and were allegedly happy for those older devices to be be slowed down, because consumers would seek to upgrade as a result.

This accusation differs somewhat from the CPU throttling allegations levelled at Apple in December 2017. The US tech giant was accused to deliberately throttling CPU speeds on the iPhone 6 and up in order to push consumers into new devices.

Related: iPhone XS vs Samsung Galaxy S9

Apple said the practice was designed to safeguard devices with older batteries from unexpected shutdown. Apple apologised for the initial lack of transparency, but denied it was forcing obsolescence of older smartphones. As such, it introduced a battery health feature in iOS and offered cheap out-of-warranty battery replacements for the whole of 2018.

In this instance, Apple’s fine is double Samsung’s because the Italian watchdog says it didn’t give customers clear information about battery expectancy in iPhones. Apple is yet to comment on the ruling, but Samsung said it plans to appeal the fine.

A spokesperson said: “Samsung did not issue any software update that reduced the Galaxy Note 4’s performance. In contrast, Samsung has always released software updates enabling our customers to have the best experience possible.”

It’s worth considering that Apple optimised iOS 12 to improve the performance of older handsets, a claim that has played out in testing.

Have you long suspected iOS and Android updates have slowed down your older devices? Drop us a line @TrustedReviews on Twitter. 

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