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11/4/2011
05:22 PM
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Apple Sued Over iPhone Signal Strength

Apple erred in thinking different and shunning the industry standard for calculating carrier network signal strength, complaint claims.

Slideshow: Verizon iPhone 4 Teardown
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Verizon iPhone 4 Teardown
During the same week that Apple's "batterygate" issues flared, last summer's "antennagate" crisis has stepped back into the spotlight. A lawsuit filed in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday claims that Apple misled iPhone customers by displaying a stronger carrier signal than was actually available.

The allegations arise from "antennagate," the public relations crisis last summer precipitated by then-CEO Steve Job's dismissal of complaints about call reception issues following the iPhone 4's 2010 launch. Though Apple largely undid the damage and helped make the iPhone 4 a phenomenal success, its mea culpa is being used against it. The company's public letter, which acknowledged that "the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong," forms the basis of plaintiff Daniel Donohue's lawsuit.

"...Apple's design of the [Signal Strength Meter] drastically and surreptitiously inflated reporting of excellent reception and under-reported instances of poorer reception," the complaint states. "The Meter thus conveniently promoted a positive, if not euphoric customer reaction to the iPhone, which inures to Apple's benefit at the expense of Plaintiff and other purchasers."

The complaint further states that Apple's penchant for secrecy prevented its carrier partner, AT&T at the time, from learning about the reception formula error and that Apple perseveres in this secrecy. "Indeed unlike makers of other cell phones, Apple has begun programming its iPhones so as to block users from accessing data showing how its Signal Strength Meter is calibrated."

[ Dealing with poor iPhone battery performance? Read 4 Fixes For iPhone 4S Battery Woes ]

The lawsuit does not seek restitution for call quality or reception troubles, presumably because AT&T bears most of the responsibility for that. Rather, it seeks recompense for the effect the faulty signal calculation method ostensibly has on the iPhone's resale value. "The value of an iPhone with a fatally flawed Signal Strength Meter is less than the value of the same iPhone without the flaw," the complaint states.

Evidently, it would be too much trouble to download the iOS update that fixed the erroneous signal strength formula.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment. The company recently acknowledged that iOS 5 contains a bug affecting iPhone battery life, and plans to issue a software update to address the issue shortly.

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Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/7/2011 | 4:22:26 PM
re: Apple Sued Over iPhone Signal Strength
I think part of the logic here is that people expect when they buy a product, it should come out of the box fully functioning as advertised. You don't buy a car and go to pick it up only to be told that the steering wheel and gas pedal aren't available at the moment but will come out in a few weeks as part of a special "drivability patch."

So yes, they provided a patch to fix the incorrect formula. But the point being made here is the device should never have been released that way in the first place -- the product was faulty before it got into user hands. And Apple's admission as such is just the fuel this lawsuit needs to burn.

Tom LaSusa
InformationWeek
jasonscott
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jasonscott,
User Rank: Strategist
11/7/2011 | 9:49:45 PM
re: Apple Sued Over iPhone Signal Strength
@Tom ... I disagree. The article clearly states that the faulty formula negatively affects iPhone resale value and that owners should be compensated for that impact.

The problem is: Apple offered a free patch for ALL iPhones that corrected the flaw.

I'll concede that -- ideally -- the iPhone wouldn't have had a faulty formula in the first place. But if we assume that it wasn't intentional (which I know many folks are unwillling to do), then it was merely a glitch like any other in any computing device and Apple rectified it with the free iOS update.

In addition, they need to prove that the value of a used iPhone was negatively impacted by the faulty formula -- and not just that the price plummets after new models come out. That's a tricky thing to prove.

Lastly, to pick up on your analogy, automakers put out cars all the time with flaws ... and they often issue voluntary recalls to encourage owners to bring them back to the dealer for fixes -- everything from seatbelt anchor bolts, floormat anchors, accelerator pedal modifications or new assemblies, and -- yes -- firmware updates for things like braking systems and engine and transmission management systems. Happens just about every week. Some more publicly than others.

This strikes me as a lawyer trying to dip his/her hand into Apple's deep pockets. Sure, Apple messed up -- but it owned up to it and offered a free fix, which every rational person would have installed at that point, and which one could probably argue increased (or sustained) the value of aging hardware by adding new features.

Just another example of why this country needs a provision that forces the losing party to pay the winning party's legal fees, in order to cut down on frivolous law suits.
Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 4:20:55 PM
re: Apple Sued Over iPhone Signal Strength
Great counter points jasonscott -- thanks!

Tom LaSusa
InformationWeek
jrmilleropsman
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jrmilleropsman,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 7:42:08 PM
re: Apple Sued Over iPhone Signal Strength
Tom, I have to side with you on this one. I agree that Apple took steps to correct the problem; whether they were aware of the issue before release is debatable although if they were unaware, then it speaks against their pre-release testing. The fact that Apple has begun to hide signal strength data from users suggests that feel that they in fact have something to hide. In general, transparency encourages trust and goodwill.

And any provision that forces the losing party to pay the winning party's legal fees in order to cut down on frivolous law suits would simply serve as a tactic to prevent the average consumer from seeking restitution even in just circumstances. I would rather allow some frivolous suits than to silence an injured party. However, I think understand the point: if the court weighed in favor of every frivolous suit, innovation would grind quickly to a halt in fear of unwarranted litigation. Once again, a balanced justice is most apt to keep everyone honest.
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