An angry iPhone owner is accusing Apple of purposely designing a software upgrade so it would break older phones, forcing customers to upgrade. Whether you believe in the conspiracy theory or not, she has a point: Apple doesn’t make it easy to roll back upgrades if you have a problem.Earlier this year, when Apple released the iPhone 4, it also offered an OS update to customers with older iPhone 3G and 3GS models. A lot of customers–myself included–found that the “upgrade” to iOS 4 created crippling performance problems on older phones. I wouldn’t go so far as the lead plaintiff in the case, Bianca Wofford, who called her upgraded iPhone 3G “a device with little more use than that of a paper weight,” but apps took longer to open, the phone calling interface hung and crashed more than usual, and I frequently had to power it off and on again to get it to work at all.
My eventual fix for the problem was dropping my iPhone 3G so the screen shattered, which forced me to buy a new phone. And Apple made it so easy to replace my 3G with a 4, my resistance crumbled. So far, I haven’t had any of those performance problems with the new one.
I don’t think Apple is as devious as the plaintiffs imagine–it probably just didn’t test iOS 4 on older phones very thoroughly. But the plaintiffs do make one good point: once you upgraded the OS, it was impossible to downgrade without violating Apple’s terms and conditions.
Class-action lawsuits in the tech industry seldom succeed unless there’s really clear evidence of fraud or other wrongdoing, and I’d expect this one to meet the same fate. But with any luck, it will spur Apple to make downgrades as easy as upgrades.