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  • The iPhone and Lawsuits Revisited

    February 4th, 2009

    There’s a published report that four more lawsuits have been filed in the past two weeks complaining about iPhone 3G speeds. Now I realize that this is a difficult economy, and perhaps attorneys aren’t getting enough ambulances to chase, so they’re desperately seeking other types of work.

    Forgetting the lawyer jokes, however, I have to wonder if they are paying attention to what they are doing. You see, in order for such an action to succeed, at least from my layman’s point of view, they’d have to demonstrate in court that Apple and AT&T made promises they just couldn’t keep about 3G connection speeds with the second-generation iPhone.

    Here’s Apple’s specific promise about performance: “Email attachments and web pages load twice as fast on 3G networks as on 2G EDGE networks.”

    But there’s also a footnote that explains just what this really means: “Testing conducted by Apple in May and June 2008 using preproduction 3G/EDGE-capable iPhone units and software and currently shipping EDGE-capable iPhone units and software. Testing was conducted by browsing to http://www.lonelyplanet.com and measured uncached page load performance. All settings were default except: Call Forwarding was turned on; the Wi-Fi feature Ask to Join Networks and Auto-Brightness were turned off. Wi-Fi was enabled but not associated with a network.”

    I’m separating the final two sentences, because that’s what has to cause those attorneys grief, assuming they’re really paying attention: “Throughput depends on the cellular network, location, signal strength, 3G/EDGE connectivity, feature configuration, usage, the Internet, and many other factors. Throughput tests are conducted using specific iPhone units; actual results may vary.”

    Indeed, based on those significant exceptions to the rule, I’d think that you’d have as much chance winning such a lawsuit as you’d have mounting a successful case against an auto maker because your car didn’t precisely meet the advertised fuel economy, and for the same reasons. Those damned terms and conditions can really put the monkey wrench into attempts to take advantage of a company’s cash hoard, assuming they still have one, of course.

    Besides, where Apple has lost or settled legal actions, the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs may end up with millions of dollars in legal fees. But the regular people who win such cases usually end up with discount coupons. So, even if a judge, and the jurists who handle the appeals process, could somehow be persuaded that Apple and AT&T were being somehow deceptive, how would, say, a $25 discount on your next iPhone sooth your shattered nerves?

    True, there is perhaps one issue where someone might succeed in a case against Apple, and that’s the allegation that the hardware in the iPhone 3G is somehow defective and that’s why performance levels remain inconsistent. It’s not the location, signal strength or any of the other factors that might prevent you from attaining the expected level of performance, but the fact that Apple selected a defective chipset, and all the firmware updates they’ve released haven’t succeeded in resolving those defects.

    However, it has also been reported on a number of occasions that Apple is actually using the same network chipsets as other cell phone makers. So where’s the beef?

    As far as I’m concerned, my iPhone 3G can reliably deliver Internet speeds at least twice as fast as the original model. Although connection quality was apt to be flaky when the phone was first released last July, subsequent updates have fixed what appear to be the most significant issues. I get very few disconnects, and even where 3G speeds might descend to the 2G level and back again, the transition is relatively seamless.

    It’s also true that AT&T has improved connections in my neighborhood. At one time, signal quality was considered “moderate,” which is their parlance for almost acceptable. However, a few months back, I got a text message from AT&T that a new cell tower had gone online here. True to their word, I noticed that those marginal signals improved to nearly full strength in the most critical areas. It’s hard to lose a call now, and here, at least, any issues I encountered were probably more related to the network than any bugs in Apple’s software. The fixes Apple provided did help, but not as much as setting up another tower.

    Now it may well be that you live in a city where 3G is an unfulfilled dream, or just presents itself on rare occasions. If that’s the case — and your iPhone 3G is updated with the latest and greatest from Apple — your complaint is with AT&T or another provider, if you live outside the U.S. Sure, there are probably defective iPhones, and one that’s provably faulty would be replaced by Apple under its limited warranty. But the worst offenders are the wireless carriers for often promising more than they can deliver.

    But if you want to sue them, consider that action an exercise in futility. That is, unless you’re a lawyer looking for a huge payday, in which case maybe you’ll have a chance to get some cash out of the deal — in the unlikely event you win your case.



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