A lawsuit filed in California alleges that Apple deliberately broke its FaceTime video chat app on devices running iOS 6 and earlier versions of the mobile operating system. In 2014, Facetime users found that the app would no longer work on phones with operating systems earlier than iOS 7. Users with iOS 6 devices that still wanted to use FaceTime were left with no choice but to upgrade to iOS 7.
The lawsuit alleges that the switch to iOS 7 caused older devices, including the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, to become sluggish, crash, and run apps slowly. Some people may have bought a new iPhone as a result. The suit is seeking undisclosed damages under California’s unfair competition law.
Apple has been accused of planned obsolescence in the past. Now, the class action lawsuit alleges a new version of this conspiracy theory. The lawsuit claims that Apple took the action to save money on high monthly data charges from Akamai, a server company that Apple contracted to serve multimedia content. Between 2013 and 2016, Apple accumulated a $50 million bill for Akamai, or around $8.3 million per month.
When the FaceTime feature launched in 2010, Apple used two methods of providing FaceTime sessions. The first was a peer-to-peer technology that used a direct connection between two iPhones to transmit audio and video data. The second was a “relay” method that routed traffic through Akamai’s servers.
At first, between 5 and 10 percent of Akamai’s traffic came from the calls. Then, a jury found Apple guilty of infringing on VirnetX’s networking patents in November 2012, forcing Apple to ditch FaceTime’s peer-to-peer technology. As a result, traffic through Akamai soared. A peer-to-peer workaround was developed for iOS 7, but it wasn’t backward compatible with devices running iOS 6 or earlier versions of the mobile operating system.
Apple executives expressed concern over the increased server usage through iOS 6 and sent an internal email to FaceTime engineers with the subject line “Ways to Reduce Relay Usage.” An email exchange between Apple engineers cited in the suit said that iOS 6was a big user of relay bandwidth and contained the statement, “We broke iOS 6, and the only way to get FaceTime working again is to upgrade to iOS 7.”
The lawsuit alleges that Apple allowed the app’s certificate to expire in April 2014. Apple blamed the incompatibility on a bug on its FaceTime support page in 2014. The page read, “If you started to have issues making or receiving FaceTime calls after April 2014, your device or your friend’s device may have encountered a bug resulting from a device certificate that expired on that date. Updating both devices to the latest software will resolve this issue.”