A controversial feature of Apple's iPhone is at the center of a legal dispute. The tech giant is facing a $5 million lawsuit over a recent software update that allows an iPhone to switch to using data when it detects a weak Wi-Fi signal.
The feature, Wi-Fi Assist, has been the subject of complaints from customers since it was introduced last month as part of the latest version of Apple’s iOS software for iPhones and iPads. Some have said that the feature is automatically turned on in iOS 9 without a user’s knowledge, resulting in data charges that could have been avoided if the user had known the phone wasn’t running on Wi-Fi.
In their class-action suit, filed late last week in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., William Scott Phillips and Suzanne Schmidt Phillips said that because they didn't know about the feature, Apple should be responsible for picking up their bill and the bills of others like them. The suit, which is seeking $5 million in damages, was first reported by the Apple Insider Web site.
The lawsuit accuses Apple of violating California's Unfair Competition Law, the state's false advertising law, as well as negligent misrepresentation. Apple is the first smartphone maker to be the target of such a suit, despite the fact that rival manufacturers such as Samsung, LG and HTC have similar features on their devices.
The idea behind Wi-Fi Assist is to provide iPhone users with consistent coverage when they're using the Internet on their devices. Some Apple customers are glad to have the option to stay connected when their signals drop. But other customers, especially those with low-usage data plans, have received cell phone bills that were larger than expected.
We reached out to independent technology analyst Jeff Kagan, who told us that the problems with Wi-Fi Assist probably add up to a case of unintended consequences.
"I don't think Apple did anything with ill intentions," said Kagan. "Rather, I think this is just a case of not knowing what would happen next before they introduced a feature. Either way, users get burned and that's something that will hurt Apple."
Apple seems to have realized that users' opinions of the new feature have been sharply mixed. The company recently published an online guide to using Wi-Fi Assist, telling users that the feature may use more cellular data but in most cases having it enabled should only increase data usage by "a small percentage."
The company also pointed out that Wi-Fi Assist won’t automatically switch to cellular if a user is data roaming, and that it only works when a user has apps running in the foreground. The feature doesn’t activate with background downloading of content, or with some third-party apps that stream audio or video or download attachments.
Nevertheless, Apple did provide instructions for turning off Wi-Fi Assist: Go to Settings, select cellular or mobile data, scroll down to the bottom and adjust the Wi-Fi Assist toggle.
Posted: 2015-10-28 @ 1:45am PT
Waste of $, not very happy. I am done with Apple iPhones.
Posted: 2015-10-27 @ 12:16pm PT
What is the probability that this "feature" was the result of a request from the carrier community much in the same way that the iPhone's are "locked" as a feature that is sold to the carriers?
Posted: 2015-10-26 @ 3:24pm PT
Stupid users. They should be sued for buying an iPhone without understanding how a modern device works.