Controversies in iPhone History

Apple's not immune from questionable discisions

Apple is one of the world's most successful companies, and the iPhone is the company's most successful product. Despite that success, the company has endured its fair share of controversy. From refusing to acknowledge problems to the execution of promotions, some of Apple's actions related to the iPhone caused controversy and frustration among its users. Check out this list of nine of the most significant controversies in the history of the iPhone from oldest to most recent — and one that wasn't the controversy it was made out to be.

iPhone Price Cut Penalizes Early Buyers

consumer holding apple iphone

Francis Dean / Getty Images

When the original iPhone was released, it came with the then-hefty price tag of $599. (Now the iPhone X costs more than $1,000, and $599 looks like a bargain.) Despite the cost, hundreds of thousands of people were happy to pay it to be in on the launch of Apple's first smartphone. Imagine the surprise when barely three months later, Apple cut the price to $399.

The early supporters of the iPhone felt they were penalized for helping Apple succeed and flooded then-CEO Steve Jobs' inbox with complaints.

The Aftermath

Ultimately, Apple relented and gave all early iPhone buyers a $100 Apple Store credit. Not quite as agreeable as saving $200, but early buyers felt valued, and the issue blew over.

No Support for Flash

Adobe Flash icon on a field of red

Adobe

The other major flashpoint for criticism in the early days of the iPhone was Apple's decision not to support Flash on the smartphone. At that time, Adobe's Flash technology — a multimedia tool used to build websites, games, and stream audio and video — was one of the most used technologies on the internet. About 98% of browsers had it installed.

Apple argued that Flash was responsible for browser crashes and poor battery life, and the company didn't want to saddle the iPhone with those problems. Critics charged that the iPhone was therefore limited and cut users off from large chunks of the web.

The Aftermath

It took some time, but it turned out Apple was right: Flash is a nearly dead technology. Due partly to Apple's stance against it, Flash was superseded by HTML5, H.264 video, and other open formats that work well on mobile devices. Adobe stopped the development of Flash for mobile devices in 2012.

iOS 6 Maps App Goes Off the Track

iOS 6 Apple Maps with a strange route

Kai Hendry / CC By 2.0 / Flickr

Competition between Apple and Google was reaching a fever pitch around 2012, the year that ​iOS 6 was released. That rivalry led Apple to stop preinstalling some Google-powered apps on the iPhone, including Google Maps.

Apple unveiled its homegrown Maps replacement with iOS 6, and it was a disaster. Apple Maps was plagued with out-of-date information, incorrect directions, a smaller feature set than Google Maps, and peculiar views of cities and landmarks. 

The problems with Maps were so severe that the topic became a running joke and caused Apple to issue a public apology. Reportedly, when iOS chief Scott Forstall refused to sign the apology letter, CEO Tim Cook fired him and signed the letter himself.

The Aftermath

Since then, Apple Maps has dramatically improved in almost every respect. While it still doesn't match Google Maps, it's close enough for most people and is in widespread use.

Antennagate and the Grip of Death

iPhone 4 on a white background

Apple Inc

"Don't hold it that way" isn't a customer-friendly response to complaints that the new iPhone doesn't work correctly when it's held a particular way. However, that was precisely Steve Jobs' message in 2010 when users started complaining of a "death grip" that caused wireless network connections to weaken or fail when they held the then-brand-new iPhone 4 a certain way.

Even as evidence mounted that covering the phone's antenna with your hand could dampen the signal, Apple was steadfast that there was no issue. After much investigation and discussion, Apple gave in and agreed that holding the iPhone 4 a particular way was indeed a problem.

The Aftermath

After relenting, Apple provided free cases to iPhone 4 owners. ​Putting a case between the antenna and the hand was enough to solve the problem. Apple pointed out (correctly) that many smartphones had the same problem, but it still changed its antenna design so that the problem was never as serious again.

Poor Labor Conditions in China

Foxconn sign in China

Getty Images

A darker underside of the iPhone began emerging in 2010 when reports trickled out of China about poor conditions at factories owned by Foxconn, the company Apple uses to manufacture many of its products. The reports were shocking: low wages, extremely long shifts, explosions, and a rash of more than a dozen worker suicides.

Focus on the ethical implications of iPhones and iPods, as well as on Apple's responsibility as one of the world's most successful companies, became intense and began to damage Apple's image as a progressive company.

The Aftermath

In response to the charges, Apple instituted a wide-ranging reform of its suppliers' business practices. These new policies — among the most stringent and transparent in the tech industry — helped Apple improve working and living conditions for the people building its devices and stamp out some of the most egregious issues.

The Lost iPhone 4

Man stealing woman's phone out of back pocket

Nathan ALLIARD/Photononstop / Getty Images

A few months before the iPhone 4 was released in 2010, the tech website Gizmodo published a story detailing what it claimed was an unreleased prototype of the phone. Apple at first denied that what Gizmodo had was an iPhone 4, but eventually confirmed that the report was accurate. That's when things got interesting. 

As the story progressed, it became clear that Gizmodo had purchased the lost iPhone from someone who found the phone when an Apple employee left it in a bar. That's when the police, Apple's security team, and a host of commentators got involved.

The Aftermath

Apple got its prototype back, but not before Gizmodo revealed most of the iPhone 4's secrets. For a while, Gizmodo staffers faced criminal charges related to the incident. The case was ultimately resolved in October 2011 when staffers agreed to a small fine and community service for their roles in the incident.

The Unwanted U2 Album

CEO Tim Cook and U2 at Apple Event

Getty Images

Everyone likes free, right? Not when free involves a giant company and a giant band putting something on your phone you weren't expecting.

Along with the release of the iPhone 6 series, Apple struck a deal with U2 to release its latest album, Songs of Innocence, free to every iTunes user. In doing so, Apple added the album to every user's purchase history.

Sounds cool, except that the album was downloaded automatically to users' iPhones or computers without warning or permission. The act, intended by Apple to be a gift, felt creepy and awkward.

The Aftermath

The criticism of the move grew so loud so quickly that only a few days later, Apple ​released a tool for users to remove the album from their libraries. It's hard to imagine Apple using this kind of promotion again without significant changes.

iOS 8.0.1 Update Bricks Phones

Brick

Michael Wildsmith / Getty Images

Barely a week after Apple released iOS 8 in September 2014, the company issued a small update, iOS 8.0.1, to fix nagging bugs and introduce a few new features. What the users who installed iOS 8.0.1 got, though, was something completely different.

A bug in the update caused severe problems with the phones when it was installed, including preventing them from accessing cellular networks — so no phone calls or wireless data — or using the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. This was particularly bad news because people who had bought new iPhone 6 models the previous weekend had devices that didn't work.

The Aftermath

Apple recognized the problem almost immediately and removed the update from the internet, but not before about 40,000 people installed it. The company provided a means to remove the software and, a few days later, released iOS 8.0.2, an update that brought the same bug fixes and new features without the problems. With its same-day response, Apple demonstrated that it had learned a lot since the days of the early buyer discount and Antennagate.

Apple Admits to Slowing Down Old Phones

Person staring at an iPhone in disbelief

Getty Images

For years, an urban legend claimed that Apple slowed down old iPhones when new models were released to boost sales of the new models. Skeptics and Apple defenders dismissed these claims as cognitive bias and foolishness. Then Apple admitted it was true.

In late 2017, Apple acknowledged that iOS updates slowed down performance on older phones. The company said this was done to provide a better user experience, not to sell more phones. The slowdown of older phones was ​designed to prevent crashes that could occur as batteries became weaker over time.

​​The Aftermath​

This story is still ongoing. Apple is currently facing class-action lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages. Additionally, the company offered a steep discount on battery replacement for older models. Putting a new battery in older models should speed them up again.

Bendgate: One That Wasn't a Controversy

Bendgate testing

Consumer Reports

Barely a week after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus debuted to record sales, reports emerged online that the large 6 Plus was subject to a defect in which its housing bent severely and in a way that couldn't be repaired. Antennagate was mentioned, and observers speculated that Apple had another major manufacturing problem on its hands: Bendgate.

Enter Consumer Reports, the organization whose testing helped confirm that Antennagate was a real problem. Consumer Reports performed a series of stress tests on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and found that the claims that the phone could be easily bent were unfounded. Any phone can be bent, of course, but the iPhone 6 series required a lot of force before any problems occurred.