Controversies in iPhone History

shocked woman
image credit: Tim Robberts/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Apple is one of the world's most successful companies—and the iPhone its most successful product. Despite all of that success, the company has endured its fair share of controversy. From stubbornly refusing to acknowledge problems to the ham-fisted execution of promotions, some of Apple's actions related to the iPhone have caused controversy and frustration among its users. This article looks back at 9 of the biggest 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

The original iPhone
A steep price cut to the original iPhone angered early adopters. image copyright Apple Inc.

When the original iPhone was released, it came with the then-hefty price tag of US$599 (of course, now the iPhone X costs over $1,000 and $599 looks cheap!). Despite that cost, hundreds of thousands of people were happy to pay to get Apple's first smartphone right away. Imagine their surprise when barely 3 months after the iPhone's release, Apple cut the price to $399.

Needless to say, the early supporters of the iPhone felt they were being 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 nice as saving $200, but early buyers felt valued and the issue blew over.

No Flash Support Blocks Content?

Flash player for iPhone
Some said lack of Flash made the iPhone incomplete. iPhone copyright Apple Inc; Flash copyright Adobe Inc.

The other major flashpoint for criticism in the early days of the iPhone was Apple's decision to not 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 ubiquitous technologies on the Internet. Something like 98% of browsers had it installed.

Apple argued that Flash was responsible for browser crashes and poor battery life and it 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 now a nearly-dead technology. Thanks in large part to Apple's stance against it, Flash has been superseded by HTML5, H.264 video, and other more-open formats that work on well on mobile devices. Adobe stopped development of Flash for mobile devices in 2012.

iOS 6 Maps Goes Off the Track

Apple Maps fiasco
The world looked pretty weird in the early versions of Apple Maps.

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 pre-installing 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—as shown in the screenshot—some deeply weird views of cities and landmarks. 

The problems with Maps were so serious 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 greatly improved in almost every aspect. While it still doesn't match Google Maps, it's close enough for most people that it's widely used.

Antennagate and the Grip of Death

iPhone 4 antenna problems
"Don't hold it that way" wasn't a good solution to the iPhone 4 antenna problems. image copyright Apple Inc.

"Don't hold it that way" isn't a very customer-friendly response to complaints that the new iPhone doesn't work properly when held a certain way. But that was exactly Steve Jobs' message in 2010 when users started complaining of a "death grip" that caused wireless network connections to weaken or fail when holding 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 certain 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

Factory floor
Apple came under fire for the conditions of its partners' factories. Alberto Incrocci/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 there. The reports were shocking: low wages, extremely long shifts, explosions, and even 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 buildings its devices and stamp out some of the most egregious issues.

The Lost iPhone 4

Man stealing woman's phone out of back pocket
The "lost" iPhone caused a lot of consternation. 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 true. That's when things got interesting. 

As the story progressed, it became clear that Gizmodo had purchased the "lost" iPhone from someone who had found the iPhone when an Apple employee left it in a bar. And that's when the police, Apple's security team, and a host of commentators got involved (for all the twists and turns, read The Saga of the Lost iPhone 4).

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

The Unwanted U2 Album

U2 Songs of Innocence
A free U2 album was an unwelcome intrusion in many people's iTunes Library. image copyright U2

Everyone likes free, right? Not when free involves having a giant company and a giant band combine to put 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," for free to every iTunes user. In doing so, Apple simply added the album to every user's purchase history.

Sounds cool, except that for some users, this meant that the album was automatically downloaded to their iPhone or computer, without any warning or their permission. The act, intended by Apple to be a gift, ended up feeling creepy and awkward.

The Aftermath
The criticism of the move became so loud so quickly that just a few days later Apple ​released a tool to help users remove the album from their libraries. It's hard to imagine Apple using this kind of promotion again without some major changes.

iOS 8.0.1 Update Bricks Phones

iOS 8.0.1 turned some iPhones into this. Michael Wildsmith/Getty Images

Barely a week after Apple released iOS 8 in Sept. 2014, the company issued a small update—iOS 8.0.1—design to fix some 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 serious problems with the phones it was installed on, including preventing them from accessing cellular networks (i.e., no phone calls or wireless data) or using the Touch ID fingerprint scanner. This was especially bad news because people who had just bought new iPhone 6 models the previous weekend now 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

shocked woman
image credit: Tim Robberts/DigitalVision/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.

In late 2017, Apple said that iOS updates slow down performance on older phones. The company said this was done with an eye towards providing a better user experience, not selling more phones. Slowing older phones was ​designed to prevent crashes that could be caused by batteries becoming 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 has offered a steep discount on battery replacement for older models. Putting a new battery into older models should speed them up again.

One That Wasn't a Controversy: Bendgate

Bendgate testing
Consumer Reports' "Bendgate" tested proved the claims were overblown. Consumer Reports

Barely a week after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus debuted to record sales, reports started emerging online that the very 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.

So, it's worth remembering: Apple is a big target and people can make a name for themselves by attacking it—but that doesn't make their claims true. It's always smart to be skeptical.