On iPhone 3G Lawsuits: Why They Happen, and How Apple Can Stop Them | iLounge Backstage


On iPhone 3G Lawsuits: Why They Happen, and How Apple Can Stop Them

Rather than publishing a full editorial on the lawsuits that have continued to be filed against AT&T and Apple regarding the network performance of and physical issues with the iPhone 3G, I wanted to write something shorter and gather some reader opinions on Backstage, instead. The crux of the issue is that seven months have passed since the iPhone 3G’s launch, and yet AT&T is still having network issues, and people who bought iPhone 3Gs are still finding cracks in their plastic casings.

To be clear up front, we don’t like to see Apple either sued, or suing other people. Lawsuits are generally crappy ways of solving problems. I say this as a former attorney and current member of the Bar: if you think that most lawyers or companies love to file lawsuits, think again. Professionals know that lawsuits should be a recourse only when reasonable, individual requests to fix unlawful or inequitable practices are unable to achieve just results.

Having said that, the situations that consumers have found themselves in with the iPhone 3G are—regrettably—ones that appear to be beyond the ability of such reasonable, individual requests to resolve. A single iPhone 3G purchaser has little if any ability to get AT&T to update its cellular towers to improve network performance; instead, the consumer will continue to receive bills every month for two years regardless of whether data services go down on certain days, stay slow on others, or perform comparatively poorly for months in one area while offering faster, more reliable performance elsewhere; it’s up to the consumer to call over and over again for service credits. (Note: iPhone 3G users in some areas are still seeing average transfer speeds much higher than in others; simply changing locations with the same phone can make a huge difference.) Similarly, individual consumers have to request and then hope that a iPhone 3G’s naturally occurring hairline-cracked casing will be replaced by Apple rather than argued over or denied. We’ve heard stories on both sides: some people see their iPhone 3Gs replaced without argument, others have to struggle—or fail—to achieve the same results.

Certainly, Apple has become a hundred or perhaps a thousand times better about handling warranty iPod and iPhone repairs than it was a few years ago. Our editors have noticed a sharp drop in reader complaints on this topic, and our own anecdotal experiences suggest that Apple’s Geniuses and Genius Bars have become exactly what they should be: actively helpful advocates for quick repairs and replacements, rather than barriers to solving common, widely understood but Apple-denied hardware problems. My personal feeling is that an Apple product deserving repair or replacement has a better chance right now of being remedied by the company than at any time in the past, and however that happened, it’s a tremendous credit to Apple’s management. Even if products have issues, which too many products did in 2008, great service builds brand loyalty, and after a bad spell, Apple seems to be getting this again.

But still, there are issues that pop up from time to time and don’t get dealt with properly. Whether these issues are due to overaggressive marketing, improper manufacturing, or under-performing services related to Apple’s hardware (AT&T, MobileMe, etc.), they create unhappy customers. Most unhappy customers complain, and some take the next step and file lawsuits. The ways to stop lawsuits, as Apple has learned—but not always followed—are (1) to build highly reliable products, (2) underpromise and overdeliver on new features, (3) quickly address and apologize for issues that pop up, and (4) fix them quickly and fully. There would be far fewer lawsuits, far less expensive damages or settlements, and far more universally satisfied customers if these lessons were more consistently followed. Until that happens, Apple may find itself hiring more new lawyers than network and manufacturing engineers, and as everyone knows, no one will be better off if that happens.

Any thoughts, readers? Are you supportive of these sorts of lawsuits? Do you oppose them? In either case, why?

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in regards to all the 3g performance lawsuits, most of them I feel should be tossed out. why? because they are based on a crazy statement that Apple knowing released a phone that wouldn’t hit 3g speeds and all tests have shown that the phone is fine and it’s ATT that is the issue. but ATT isn’t even a co-defendent in the suits. they should be taking the blame or at least some of it. if they have areas without ample coverage, give folks a discount etc.

Posted by lucas on February 3, 2009 at 8:29 PM (CST)


Generally speaking, I tend not to like lawsuits as I think people are too quick to sue for trivial or silly things. However, I believe people should have to right to some kind recourse when all other avenues have been exhausted.

With regards to these 3G performance suits being brought on, I don’t think it’s really Apple’s fault. It’d be like someone suing a light bulb manufacturer for not lighting properly when the real problem is a lack of power to the house. If people are having issues with the 3G performance, then AT&T;should be the one named in the suit.

Though I’ve read some things online that say the 3G network can often be unreliable or flaky, I have not heard any first-hand complaints from friends or colleagues who actually own an iPhone. I personally do not own an iPhone, as I left AT&T;several years ago over network coverage issues in my local area.

My final thought is that cellular technology is far from perfect. I think people expect too much from cell phones, thinking that they’re every bit as good as the traditional landline. That really isn’t the case as cell phone signals, and therefore clarity and speed, can be affected by topography, weather, the structure the call is in, etc.

Posted by cxc273 on February 3, 2009 at 9:31 PM (CST)


I get great 3g speeds in my area so I cannot complain about that.  What I detest is the fragile back on the iPhone 3g.  This phone has not been dropped and I have a crack near the headphone jack, one near the power bottom, a mark on the side that almost seems as if the case is falling apart and finally a crack extending from the docking port up the back about 3/4” long.

Other than calling and talking to an employee at my local store I have not tried to replace it but that’s because she said they do not replace hardware for cosmetic reasons.

I would love to get it replaced though, I just haven’t driven across town to try.

Posted by Ryan on February 4, 2009 at 8:27 AM (CST)


Weird, my first 3G had a crack beside the silent/normal switch.  I took it to the Apple store and they replaced it no problem.

Posted by Derek on February 4, 2009 at 1:27 PM (CST)


The contract folks sign with ATT specifically says that ATT doesn’t guarantee signal or performance. None of the carriers guarantee anything. It’s quite possible to sign up and find you have no signal at all. They allow a few days for testing, and if you have issues, you should return the device and cancel the contract. It’s an all or nothing game… accept the service as it is, or don’t.

Hungry litigators count on Apple and ATT to settle rather than incur big expenses for defense. It costs them very little to file. Until the civil courts increase filing fees and bond requirements, or set caps on legal fees, we’re doomed to an ongoing string of “I’m not happy, so I’m going to sue” claims.

Posted by Aceon6 in New England, USA on February 4, 2009 at 2:00 PM (CST)

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