It’s known as “touch disease,” an affliction of Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models where the smartphone freezes up and won’t respond to touch commands.
And now Apple is facing proposed class-action lawsuits in both Canada and the U.S., alleging the California-based tech giant knew about the defect and failed to take action.
“As they began to have more and more complaints and people were going to them — and we’ve had significant numbers of people contact us — they brushed it under the rug,” claims Regina lawyer Tony Merchant.
In September, Merchant’s firm, Merchant Law Group, filed two class actions against Apple, one Canada-wide and one solely for Quebec residents.
The proposed suit, filed at the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan, would include all Canadian iPhone 6 and 6 Plus customers. It alleges that Apple was negligent because it supplied a defective phone, “knowingly and intentionally concealed” from customers the defect and failed to provide a proper remedy.
Merchant claims the most Apple has done for customers is offer to resolve the problem for a price — around $300.
Apple declined to comment on any of the suits, which have yet to be certified in court.
‘A piece of crap’
“You miss calls, you can’t text, it’s a horrible piece of crap,” says Trina Rae Wiegers, the lead plaintiff in the cross-Canada suit.
Shortly after the product was launched in 2014, Wiegers bought the iPhone 6 in Prince Albert, Sask., where she lives. She paid about $200 — hundreds of dollars less than the regular price because she locked into a two-year phone plan contract.
Wiegers claims that earlier this year, a few months after the warranty had expired, her phone began to intermittently freeze up and wouldn’t respond to touch commands.
“It’s frustrating as hell because you’re missing phone calls from your kids. I have three kids. I use it for work,” says Wiegers, who’s employed with the city of Prince Albert.
The suit alleges that that the underlying problem is the touchscreen controller chips in the phone’s motherboard, which are not properly secured and can malfunction with regular use.
Not Apple’s problem?
Wiegers says she contacted Apple numerous times about her defective phone and never got a satisfactory response.
She shared with CBC News a transcript of her online chat in August with senior adviser “Dave” from Apple Support.
In the transcript, Wiegers explained her problem, mentioned that she had read numerous similar complaints online, and even sent Dave a link to a recent blog from an online repair guide, iFixit. The blog labelled the problem “Touch Disease,” and claimed that iPhone repair shops in the U.S. were being inundated with customers looking for fixes for the defect.
Dave responded that he had no information that the problem was “known to be a manufacturing issue from Apple.”
He also reminded Wiegers that her warranty had expired and that she’d have to get the phone repaired. He recommended that she visit the Apple feedback site where she could “tell engineering to look into it.” He signed off with a :) happy face.
“I just about felt like throwing my phone through the screen at him,” says Wiegers.
U.S. also takes on Apple
In the United States, a similar proposed class action was filed in August in the U.S. District Court for Northern California. It alleges that “Apple has long been aware of the defective iPhones” and refused to repair them without charge.
The three lead plaintiffs in the case all allege that their iPhone 6 or 6 plus suddenly froze up and that Apple wanted upwards of $300 US to remedy the problem.
Apple’s supposed “Bendgate” problem may be at the root of the alleged iPhone issues, says Troy Crandall, equity analyst at 3Macs in Montreal.
Shortly after the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launched, people started complaining that the phone was susceptible to bending.
Crandall says the early 6 models have a bigger, thinner design which could make them more pliable.
“People tend to put them in their pants and the human body does bend,” he says.
Crandall suggests the bending could fracture connections within the phone’s motherboard, causing it to malfunction.
He says that Apple gets numerous complaints about technical glitches so, unless the company offers more details, it’s impossible to know the scope and severity of the problem.
The proposed class actions claim the issue is serious enough to demand that Apple pay damages that include compensation for a defective phone.
“All I want is for Apple to fix my damn phone,” says Wiegers.