California woman sues Apple over iPhone 'iBrick' upgrade

Claims Apple used iOS 4 upgrade to cripple older iPhones to sell more iPhone 4s

A California woman last week sued Apple in state Superior Court, claiming that last summer's iOS 4.0 upgrade turned her iPhone into an "iBrick" that was slower and less reliable than before the update.

Bianca Wofford of San Diego County, Calif., who filed the lawsuit Oct. 29, has asked a judge to grant her case class-action status, which if awarded, would let any California resident join the suit.

According to Wofford's lawsuit, Apple's iOS 4 June upgrade made her iPhone 3G "virtually unusable" because the new operating system degraded the phone's performance and caused it to frequently crash.

"Plaintiff estimates that after iOS 4 installation, she receives about 20% of the functionality of the device as it behaved before with the earlier iOS 3.x system software and firmware," Wofford's complaint read. "The true fact of the matter ... is that the iOS 4 is a substantial 'downgrade' for earlier iPhone devices and renders many of them virtually useless 'iBricks.' "

The lawsuit also leveled a conspiracy claim at Apple, alleging that the company purposefully impaired iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS performance to push sales of the new iPhone 4.

"Plaintiff is informed and believes that this whole situation was created to be consumer Catch-22 by Apple in order for the company to promote sales of its just released iPhone 4 and to cause consumers to simply abandon the earlier 3G and 3GS platforms," the suit said. "After all, what better way to underhandedly create incentive to purchase a newer product than by essentially rendering an earlier product useless by the false promise of a software 'upgrade.' "

Wofford isn't the first to complain of iOS 4 problems on the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS. Within days of the new operating system's debut, iPhone owners reported slowdowns on Apple's support forum. One forum thread has racked up more than 1,600 messages since June 24.

In early September, Apple released iOS 4.1 to patch two dozen security vulnerabilities and to address iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS issues.

A week earlier, Apple CEO Steve Jobs had promised iOS 4.1 would fix "all the bugs we've been nailed on," including iPhone 3G performance problems.

After the Sept. 8 release of iOS 4.1, the number of messages on Apple's support forum about sluggish iPhones dropped significantly, although some users said the upgrade did little, if anything for their phones. Others said iOS 4.1 was speedier than iOS 4, but still was not up to the standard of iOS 3.x.

"After having had a crippling IOS 4 on my 3G for such a long time I installed 4.1," said a user identified as "n3nto" on Sept. 11. "Version 4.1 is much better than 4.0 but NOT as fast as 3.1."

Both before and after iOS 4.1's release, iPhone 3G owners carped that they were unable to revert to iOS 3.x. Apple does not let customers "downgrade" to an earlier version of the iOS operating system. The only way to restore the iPhone to an older edition is to "jailbreak" the device so that it can install software not authorized by Apple.

Wofford mentioned that in her lawsuit, too.

"[Plaintiff] learned that if she wanted to attempt to regain prior adequate functionality of her iPhone by re-installing iOS 3.x system software, she could only do so by engaging in 'hacker' activity that would be unauthorized by Apple and potentially void her warranty," the suit said.

Wofford's lawsuit alleged that Apple violated several California consumer rights and business practices laws, and knowingly deceived customers. If Apple is found guilty, she asked the judge to award $5,000 to each affected customer.

Apple faces numerous lawsuits that have requested class-action status, including several related to the iPhone. Just days after the iPhone 4's launch, for example, consumers began suing Apple over its antenna design.

Wofford's complaint can be downloaded from Courthouse News Service [download PDF], which reported on the lawsuit Wednesday.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

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