Apple, Apple Music, iOS

Stemming from the long-running $302.4 million VirnetX patent infringement lawsuit, Apple has been slammed with a class-action lawsuit for allegedly breaking the FaceTime functionality. It mentions that Cupertino broke the video-calling feature for iPhone users, running iOS 6 or earlier and forcefully made them switch to the next available update — iOS 7.

According to the lawsuit filed by Christina Grace in the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Apple forced users to download iOS 7 to avoid paying hefty data charges to Akamai. She further added that forcing iPhone 4 and 4S users to download the bulky new software update was more of a chore, rather than a help. And this caused the device to repeatedly crash or operate at less than optimal speeds. This was initially reported by Apple Insider and the plaintiff is seeking undisclosed damages.

This is her main complaint in this lawsuit and is supported by Apple documents made public during the VirnetX lawsuit. Talking about the same, the lawsuit document reads,

Internal Apple emails eliminate any doubt that Apple intentionally broke FaceTime. 

For those unaware of the VirnetX case, Apple was alleged of infringing on four of VirnetX’s patents for secure networks. This technology is said to be employed in the 1-to-1 video-calling functionality ‘FaceTime,’ introduced by the company in 2010. But, the company was found to infringe on technology — virtual private networks and communication links — developed by VirnetX. Thus, Cupertino began shifting their peer-to-peer connections towards Akamai servers.

Further, it has been disclosed that the company was now spending a whopping $50 million to maintain its FaceTime service on Akamai’s servers. This is where the lawsuit originates, specifically from this e-mail ‘Ways to Reduce Relay Usage’ which was circulated internally to employees. The company was mulling over options to reduce server fees and protect itself from patent infringements.

And the solution for the same was the next-generation software update, which packed a new infringement-free FaceTime feature. But, the only problem faced by the team was — users were running iOS 6 and they required a way to push out the update. Apple, thus, might’ve come up with the solution to intentionally introduce a bug into FaceTime in iOS 6 to force users to install the new update. The lawsuit claims that it would’ve helped Apple save money on those who did not upgrade to iOS 7.

Though we cannot comment on the credibility of the lawsuit but Apple did recognize the said problem. And the support page suggested the said measures, i.e updating your device to the latest software, to fix the video-calling feature. The support page has since been updated a few times and the mention of this bug has been removed from the same. Back then, the support page reply read,

If you started to have issues making or receiving FaceTime calls after April 16, 2014, your device or your friend’s device may have encountered a bug resulting from a device certificate that expired on that date. Updating both devices to the latest software will resolve this issue.

Further, the lawsuit digs into an internal e-mail chain exchanged between Apple employees. The lawsuit presents this exchange on a silver platter as it’s the prominent evidence against the unlawful actions of the company. It confirms that rising Akamai charges were bothering Apple executives and they decided to take an alternative route to solve the issue.

The conversation between two engineers chatting about their plan to force users to upgrade their devices to iOS 7 has also been extracted in the documents for the VirnetX lawsuit. The back and forth goes as under,

Apple Engineer 1:Hey, guys. I’m looking at the Akamai contract for next year. I understand we did something in April around iOS 6 to reduce relay utilization.

Apple Engineer 2:It was a big user of relay bandwidth. We broke iOS 6, and the only way to get FaceTime working again is to upgrade to iOS 7.

All the hubbub surrounding this lawsuit might seem a little out of place because of dates and adoption rates. On 7 April 2014, Apple reported that more than 87 percent of its users were already running iOS 7. And the FaceTime functionality was rendered useless on April 16, which is way past the date Apple disclosed the current adoption rates. Thus, the answer to this lawsuit still remains a mystery.

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