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Apple will offer discounts on replacement batteries, following lawsuits over iPhone slowdowns

Apple is slashing prices for battery replacements after saying it slowed down older iPhones to avoid unexpected shutdowns related to battery fatigue. (Video: Reuters)

Apple apologized to customers Thursday for not being clear that the company slows down phones with aging batteries. Apple promised that it will “give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery” and let people see whether their battery's age affects their phone's performance.

Apple is offering a discount on battery replacements to anyone with an iPhone 6 or later, the company said in a statement. A battery replacement will cost $29 instead of $79 starting in late January. The cheaper price is more in line with third-party repair shops.

While Apple's message was apologetic, it still rejected allegations that the company slowed down phones with older batteries as a way to push people into buying new phones. “First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades,” Apple said.

The company said previously that unless it reduces the performance of its phones, the older batteries run a higher risk of spontaneously shutting down. This explanation makes technical sense, many experts have said.

Apple's disclosure last week that it slows down phones has sparked criticism and lawsuits. A French consumer rights group filed a suit Wednesday that accuses Apple of degrading its old phones to sell new ones. In France, it's illegal to degrade old products to promote the sale of new ones, meaning that the suit filed in France by the group Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée carries the possibility of up to two years in prison.

The group, which lays out its case in an online statement, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has also previously sued printer companies, including Epson, over claims that they violate the same law. The printer case is under investigation.

Apple also faces at least eight lawsuits from iPhone owners in places such as California, New York, New Jersey and Israel that claim Apple owes its customers money for not previously disclosing the slowdowns. The suits ask the company to pay iPhone owners varying amounts. One California suit seeks nearly $1 trillion in damages.

South Korean government telecommunications officials also have said that they will look into the reports, according to the Korea Herald.

Critics' arguments largely have rested on two claims — that Apple hurt the performance of the phones in secret and that doing so made it more likely that someone would buy a new iPhone rather than fix their old one.

That, argues one lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of New York, amounts to a sort of fraud: “Had Plaintiffs been informed by Apple that a simple battery replacement would have improved the performance of their iPhones, Plaintiffs would have chosen to replace their batteries which was clearly a more cost effective method rather than upgrading to a new iPhone that was extremely costly.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suits or the investigation.

The suits cap off a rocky year for Apple, which saw a lot of financial success but also a number of small controversies — including a bug that prevented iPhone owners from typing “i” and several software issues. It also faced criticism over a lukewarm reception for its iPhone X and had to delay the release of its smart speaker, the HomePod, until 2018.

That said, Apple's not hurting on the business front. Chief executive Tim Cook earned a $9.33 million end-of-year bonus thanks to strong stock market performance. And Apple appears to be finishing the year strong, with more people starting up new iPhones and iPads than devices from any other gadget maker this year, according to the research firm Flurry Analytics.