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Apple fined $10M because water is wet in different ways, and more tech news

Apple's in hot water, OnePlus 9e, Z Fold 3, Ajit Pai bye-bye, plus more tech news today!

Published onDecember 1, 2020

Your tech news digest, by way of the DGiT Daily tech newsletter, for Tuesday, 1 December 2020.

1. iPhone water resistance vs marketing promises: Italy says no

Apple iPhone in water

Apple is in hot water with Italy’s competition authority, which fined the company €10M ($12M) over iPhone water-resistance claims.

What’s interesting here is that Italy’s AGCM, in a report only in Italian but likely to be officially translated in the coming days, intends to fine Apple for concerns over water-resistance marketing, and warranty.

All iPhone models since October 2017, including the iPhone 8 through to the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro models, are included in the report. Apple has 60 days to appeal.

(In case you were concerned: According to the report, Apple’s Italian business between September 2018 and September 2019, recorded revenues of €58,652,628; and an operating profit of €26,918,658. So, Apple Italy should survive!)

The machine-translated AGCM report says two commercial practices were unfair:

  • First, “the characteristic of being water resistant for a maximum depth varying between 4 meters and 1 meter depending on the model and up to 30 minutes,” which is part of Apple’s marketing.
  • According to the Authority, however:
“…the messages did not clarify that this property is found only in the presence of specific conditions, for example during specific and controlled laboratory tests with the use of static and pure water, and not in the normal conditions of use of the devices by consumers.”

Then, on top of that, Apple’s “aggressive commercial practice” in post-sales warranty assistance for those with an iPhone that suffered water damage.

  • On that point, Italy’s authorities say:
Furthermore, the contextual indication of the disclaimer “The guarantee does not cover damage caused by liquids”, given the emphatic advertising boast of water resistance, was considered suitable to deceive consumers by not clarifying which type of guarantee it referred,” and “the refusal by Apple, in the post-sales phase, to provide warranty assistance when those iPhone models were damaged due to the introduction of water or other liquids, thus hindering the exercise of the rights recognized to them by the law regarding the guarantee or by the Consumer Code.

So, in short:

  • Water-resistance tests in labs in perfect conditions using pure water do not mimic real-world performance or usage.
  • And, despite the marketing of water-resistance in many recent iPhones, Apple won’t help if a new iPhone suffers water damage, noting it’s not waterproof.
  • Apple has also has used water damage indicators for years.

Apple’s not alone:

What it means:

  • Italy’s AGCM didn’t outright ban Apple from marketing its products in this way, but did order Apple to publish information on links to consumer protection information on Apple’s Italian homepage.
  • And it’s a bit of a weird area for smartphones, and for regulators.
  • The problem for regulators is that these matters can then go to courts, and last years, like in the Samsung vs Australia case.
  • And no one reasonably expects Apple (or Samsung) to fix a smartphone that you left on the bottom of a pool for a few hours by mistake, but it’s impossible to differentiate between that and an accidental drop into a sink of water that should’ve survived.
  • Hence, most companies now hesitate to go beyond a mention of water resistance for smartphones, and plenty don’t offer any guarantees.
  • In any case, I’d stick with keeping your phone well away from any water, no matter what the marketing says.

2.  Leak: OnePlus 9E could be a thing, joining OnePlus 9, OnePlus 9 Pro. A real lack of detail here but this could be appealing, given the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy S10e (Android Authority).

3. Samsung confirms it’s working on a ‘slimmer and lighter’ foldable phone. Naturally, yes, but the Galaxy Z Fold 2 was called a massive brick in our review this year so that may be a useful upgrade (Android Authority).

4. Renders of the Samsung Galaxy A32 5G have apparently leaked, and it doesn’t have the bog-standard dedicated camera housing for the rear shooters, a little like the LG Velvet? (Android Authority).

5. Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro: Everything we know so far about the new TWS earbuds, which surfaced at the FCC (Android Authority).

6. FCC chairman Ajit Pai out on Jan. 20, net neutrality back in (ZDNet).

7. Alphabet’s DeepMind achieves historic new milestone in AI-based protein structure prediction, using Alpha Fold (TechCrunch).

8. I’m really not across the biology here but a peer-reviewed paper on AlphaFold is coming. DeepMind’s blog post explains more. This is at least partly what Stanford’s Folding@Home project was trying to achieve for years, I think?

9. It looks like Apple Fitness+ is launching soon (Gizmodo).

10. Facebook is buying Kustomer, which specializes in customer service tools and chatbots, reportedly for $1B+ (Reuters).

11. All the social media giants are becoming the same: news feed, disappearing posts, private messaging, and a live broadcasting feature… yep, that’s all of them (Wired).

12. Instagram has totally changed how watches are designed in “an aesthetic arms-race” (Wired).

13. Zoom almost quadrupled its revenue year over year, again. Investors want more, though (The Verge).

14. “What’s the go with sonic toothbrushes? Do they make any noticeable difference?” This one gets into if electric toothbrushes are worth it over manual, and people who say they’re dentists agree (r/askscience).

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