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iPhone Wi–Fi Assist: What is it and why is Apple being sued?

iPhone Wi–Fi Assist: What is it and why is Apple being sued?

As a welter of coverage tech press attests today, Apple is being sued again.

But where its last lawsuit came from a disgruntled university alumni association looking to protect its intellectual property, this latest case comes from more prosaic plaintiffs: A California couple angry about what it says are Apple’s failings over a new feature called Wi–Fi Assist.

So, why are they suing? And what do you need to know? Read on and we’ll reveal all.

What is Wi–Fi Assist?

ios 9

Wi–Fi Assist is a new tool which was released as part of Apple’s iOS 9 update.

Essentially, its aim is to stop laggy Wi–Fi from getting in the way of browsing or streaming on an iPhone or data–enabled iPad. Switched on automatically, it detects when Wi–Fi is weak and uses mobile data to keep a stable web connection.

So, what’s the problem?

bill shock roaming

Well, Cali-based Scott Phillips and Susan Schmidt Phillips say that Wi–Fi Assist uses data without users’ knowledge, leading those who have capped data plans having to pay astronomical bills.

They also claim that Apple has not done enough to explain how Wi–Fi Assist works and that a recent explanatory page on its website didn’t do enough to educate users.

Apple said: “Because you'll stay connected to the Internet over cellular when you have a poor Wi-Fi connection, you might use more cellular data.”

In a class action suit, the Schmidts state that Apple should pay the bills of those affected.

Does Wi–Fi Assist work for all web actions?

wifi assist settings

No. Apple says Wi–Fi Assist will only switch on to help with foreground apps and won’t allow background downloads, while it also says it will not work when data roaming.

The latter would lead to extremely high fees and could have landed Apple in even hotter water than it already appears to be in.

Can I switch it off?

Yes. And if you have a capped data plan, it’s advisable to do so. It’s easy to do. Fire up your iPhone’s Settings app, choose Mobile Data and scroll down to Wi–Fi Assist.

There you can toggle the function 'on' or 'off'. If you’re concerned this may have hit your data plan, keep a close eye on your next bill or your current allowance.

How much is being sought?

Apple money white logo

The Schmidts say Apple is liable for $5 million in damages to cover excessive bills since Wi–Fi Assist launched as part of iOS 9 in September.

The lawsuit is in its early stages and Apple is likely to argue that its explainer does plenty to help iPhone and iPad owners keep bills down.

However, it’s the last thing it needs after losing its case with the University of Wisconsin regarding the use of patents in its A7 and A8 chipsets

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