Apple may have moved on to the iPhone 3GS this year, but the wheels of justice, which turn slower, are still focused on 2008's older smartphone.
Last week, a panel of federal judges consolidated a dozen separate cases that consumers had filed against Apple, claiming that the company's iPhone 3G constantly dropped calls, had trouble connecting to AT&T's network and was significantly slower than advertised.
In an order dated July 1, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, a seven-judge group that decides whether civil cases in separate federal districts should be coordinated or consolidated, bundled the 12 cases together and shunted them all to a California federal court.
"All  actions involve common factual questions arising from the performance of Apple's iPhone 3G on AT&T's 3G network. Specifically, the actions share allegations that Apple and, where named, AT&T misrepresented to the public the speed, strength and performance of the iPhone 3G on AT&T's 3G network," the order read.
Some of the dozen cases were filed within weeks of the iPhone 3G's debut. One of the first was submitted in August 2008 by Birmingham resident Jessica Smith, who said that Apple's "Twice as fast. Half the price" marketing slogan was misleading, and called the smartphone the Defective iPhone 3G throughout her lawsuit.
Two weeks later, Eulardi Tanseco of New Jersey joined the legal fray, accusing Apple and AT&T of breaking consumer antifraud, warranty, breach-of-contract and fraud statutes. Like Smith, Tanseco claimed that Apple's iPhone 3G promises were bogus. "Apple has wrongfully and unfairly deceived its customers by advertising and selling the alleged newer and improved iPhone 3G with the express and implied promise that this consumer product was a reliable and efficient mobile phone," his lawsuit read.
Both Smith and Tanseco asked that their cases be granted class-action status, a move that, if successful, would open the lawsuits to potentially millions of consumers who had bought the iPhone 3G in the U.S., where AT&T is the exclusive mobile carrier.
Apple has tried to stifle some of the cases. Last October, for example, it asked a federal judge to dismiss Smith's lawsuit because she had not asked the company to repair her phone or refund her money. Apple's motion to dismiss the case was later granted, but Smith's lawyers filed an amended complaint in January 2009.
Other cases that will be consolidated include six more from California, and one each from Florida, New Jersey, New York and Texas. The combined lawsuits will be heard in a court of the Northern District of California, which is based in San Francisco. "The headquarters of the common defendant, Apple, are located within this district," the order said. "Accordingly, relevant witnesses and documents will likely be found there."
Smith, Tanseco and the others named in the 12 lawsuits are not the only iPhone 3G customers who got hot under the collar last year. Owners, in fact, started complaining about 3G network problems within days of the iPhone's July 11, 2008 debut, and flooded Apple's support forum with stories of difficulties making calls weak signals, dropped calls and slower-than-promised data download speeds.
Apple delivered multiple software updates for the iPhone in 2008 that it said addressed connection and call issues, but for the most part customers said that the fixes had not solved their reception problems.
Some consumers are currently steamed about the newer iPhone 3GS, and older models upgraded to the iPhone 3.0 software, because they say their phones' batteries are draining too fast.