Beijing is demanding answers from Apple after iPhones in China start mysteriously turning off

Is this thing on?
Is this thing on?
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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Chinese iPhone owners are reporting that their iPhone 6 and 6s devices are abruptly shutting down, and Beijing wants to know why.

Echoing problems in the US earlier this year, the complaints have led the China Consumers Association, a consumer watchdog group affiliated with China’s State Council (chaired by premier Li Keqiang), to send a letter (link in Chinese) to Apple demanding an explanation. The incident marks another blow to the hardware company as its glory days in China begin to fade.

Various Chinese social media users have reported in recent weeks that their devices abruptly power off when their battery is at 50% to 60% capacity. One page on Weibo containing posts with the hashtag #iPhone6s自动关机# (iPhone 6s shuts down automatically) has generated more than 10 million views and nearly 20,000 comments.

One Shanghainese consumer named Li Wei (link in Chinese) told the state-affiliated publication The Paper that the iPhone 6s he purchased from an official Apple Store had shut down abruptly three times since October 2015, all while the battery was at 20% capacity or higher. When Li went to an Apple authorized reseller to fix the problem, the store told him to first perform a factory reset on the phone, and if the problem persisted, he would have to pay 2000 yuan ($291) for a repair. Alternatively, Li could purchase a new phone.

“I bought the iPhone6s over a year ago when it started to automatically shut down at 30% charged last month, [and] now it will only turn on again when its charging” one commenter wrote on Weibo (link in Chinese, registration required). Another suggested the problem might not be an issue with the battery, writing: “I’ve changed [the battery] but the phone keeps shutting down at 50% charged, what crap!”

Prompted by the social media backlash, the China Consumers Association wrote a letter (link in Chinese, registration required) to Apple dated Nov. 15, demanding it explain the cause of the malfunctions. The letter urged the company to reply within 10 business days:

Recently, this organization has continued to receive reports from consumers stating their iPhone 6 and 6s devices will automatically shut down when the battery still has 50-60% capacity. The shutdown problem persists after upgrading the phone’s software. [Other times] when the temperature is too warm or cool it will automatically shut down, [or] after the device automatically shuts down it will not turn on again unless it is charging. Media have reported all of these phenomena.

Since a considerable number of consumers in China own the iPhones 6 and 6s, and number of people reporting these people is also large, in order to to protect the legal rights of consumers, the China Consumer Association asks that you carry out an investigation that can answer the following questions about the abnormal automatic shutdown of the iPhones 6 and 6s devices:

What is causing the iPhone 6 and 6s devices to automatically shutdown? Is there a problem with the battery?

How will you deal with the shutdown problems reported by consumers?

What measures will you take to fix the shutdown problem, if there is an extremely large number of cases?

iPhone 6 and 6s owners outside of China have also complained about similar battery drain issues in the past. In early 2016, the company published a support document acknowledging the issue, suggesting it could be caused by a time zone error. The document does not appear to be accessible currently, and it’s unclear why this issue has surfaced in China now. Apple did not respond to questions about the reports or letter.

The letter comes at a difficult time for the Cupertino, California, hardware giant. The company’s sales have been lagging in China—the country has dropped from its second-largest market in revenue to its third largest. Meanwhile, the Chinese government appears eager to see the company’s fortunes fade in the country. Amid a larger crackdown on foreign companies entering the media industry, Apple shut down its iBooks and iTunes movie store in China this year.