When Google launched its own line of smartphones in 2016, it was arguably a revolutionary turn for the company. Dubbed the Pixel and Pixel XL, Google’s brand of smartphones were predicted to create competition among the other more well known smartphone manufacturers. Now, similar to its competition, Google is facing a class action lawsuit in connection to alleged defects in their products.
Last week, a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court of Northern California against Google, alleging defects in their microphones and speakers. The complaint alleges a slew of claims, including breach of express warranty, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, fraudulent concealment, as well as violations of California’s Unfair Competition Laws, Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act.
The complaint alleges that a manufacturing defect compromised the phone’s “core functionality,” preventing its users from making voice calls and using certain voice command features like Google Assistant, a voice-enabled virtual assistant akin to Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa devices. The complaint further alleges that Google continued to sell its products, ranging from $649 to $869, despite receiving hundreds of complaints about the defect and admitting that the phones had a “faulty microphone.” Google began investigating the issue in October 2016 and directed its customers to contact customer support and if necessary, obtain replacement phones.
By January 2017, however, the problem seemed to be more widespread as even the replacement Pixels exhibited the same microphone defects. According to the complaint, by February 21, 2017, Google announced that the company identified the root cause of the microphone defect, blaming it on “systemic manufacturing errors,” namely, a “hairline crack in the solder connection on the audio codec.” Google also suggested that the defect may be caused by the “diaphragm in the mic getting stuck,” and recommended its customers use a hair dryer to apply heat to the device.
Google’s own designated third party repair provider, uBreakiFix, stated that the defect was “unrepairable” and that any attempts to fix the issue would be futile and inevitably fail. Because these hardware defects were deemed widespread and unfixable by Google’s own repair team, the complaint alleges Google breach its warranty because replacement devices and futile repairs circumvented the customer’s rights to warranty benefits.
Further, Google unilaterally reduced its warranty period for affected customers by providing replacement devices that only carried a 90-day warranty time period (opposed to the usual one-year warranty period). The complaint alleges that, because Google had actual knowledge of the defect at the time of the phone’s release yet continued to sell defective devices, the warranty limitations are “unenforceable and devoid of effect.”
The complaint also calls into Google’s general business practices, alleging that “Google acted in an immoral, unethical, oppressive, and unscrupulous manner,” by, among other allegations, promoting and selling smartphones that the company knew were defective, failing to exercise adequate quality control and due diligence, and refusing to ameliorate the defects by offering futile repair efforts. The complaint seeks $5 million in damages based on the lost of money and property.
How Can the Experts Weigh in?
Since its release, experts in the technology field were quick to offer its critiques of the Pixel and Pixel XL, with many claiming that the phone’s built and features were subpar and suffering from a number of issues such as its photo quality and voice assistant accuracy. Likewise, tech experts will undoubtedly continue to be a critical part of this suit.
As the defects seem to be the cause of a manufacturing defect, mechanical engineering experts can be useful in testifying to the structure and design of the phone as well as laying the foundation for understanding the phone’s basic components and functioning. A mobile device forensics expert may also be useful for both sides to rule out any alternative causes for the defect such as the customer’s handling of the product.
Likewise, a human factors expert can testify to how the phones may be affected, if at all, by the user. Human factors experts explain an owner’s interactions with the product. Particularly in light of Google’s own “do-it-yourself” recommendation to customers to use a hair dryer on the phone, how customers handled their phones, and if, at all, how they interpreted Google’s troubleshooting recommendations may also be an issue worth investigating throughout the duration of the litigation.
The reach of this class action lawsuit is still largely unknown but any customer of Google experiencing these defects can qualify as a member. Since its initial release in October 2016, Google sold approximately 3.9 million Pixel phones, which, in comparison to the global smartphone market of 1.5 billion devices sold, is relatively small. By way of comparison, Google’s Pixel sales are about less than a typical weeks’ worth of Apple iPhone sales. That being said, Google’s sales were predicted to be heading in the right direction, increasing its share in the United States phone market from 1.8 percent to 2.8 percent in the last year. How this lawsuit will affect Pixel’s sales will likely be dependent on Google’s response to the defect. As such, any customer (or potential customer) of Google’s Pixel products should be mindful of the litigation and look into Google’s future efforts before any purchases.