SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
Apple was Thursday fined Aus$2.25 million (US$2.29 million) for "deliberately" misleading Australian consumers about the local 4G capability of its next-generation iPad.
The tech giant was also ordered to pay Aus$300,000 in costs by the Federal Court in a case brought by regulators.
Justice Mordy Bromberg found that Apple misled people with claims in its advertising implying that the "iPad with WiFi + 4G" could connect with fourth generation cellular networks in Australia, when it could not.
The judgement ruled that the company engaged in conduct liable to mislead the public and contravened Australian consumer law.
"The conduct concerned was deliberate and very serious," Bromberg said.
"It exposed a significant proportion of Australian consumers of tablet devices to a misleading representation." Apple offered in March to refund customers who felt they had been duped, and to publish a clarification about the popular tablet's capabilities. The product is now advertised outside North America
as "Wi-Fi + Cellular" -- a change that came into effect on May 12 -- with a clear caveat on its Australian site that "it is not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE and WiMax networks." Earlier this month, the company agreed to settle the case with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which initiated the proceedings.
But Bromberg had refused to make an official ruling until he had details on how many iPads had been sold and were returned under the refund offer and further information on Apple's financial position.
He said Thursday the risk of contravening Australian consumer law would have been "reasonably obvious" to Apple.
"In that context, and in the absence of any other explanation, the facts to which I have just referred suggest that Apple's desire for global uniformity was given a greater priority than the need to ensure compliance with the Australian consumer law," he said.
"Conduct of that kind is serious and unacceptable." The iPad was the world's best-selling tablet in the first three months of 2012, outgunning its Android-powered rivals, with sales more than doubling from a year earlier to send Apple's profits soaring.