Over the weekend, you may have read reports about Apple “bricking” multiple iOS devices that had undergone third-party repairs. According to the Guardian, customers who elect to fix their damaged iPhones through unauthorised repair providers have been receiving an “Error 53” message which renders the device useless. Apple has since issued an official statement to address the mounting furore. Apparently, it’s a deliberate “security feature”. Should we be grabbing our pitchforks?
Initially thought to be a software bug, it turns out that Error 53 is a Touch ID security feature that works exactly as Apple intended. As explained over at Gizmodo:
[Apple’s] Touch ID sensor is uniquely tied to the iOS device so that a thief couldn’t do something like snag your phone, replace the sensor and then have access to all the credit cards you’ve linked to Apple Pay.
iOS device repair companies are well aware of this feature and will actually manually move the Touch ID sensor from the broken glass face plate to the new face plate to make sure the phone stays functional.
In other words, Apple has been bricking iPhones when suspicious adjustments to the Touch ID sensor are detected. Some have accused Apple of deliberately punishing customers who decide not to go through Apple’s official iPhone Repair store where screen replacements can cost up to $248.95.
However, Apple is sticking to its story, as evidenced by this official statement sent to Gizmodo:
We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers. iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor in your iPhone or iPad correctly matches your device’s other components. If iOS finds a mismatch, the check fails and Touch ID, including for Apple Pay use, is disabled. This security measure is necessary to protect your device and prevent a fraudulent Touch ID sensor from being used. If a customer encounters Error 53, we encourage them to contact Apple Support.
Whatever Apple’s intentions, the upshot remains the same: repairing your iPhone through a third-party can turn the device into an expensive doorstop. While we usually advise against extended warranties, it’s probably worth signing up to AppleCare+ and going through the official repair channels. Or buy an Android out of spite.
Additional reporting by Gizmodo.