Business Technology

Saturday 7 December 2019

Repaired iPhones risk being 'bricked'

A disabling safety feature on the iPhone kicks in once it detects parts other than those manufactured by Apple have been installed after repairs. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
A disabling safety feature on the iPhone kicks in once it detects parts other than those manufactured by Apple have been installed after repairs. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Thousands of Irish iPhone insurance subscribers may not be covered for damages because of a loophole that allows Apple to permanently disable repaired handsets.

A safety mechanism in iPhone 6 devices has been discovered that 'bricks', or permanently disables, the high-end handset when certain non-Apple parts are used in repairing the phones.

And a number of insurance companies will not say whether they are complying with Apple's repair requirements.

The 'bricking' mechanism can apply to phones with replaced fingerprint sensors or screens, something done by thousands of Irish people every year.

The disabling mechanism occurs when the owner of the repaired iPhone 6 updates the device to iOS 9, Apple's latest mobile software. Once updated, the user then sees an 'Error 53' message on the device's screen, after which the phone becomes permanently unusable.

Apple says that the measure is a security feature that prevents unauthorised tampering with the iPhone's sensitive screens and 'Touch ID' sensor equipment.

"When iOS finds an unidentified or unexpected Touch ID module, the check fails," said a section on Apple's website dealing with a deluge of users complaining about the problem.

"For example, an unauthorised or faulty screen replacement could cause the check to fail. This check keeps your device and the iOS features related to Touch ID secure."

Apple also says that using unauthorised parts to fix an iPhone automatically voids the phone's warranty.

But Irish insurance companies are telling customers they are unsure whether replacing a broken screen on an iPhone will void the device's warranty or result in the disabling mechanism.

Two popular phone insurance companies contacted by the Irish Independent were unable to verify whether their repair processes fell foul of Apple's bricking mechanism.

A third, Dublin-based, said that devices with broken screens that are over eight months old are likely to be swapped for a replacement phone rather than repaired.

The issue has left iPhone users around Ireland unsure about whether claiming for a cracked screen under their insurance will cause their devices to stop working when they update the phone's software.

However, two mobile phone operators - Meteor and Three - confirmed that iPhones returned to them for repair are sent to Apple for replacement parts and not to third-party repair shops. A spokesman for CompuB, a 'premium' Apple reseller chain in Ireland, said that its stores send returned devices straight to Apple's own repair facilities.

Without insurance, a replacement screen for an iPhone 6 or 6S phone costs up to €300, with screens for older iPhones costing under €100.

Recent research suggests that as many as one in 14 iPhones experiences a cracked or broken screen from people dropping the devices.

However, the owner of a popular phone repair shop in Dublin said that the 'Error 53' disabling problem was being overstated.

"About 30pc of our business is iPhone screen repairs," said Alan Donohoe, owner of GSM Solutions. "We get the exact same screens as Apple does, made by the same factories in China. There are plenty of cheaper shops around where you'll see dodgy screens and parts put into an iPhone and that could cause a problem."

Irish Independent

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