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Reason to buy Android: update bricks some iPhones that were repaired without authorization

An emerging iPhone ‘feature’ is discovered to brick devices that were repaired by non-Apple entities when a user upgrades to the latest version of iOS.

Published onFebruary 5, 2016

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Apple users are now receiving a pretty strong incentive to swap to Android. An emerging iPhone ‘feature’ is discovered to brick devices that were repaired by non-Apple entities. When a user upgrades to the latest version of iOS 9, some are reporting an “error 53” that renders the device unusable. Although the phone may have been functioning perfectly for weeks or months after a repair job, this error will effectively render the handset inoperable, and the Guardian is reporting that any data lost on the phone this way is unrecoverable.

“The problem occurs if the repairer changes the home button or the cable,” said California tech expert Kyle Wiens, owner of the iFixit website. “Following the software upgrade the phone in effect checks to make sure it is still using the original components, and if it isn’t, it simply locks out the phone. There is no warning, and there’s no way that I know of to bring it back to life.”

Why I switched to the iPhone.... (and back again)

Some suspect that this is a move by apple engineered to undercut independent repairers. Repairing the home button through Apple will run upwards of $200, but smaller repair shops can perform the fix much cheaper. There are concerns that this might go against competition rules. The Guardian points out that car manufacturers are not legally able to insist that automobile owners get serviced exclusively through their shops.

The worst thing about “error 53” is that there is no warning and no fix. The only solution is to get a new phone. Antonio Olmos, a freelance photographer, fell victim to this issue after he had his phone repaired in a shop in Macedonia in September. Months later, when prompted to upgrade his software, Olmos accepted the update and his phone was immediately bricked. The self-proclaimed Apple addict was incensed when he learned that he had to pay £270 for a replacement.

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“The whole thing is extraordinary,” said Olmos. “How can a company deliberately make their own products useless with an upgrade and not warn their own customers about it? Outside of the big industrialised nations, Apple stores are few and far between, and damaged phones can only be brought back to life by small third-party repairers. I am not even sure these third-party outfits even know this is a potential problem.”

Apple has been pretty cagey about the whole issue. The closest we’ve gotten to an explanation is a jargon-stuffed statement from a spokesperson:

We protect fingerprint data using a secure enclave, which is uniquely paired to the touch ID sensor. When iPhone is serviced by an authorised Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the touch ID sensor, the pairing is re-validated. This check ensures the device and the iOS features related to touch ID remain secure. Without this unique pairing, a malicious touch ID sensor could be substituted, thereby gaining access to the secure enclave. When iOS detects that the pairing fails, touch ID, including Apple Pay, is disabled so the device remains secure… When an iPhone is serviced by an unauthorised repair provider, faulty screens or other invalid components that affect the touch ID sensor could cause the check to fail if the pairing cannot be validated. With a subsequent update or restore, additional security checks result in an ‘error 53’ being displayed … If a customer encounters an unrecoverable error 53, we recommend contacting Apple support.

Apple support, by all accounts, will then tell you that you need to buy a new device from them. If you’re an iPhone user and you’ve had your device repaired by a non-Apple entity, it might be a good idea to hold off on any upgrades for the foreseeable future.

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