Apple has hit back at criticism of its controversial “Error 53” message on iPhones, claiming it is part of measures to protect customers’ security.
On Friday, the Guardian revealed how thousands of iPhone 6 users have had their devices, which cost hundreds of pounds, left useless after encountering the error message.
The problem is related to the smartphone’s home button, which contains a Touch ID thumbprint reader that can be used to unlock the device rather than inputting a four-digit security code.
If the phone is damaged and a non-Apple repairer replaces the button, a subsequent update of the operating system detects a non-standard component and shuts down the device. There is no known way of bringing it back to life.
Many iPhone 6 owners have only become aware of the issue when installing routine updates to iOS, Apple’s operating system for iPhones and iPads. It is unclear exactly how many have been affected.
In a statement released following the publication of the Guardian’s story, an Apple spokesperson said: “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.”
However, some users have also encountered Error 53 messages even though their device has not been altered or repaired in any way. That is what happened to US technology writer Mike Wehner last year when his iPhone 6 suffered intermittent problems with the Touch ID sensor.
Although he was able to get a replacement device at an Apple store, thousands of users whose phones have been repaired have not been so lucky. As third-party hardware has been installed on their devices, Apple deems its terms and conditions to have been broken and forced many owners to contribute towards the cost of a new phone.
With many Apple customers left furious at the company’s stance, one Guardian reader comments: “I think they made an after-the-fact adjustment to a poorly conceived and implemented security system on the iPhone. They hadn’t properly considered the implications of third parties substituting parts on the phones, whether these were bonafide alterations or not.
“They didn’t think about the customers at all (Apple are arrogant enough to do this). Or they decided that it isn’t their problem if customers do something other than what they recommend. Surely even Apple now realise it is their problem? They will have to sort it out.”
A reader of the Boing Boing technology blog said Apple should have advertised the fact rather than keeping it hidden.
If they included a warning in the package ‘tamper resistance’ feature that works by non-Apple-authorised repair services may be mistaken for tampering attempts, and lead to the phone being disabled’, then it would be purely a feature … By concealing the feature prior to sales, and only even revealing it after being repeatedly pressured over it, Apple turned what could have been a feature into a landmine.”
Apple shares have fallen more than 20% in the past three months as investors begin to doubt whether it can maintain the stellar growth posted since the iPhone first went on sale eight years ago. The company relies on the smartphone for about two thirds of its revenue.
Last month Apple said iPhone sales were flat for the three months to December, with about 74.8m devices bought in the quarter. Its most recent device, the Apple watch, has failed to capture consumers’ imagination and iPad sales are also on the slide.
Much is therefore riding on the success of the iPhone 7, expected to be released in September, but slowing global smartphone sales could make that a difficult feat to pull off even for Apple.