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iPhone Error 53 - Destroyed for safety

If the iPhone 6 Home Button is repaired by third parties, Apple may permanently disable the device. The corporation calls it a feature, customers are outraged.

"Open Your Electronics" - this call went through the web a few weeks ago. Every Smartphone user should be able to open and repair his own device, said initiator Jason Koebler. Owners of Apple's iPhone 6 should, however, think twice. Anyone who independently exchanges components such as the display or the home button, or even orders an independent mobile phone shop, runs the risk of rendering his device unusable.

The reason is called Error 53 and it's been around since September 2014. At that time, Apple released the iOS version 8.0.2 for the iPhone 6. After the update via iTunes, the first users got the mysterious error code 53 displayed. He was not mentioned in any of Apple's official error code tables, and even employees in official Apple stores did not know what was behind them. Sure was only: Who got him first, could not use his iPhone 6, the device could not boot, it was bricked, as it is colloquially called.

The fact that the Error 53 only now receives some attention, is due to a recent article by the Guardian. As it says, thousands of iPhone users are affected by the problem, including a Guardian photographer. During a search in Macedonia, he had the home button of his iPhone exchanged. Not directly with Apple, but for little money in a local mobile phone shop. If only because there was no Apple Store or contract partner nearby. The repair was successful, at least until the next iOS update. Then the operating system recognized that the home button had been replaced - and locked the iPhone.

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In the worst case, the device is useless

What the Guardian photographer did not know is now known to security experts and technicians. When Apple released iOS 9 last fall, the number of Error 53 messages rose again. And now there is an explanation for it.

The error occurs in conjunction with two hardware components, the home button and the home button extension cable. Two scenarios are conceivable: The components are damaged in some form, for example by an inattention during a display repair or by falls. This is what happened to Daily Dot author Mike Wehner. Or they are exchanged and, crucially, not by Apple, but, as in the case of the Guardian photographer, by a third party vendor.

In fact, every home button that also contains the fingerprint sensor (Touch ID) is individually linked to the iPhone. If the system detects the next update after an exchange that this link no longer exists because another component was used, iTunes plays the Error 53 and makes the device useless. Even Apple can say nothing more to change it, the customers have to buy a new device. A possible solution is at best to reinstall the original home button - if you still have it and the electronics are still working.

US lawyers want to sue

The topic is discussed accordingly controversially. Many Apple users are outraged and believe that the company wants to take targeted measures against third party repairs, and at the expense of consumers. Who wants to have his iPhone 6 repaired after the expiration of the guarantee, pays in Germany a flat rate of 321.10 Euros at Apple. Replacing the home button in a repair shop costs much less. The subject of planned obsolescence is also fast in the room. If only Apple has the monopoly for expensive spare parts, it can still profit from it. Not every Apple buyer finally decides on the extended warranty for an additional charge.

Consumer advocates and lawyers are alerted. A crucial question is: Can Apple make the devices of its customers in retrospect unusable? As the Guardian reported on Monday, at least one law firm in the US is already searching for consumers who have been confronted with Error 53 and have been unable to use their iPhone ever since. If enough people find themselves, they could file a class action lawsuit against Apple.

Everything in terms of security - says Apple

Meanwhile, the company has commented. The error is therefore a feature for the security of iPhones. The Touch ID function is linked to the so-called Secure Enclave, a simplified, secured area on the chip built into the iPhone. Here, among other things, the user's PIN code and fingerprint are encrypted so that neither Apple nor third-party apps can access it. If the system detects that the home button has been replaced, it interprets this as a manipulation and locks the device. Only with official repairs in the Apple shop it is possible to revalidate the Home button after the exchange again, it is called in a press release.

At first glance, that seems drastic, but understandable. As a result, Apple guarantees that no one can unnoticed a home button and exchange the function abused. Not only is it possible to unlock the iPhone and view personal data via Touch ID, it is also used for the Apple Pay payment service. The close link between hardware and software is therefore due to data security and should prevent manipulation. But customers have to accept that they cannot have their iPhone repaired on every street corner.