You may have heard that Apple has got into some hot water recently over a software update that has reportedly bricked a number of iPhone 6 (and possible 6S) units with an Error 53 message, rendering the device totally unusable for anything other than a sleek paperweight made out of metal and glass. Lots of affected customers are infuriated with this move, but let’s dive into what the issue is.
First, let us know what Error 53 is. Error 53 is a major error that can render a device unusable. Before this came up, it was suspected that the error was linked to general hardware failure. However, with this controversy, Error 53 is, according to Apple, linked with the TouchID sensor, or rather, the failure for the sensor to pass a validation check.
Let’s clear that up. TouchID links with the Secure Enclave in the Apple A7/A8/A8X/A9/A9X processors on any iPhone that is a 5S or newer and an iPad Air 2/Mini 3 or newer, and that also includes the iPad Pro (pictured above). Each TouchID sensor is specially made for a specific device, meaning that you can’t just simply swap the sensor with another device. You either have to keep the original sensor, or reprogram the new sensor to work with the device it is in (something only Apple reps know how to do as far as I know).
The problem is that many of the affected iPhones are fixed in unauthorized third-party service centers. I am in no way accusing them since they do give a solid alternative to Apple service centers in some circumstances, but from what I have heard, when replacing the display, they usually replace both the display and the home button/TouchID assembly, instead of replacing only the display while keeping the TouchID sensor untouched as recommended by Apple. As a result, these sensors do not pass the security check when the device is booting and in the case of the recent update, causes the device to brick into an Error 53, due to that.
After knowing this, it seems reasonable for Apple to do that for security measures, as fake TouchID sensors could compromise the security of the device and may be able to access the Secure Enclave, where extremely sensitive data such as credit card info for Apple Pay and the biometric data for TouchID live. It is certainly refreshing to see a company take the privacy of its customers very seriously, but they also have caused quite an uproar.
Many affected customers are understandably angry about this, as their device, which worked perfectly fine before, is now rendered completely useless without warning. The sudden nature of this incident isn’t very reassuring and while Apple has made statements to news outlets, they isn’t one yet on their official website. Certainly, Apple could have handled this better. Warnings before updating would be very ideal and perhaps disabling TouchID and Apple Pay plus removing all data from the Secure Enclave when an unauthorized sensor is detected could have been more practical.
As for my opinion on this, I think it is perfectly reasonable for Apple to be concerned about the privacy of their customers and to help prevent another security breach, like that iCloud hack that caused nude photos to be leaked, though I think the way they are doing it seems a bit harsh and perhaps it could have been done in a more practical manner. I have no issues with the screen and sensor on my iPad Pro, but if any of those fail, I’ll be taking it to the Genius Bar. Which also brings up another point. Please take your device to an Apple Store if you can. If you can’t, make sure that the repair store you’re going to follows Apple’s standard repair method for repairing devices.