Apple has issued an apology to iPhone owners, as well as a patched version of its iOS operating system, after an undisclosed number of iPhones were rendered inoperable recently by an "Error 53" security feature that the company said was built into the devices when they were assembled.
The affected iPhones had been repaired by third-party service centers using non-Apple parts, which triggered the error message as a security feature, according to Apple. The Error 53 message was designed to come on if the phone's built-in fingerprint ID mechanism or its cable was replaced by someone who was trying to gain access to the device.
The problem was that the error message also came in after a phone was simply repaired.
After hearing plenty of customer complaints in the last few weeks, Apple has now solved the problem and asked its customers for forgiveness.
"We apologize for any inconvenience, this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers," the company said in a Feb. 19 statement to eWEEK. "Customers who paid for an out-of-warranty replacement of their device based on this issue should contact AppleCare about a reimbursement."
The problem was specific to iPhones that were given iOS updates through Apple iTunes, the company said. "Some customers' devices are showing 'Connect to iTunes' after attempting an iOS update or a restore from iTunes on a Mac or PC," the statement said. "This reports as an Error 53 in iTunes and appears when a device fails a security test. This test was designed to check whether Touch ID works properly before the device leaves the factory."
To solve the problem, Apple has "released a software update that allows customers who have encountered this error message to successfully restore their device using iTunes on a Mac or PC," according to Apple.
The company also provided an online support document describing more details about the error message and how affected devices can be repaired.
"If your iOS device has Touch ID, iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor matches your device's other components during an update or restore. This check keeps your device and the iOS features related to Touch ID secure," the document said. "When iOS finds an unidentified or unexpected Touch ID module, the check fails. For example, an unauthorized or faulty screen replacement could cause the check to fail."
Once a fail occurs, the update will not proceed.
To correct the problem, users must install the latest version of iTunes and then must force a restart of their device. If after attempting a restore of their device they still see an Error 53 message, owners can contact Apple Support for help to resolve the issue, the post stated.
The Error 53 messages were revealed in recent reports by The Guardian. The issue has affected "thousands" of iPhone 6 (pictured) devices, rendering them inoperable.
Apple did acknowledge the issue and said the error message is part of the phone's security system checks.
Apple recently announced that customers can now trade in damaged iPhones toward the purchase of new iPhones, replacing Apple's long-standing policy of not accepting damaged iPhones on trade. Under the rules, Apple will accept late model broken iPhones that have damaged screens, cameras or buttons and will credit customers $50 for an iPhone 5s, $200 for an iPhone 6 and $250 for an iPhone 6 Plus. Under the previous Apple Store Reuse and Recycle iPhone trade-in program, older iPhones with cracked displays or broken cameras and buttons were not eligible for trade-ins. The updated trade-in program now allows Apple Stores to credit customers for damaged iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus handsets.
Rumors have recently started circulating about Apple's next flagship smartphones, the expected iPhone 7 series, which are slated to debut in September. The latest rumors about the iPhone 7 describe a move to a thinner flush-mounted rear camera, replacing the protruding rear camera that is built into the existing iPhone 6 devices, and the removal of antenna bands that are now on the rear of today's iPhones.
Apple needs a big hit with its next iPhones to generate demand after sales of the devices leveled off in its latest financial quarter.
In January, reports surfaced that Apple is trimming production of its current iPhones by about 30 percent through March due to growing stocks of unsold iPhone 6 smartphones around the world. The production cutbacks are expected to allow remaining iPhone inventories to be reduced in the meantime. A similar iPhone production cut was made by Apple in 2013.