"Bendgate" is back.
Electronics repair website iFixit is reporting a widespread problem with Apple's iPhone 6 and, particularly, iPhone 6 Plus devices that repair advocates have dubbed "Touch Disease." A gray bar appears across the top of the phones' displays, the phones get increasingly glitchy and, finally, they lose touch functionality completely.
"What started as an unfortunate trend, now seems to be growing into an epidemic," reports iFixit's Julia Bluff, who interviewed a handful of independent electronics repair experts and microsoldering specialists.
According to Bluff, while the issue appears to be touch-screen-related, it actually comes down to two touch-screen controller chips, or Touch ICs, on the logic board (pictured, photo courtesy of iFixit).
More specifically, the problem is with how those chips attach to the logic board. One microsoldering specialist, Jessa Jones, with iPad Rehab, described the design as connecting the chips to the board with teensy solder balls, "like a plate resting on marbles."
That is where Bendgate comes in.
Users stick their phones in their back pockets and then sit, lean, do whatever. The more the phones twist and bend, the more the teensy solder balls come unstuck from the board. And when they do, touch functionality is lost.
The iPhone 6 Plus is more often affected because it's larger, and more "bendy."
"At first, there may be no defect at all. Later, you might notice that the screen is sometimes unresponsive, but it is quick to come back with a hard reset," Jones told iFixit. "As the crack deepens into a full separation of the chip-board bond, the periods of no-touch function become more frequent."
Apple's discussion boards include dozens of pages of users desperate for a fix and hypothesizing about the cause.
"My iPhone 6 Plus keeps on having weird flickering grey/white vertical lines that drag down from the top of the screen on a regular basis, it only stops when I hit it in the back really hard and sometimes my iPhone screen is unresponsive, I wouldn't be able to click on any apps that I want to and sometimes the Phone would open up another app," wrote a user going by the handle Ruyi_H.
Another user responded, "Visit an Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider and let them check the phone. If you are lucky, only the screen needs to be replaced."
However, according to other community members, Apple offers help on this front.
"About 2 weeks ago I started seeing the flickering lines on top of the screen of my iPhone 6 Plus 64Gb, along with a non-responsive screen. Giving the phone a little 'twist' seems to help for a little bit, but the issue comes back. The phone is 57 days out of warranty," user walmark wrote on an Apple discussion board in March.
"I took it to the 'Geniuses' … a rep … acknowledged the problem (he was very familiar with it), but said Apple doesn't recognize it as an issue, and so there is not much he can do," walmark continued. "I can either replace my phone with identical one for $329 or I can get a $350 trade in on it if I want to upgrade. No offer of free replacement, no consolation, nothing."
iFixit advises: If you're experiencing the issue with a phone still under warranty, try taking advantage of the warranty replacement option. And if you're out of warranty, take your phone to a repair shop that offers board-level repairs. It's a less expensive fix than replacing the board or, worse, the phone.
Jessa warns affected iPhone 6 users to make sure the shop replaces the chips rather than just "reflowing" or "reballing" them—or, heating the solder balls to reconnect them. Reflowing and reballing offer temporary fixes, but the problem will return.
In a YouTube video on Touch Disease, board repair expert Louis Rossmann, with the Rossman Repair Group, said Apple doesn't tell customers that an independent repair shop can fix the problem.
"The only option Apple offers to people who encounter this problem," said Rossmann, is, 'Would you like to buy a new iPhone?'"
Apple didn't immediately return a request for comment.