Apple is advising owners of damaged iPhone 6 smartphones that have been repaired by third-party service centers to contact Apple Support if their phones are now displaying "Error 53" messages on their screens.
The Error 53 messages, which were revealed in recent reports by The Guardian, apparently are generated on a late model iPhone if the handset's home button, with its fingerprint ID mechanism built-in, is replaced by a non-Apple service center, according to a Feb. 6 story by the paper. The message also appears if the home button cable is replaced with a non-Apple part.
The issue is affecting "thousands" of iPhone 6 (pictured) devices and leaves the devices unable to function properly again, the paper reported.
"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," the story reported. "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."
The issue apparently is showing up when iPhone owners install routine updates to their device's iOS operating system, the story reported. Some iPhone owners are saying that their devices have experienced the Error 53 message even though their phones have not undergone any repairs, the story continues.
In an email reply to an inquiry from eWEEK, an Apple spokesperson acknowledged the issue and said the error message is part of the phone's security system checks.
"We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers," the company said in a statement. "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."
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.