Last week, we covered Apple’s Error 53 message, and how it bricks iPhones, sometimes more than a year after the devices were repaired. At the time, it looked as though a majority of the failures were caused by these third-party repairs, though there were signs that not all of them were.
The folks at iFixit have published an in-depth report on the problem that sheds additional light on what’s causing the issue and what, if anything, consumers can do about it. The problem isn’t directly caused by third-party repairs as such, but by replacing the home button or the associated cable.
The problem is linked to the Touch ID system. Apple states:
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.
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.
There are still a number of things we don’t know about Error 53. Apple defends this as a security measure, but the company has yet to present an explanation for why a previously undisclosed security measure can permanently brick devices. There are certainly alternatives for graceful fallback — the phone could refuse to enable fingerprint sensors or Apple Pay, for example.
The security measure argument truly doesn’t hold water if you consider the circumstances of the failures. Many business laptops implement a Trusted Platform Module to secure local data. If you take the hard drive out of a TPM-enabled laptop and plug it into a different system, it won’t boot and you won’t be able to read data off the drive. The security measures that safeguard the laptop kick in immediately, not the next time you connect to the Internet or attempt to log into Windows.
Apple claims that Error 53 is designed to secure its systems, yet many users have encountered this problem months after they had their devices repaired by third parties. Any genuine security mechanism would kick in the first time they rebooted the device, not the first time they upgraded to iOS 9.
iFixit also reports that Error 53 can occur even if you swap parts from a brand-new iPhone into another iPhone. The issue, in other words, isn’t that the end-user has used unauthorized hardware, but that Apple has designed its own pairing mechanism designed to defeat third-party installations.
Can anything be done to fix Error 53?
Not much. Some devices have been known to fail and display an Error 53 even if the end-user hasn’t taken them to a third party. In these cases, you’re stuck paying whatever Apple wants to fix the device or simply buying another phone.
If you get your phone repaired by a third party, you’ll need to tell them to use the original home button, cable, and Touch ID sensor. Some Apple stores might assist with a replacement if the device is within warranty, but past that, there’s nothing to be done. iFixit has yet to determine a solution and Apple isn’t talking about the problem.
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