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Error 53': The iPhone Message That Means Your iPhone Is Now an 'iBrick


"If you change the home button, when the computer restarts, the system detects the change and blocks it from starting up again."

Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

It's known as "Error 53" or the shutdown caused by a hidden, "protective" bit of code that turns an iPhone or iPad into a expensive paperweight.

Image source: PCVA.com

Some owners of Apple's popular iPhones are learning this expensive lesson after having their phones repaired by companies other than Apple. Thanks to the company's protective code in the new operating system, repairs done by non-Apple outlets could turn the phone from a dazzling handheld computer into a useless miniature brick.

The Error 53 message typically appears after a phone has the "home" touch ID button replaced by a non-Apple-authorized repair facility; although, there are reports of the deadly message appearing after a broken screen has been swapped out as well.

The easiest way to explain why this happens — the touch ID sensor is "married" to the phone's motherboard. If you change the home button, when the computer restarts, the system detects the change and blocks it from starting up again.

According to thecultofmac.com, not all of the fingerprint sensors are susceptible to the aggressive code. It seems the iPhone model 6 and 6 plus are the main victims in the Error 53 problem. However, the site also reports a few iPads with the touch ID repaired in England were useless after having just the screen replaced, not the sensor.

The Apple troubleshooting site ifixit.com advises using the original touch ID sensor and not updating the operating system.

If this happens on a new iPhone, the problem is likely to be caused by a loose wire and covered by Apple. However, if you had an older phone repaired somewhere other than an Apple store, the company advises owners to "contact Apple Support about pricing information for out-of-warranty repairs."

Is the Error 53 issue a software bug or a move by the manufacturer to control the parts distribution and repair business? Apple claims the move was intentional, building the shutdown into the software to protect the phone's owner from data and identity theft.

Stories on Bloomberg and thecultofmac.com liken Apple's blocking of independent repair shops to the car industry forcing consumers to have repairs done at dealerships or risk having their engines disabled remotely.

The problem may be bigger than a public relations issue for Apple. Last week, PCVA, a Tacoma, Washington, law firm filed a class-action suit against the company over Error 53. The suit, which requests a jury trial and $5 million in damages, free repairs for affected phones and a software fix to prevent it from happening in the future, alleges, "Apple intentionally disabled phones with error 53 to maintain monopoly on iPhone repairs."

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