A cryptic Apple Inc. error message is informing some iPhone owners that their devices, repaired by outsiders, are dead, in what some people view as an Apple effort to exert more control over repairs to its products.
Dozens of iPhone owners are complaining online that when upgrading their phones to the latest software, they received “Error 53” messages that lock them out of their devices and the data stored on them. On its website, Apple says the Error 53 message means the phone’s fingerprint sensor is either broken or has been replaced. The company says that can happen after “an unauthorized or faulty screen replacement.”
In a statement, Apple said, “We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers.” Apple said its software checks that the fingerprint sensor matches the device’s other components. If the check fails, “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.”
Kyle Wiens, head of electronics-repair site iFixit.com, said Error 53 has become a big issue for iPhone users, sparking 70 conversations on his site, including one with over 200,000 views.
Independent repair shops often replace the fingerprint sensor or its small cable when replacing cracked screens or broken home buttons on iPhones, Mr. Wiens said. Effectively killing a phone because of a replaced or faulty fingerprint sensor is a harsh policy, Mr. Wiens said, particularly because the replaced sensors are often recycled Apple parts and function as well as the original. He said the policy appears to fit a recent pattern to give Apple more control over iPhone repairs and undermine third-party vendors.
In another example, he said Apple uses proprietary screws on iPhones and refuses to sell screwdrivers that fit them. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “That’s the same as Ford saying we’re not going to let any mechanics work on our cars because they’ll change the key.”
Tife Odutola, a 22-year-old administrative assistant in Baltimore, said Error 53 killed his iPhone 6 after he paid a repairman at a mall kiosk $75 to fix a cracked screen. The repairman broke the phone’s fingerprint sensor during the screen replacement. Mr. Odutola said he accepted an older home button as a replacement in exchange for a discount. The phone functioned fine until, a few days later, he tried to upgrade the software.
Then, he said, the phone became “a brick.” Mr. Odutola took a day off work to visit an Apple store to fix the issue, “but once I told them I had Error 53, it was like I had the plague,” he said. “They told me they couldn’t even touch the phone. They said once I went to a third party, it voided the warranty.”
Mr. Odutola said he then spent three hours persuading the mall kiosk to purchase his dead iPhone for $350 and reimburse him for the repair — money he used to buy a new iPhone. But he said he can’t get back all the photos and videos on the phone.
“Preventing my data from being stolen is smart. But locking away my data without prior warning isn’t,” he said. “I put that on Apple.”