Apple’s Error 53 fiasco

Error 53

As we reported last week, thousands of users have been left with bricked iPhones because they got their broken Home buttons repaired from non-Apple approved repair shop instead of Apple Service Center, Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider.

The Home button also includes the Touch ID sensor, so iOS checks if the sensor matches with your device’s other components. If it does not match which is the case when you repair the device from an unauthorized repair shop, it gives an ambiguous “Error 53” or The iPhone [device name] could not be restored. An unknown error occurred (53).”

Apple’s spokesperson gave the following statement on the issue:

We take customer security very seriously and Error 53 is the result of security checks designed to protect our customers. 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.

That’s fair enough. Apple is trying to protect users and prevent a fraudulent Touch ID sensor from being used.

But there are several problems with the way Apple has handled the issue. Firstly, Apple should have given a more detailed error message on the device itself rather than giving an ambiguous error code. Apple didn’t even have a support document which explained why iOS was giving “Error 53”. It recently published a new support document for “Error 53”. Prior to that, a support document asked you to check for hardware issues if you got “Error 53”, so there was no way to figure out that the issue was because of the Home button replacement. And since you got the error when you tried to update or restore the device and not immediately after repairing the iPhone or iPad, it was probably difficult for users to figure out that the problem was because of the Home button replacement, which was probably done a few days or months back.

Secondly, instead of bricking the iPhone, Apple should ideally disable the Touch ID feature rather than bricking the iPhone, so users have the option to get it resolved by going to an Apple Store or an authorized Apple Authorized Service Provider or decide to live without the Touch ID feature.

Users are already frustrated that the Home button isn’t working, the last thing they want is a bricked iPhone after spending money on repairing it. The reason people don’t repair their devices at Apple Service Center, Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider, is because they’re extremely expensive. It costs $150 – $200 to replace the Home button for an out-of-warranty device, whereas it would cost less than half to repair it at an unauthorized repair shop. The Home button with Touch ID sensor component costs less than $10, so Apple should make the repair costs more reasonable rather than thinking of making hefty profits even from repairs. But I won’t get into that discussion.

If you’re wondering why this has become such a big issue now, considering Apple introduced Touch ID with iPhone 5s in 2013, then it is probably because a lot more Home buttons are failing now after more than two years of use.

Apple could have done a much better job of handling the security concerns when it comes to replacing the Home button with Touch ID rather than throwing “Error 53” and leaving it to users to figure it out. While a lawsuit seems opportunistic, Apple certainly seems to have lost a lot of goodwill by bricking iPhones.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.