Software block appears to brick iPhone 7s with unlicensed service

The latest iPhone repair controversy revolves around the home button.

Image: lili sams/mashable

Fixing any broken phone is a hassle, but if you have an iPhone, you really only have one safe option: repairing your device using an Apple-certified technician. It ain’t cheap

You can take your mangled iPhone to an independent repair shop to shore up a cracked screen, certainly — but you’ll be kissing any semblance of an Apple warranty goodbye.

In the case of a broken home button on the iPhone 7, Apple appears to have taken an even more drastic step to ensure independent shops and home tinkerers from repairing their phone. Motherboard reports the iPhone 7 has a software lock that will keep the phone from unlocking if the key circuitry powering the home button is damaged or tampered with.

The software block raises new questions about the extent of Apple’s control over the iPhone and the means to repair it. At a more basic level, we’re left once again wondering how much we really own our phones if they’re programmed to brick themselves when you try to fix them.     

The software lock prevents any kind of third party-installed home button working with Touch ID or even executing its basic return-to-home-screen function when the phone’s unlocked, according to the report. Only the home button that was originally part of the device will work — unless the replacement is specially recalibrated by an Apple-approved source, that is.

Michael Oberdick, who owns indie repair shop iOutlet, demonstrated the software block on his YouTube channel. He told the Motherboard that this type of restriction could make it even harder for unlicensed shops to even fix cracked screens, because any inadvertent damage to the home button could brick the device.

Apple has used a similar method to block third-party fixes before. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners with shop-repaired home buttons had their handsets bricked by Error 53 just last year. But in that case Apple apologized for the bug and fixed it, but the issue still hasn’t completely disappeared: Australia’s top consumer agency, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), just initiated proceedings against the company in the country’s Federal Court for “false, misleading, or deceptive representations about consumer rights” in the aftermath of the lockouts. 

Consumer advocates are calling for Apple and other companies to give independent repair shops more access to their products, and some states have even considered legislation to require it. So-called Right-to-Repair laws are a controversial matter, with advocates arguing that better third-party repair access could help increase our gadgets’ lifespans and cut down on e-waste, while opponents worry about shoddy DIY home repairs and exploding phones. 

Representatives for Apple didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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