Apple has released a fix for users affected by “Error 53”, a software issue that rendered useless iPhones that had had their home buttons replaced by third parties.
The problem was related to Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint reader, which is part of the home button and can be used to unlock the device instead of inputting a passcode.
If a non-Apple repairer replaced the button on a damaged iPhone or iPad, a subsequent update of the operating system detected a non-standard component and shut down the device. There was no way to restart it.
Earlier this month the Guardian highlighted the fury of thousands of users who had their damaged phones repaired only to find their devices were later unexpectedly “bricked” when updating the operating system.
At the time Apple said that Error 53 was a security feature to protect customers. It said: “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.”
However, now the company says the issue was a “factory test”. Issuing a fix with an updated version of its operating system iOS 9.2.1, Apple told the tech site TechCrunch that it apologised for any inconvenience to customers. It added: “This was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers. Customers who paid for an out-of-warranty replacement of their device based on this issue should contact AppleCare about a reimbursement.”
The turnaround comes after widespread publicity and the Californian tech giant being served with a class action lawsuit over in the US and attention from a competition watchdog in Australia.
The fix will let users with disabled iPhones clear the error by connecting them to iTunes and installing the updated iOS. The update can not be applied directly to the phone via the cloud – although iPhones updated in that way were unaffected.
Solving Error 53 does not re-enable Touch ID, as a third-party replacement of the home button could potentially allow unauthorised access to a locked phone by modifying the fingerprint sensor.
The fix comes as the security of Apple’s devices is at the centre of a standoff between the company and the US government over access to the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers.