After tens of thousands of customer complaints, two lawsuits, and widespread agreement in the independent repair community that an engineering flaw is causing huge numbers of iPhone 6 Pluses to suddenly lose their touchscreen functionality, Apple has finally admitted that it has a problem. And to fix it, you have to pay the company $149. To repair a device defect that does not appear to be caused by user error.
Thursday, Apple announced a "repair program" for iPhone 6 Pluses experiencing "touch disease," a flaw in which two internal chips on the phone's logic board become unseated due to unexpected flexing of the phone caused by normal use (and is thought to be related to the same bendability issues that prompted the so-called "bendgate" controversy).
Over the last several months, Motherboard has spoken to numerous Apple Geniuses who say the company knew about the problem but was ignoring it. Phones with the problem were being replaced with refurbished devices that were also susceptible to the issue for $329.
"Apple has determined that some iPhone 6 Plus devices may exhibit display flickering or Multi-Touch issues after being dropped multiple times on a hard surface and then incurring further stress on the device," the company wrote on its website Thursday. "If your iPhone 6 Plus is exhibiting the symptoms noted above, is in working order, and the screen is not cracked or broken, Apple will repair your device for a service price of $149."
Apple said that anyone who had already had their phone replaced (usually for $329) would receive a reimbursement for the difference between what they paid and $149.
"They aren't attributing it to a manufacturing defect," Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, the website that originally named the defect "touch disease," told me in an email. "Apple is correct that dropping the device onto a hard surface could cause this issue. But that's not the only cause: We have seen this problem on phones that have never been dropped. The underlying problem is insufficient structural support around the logic board."
On the surface, this seems like an attempt for Apple to do right by its customers. But I have been covering this issue closely for months and have received emails from nearly 500 people who have had this issue. The overwhelming majority of them say they have not done anything to physically damage their devices, suggesting that this is happening purely because the phone has a fundamental underlying flaw.
In fact, Apple Geniuses have told me that phones that are "remanufactured" to fix the flaw are sometimes exhibiting it new out of the box. Independent repair professionals who resolder unseated chips say they regularly see the issue on phones that have no scratches or dents on them.
In effect, then, Apple is asking its customers to pay to correct a defect that they often had nothing to do with.
"Apple is calling this the 'Multi-Touch Repair Program,' but they're not actually repairing customer's phones," Wiens said. "An Apple Genius confirmed to us that they are swapping customer phones with a refurbished device. Apple has had chronic issues with Touch Disease on refurbished devices in the past, and this the limited 90-day warranty on this 'repair' does not instill confidence that the repaired units will stay fixed."
"Apple should come clean, admit the manufacturing deficiency, and extend their warranty on this issue to 24 months," he added.
Apple must respond to a class action lawsuit related to the issue early next month. And even with this public admission of the issue and the repair program, it's clear that the larger problem of "touch disease" affecting iPhone 6 and 6 Pluses is far from over.
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