Ever since I started reading about iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’ Touch Disease, the name now associated with a widespread problem where the iPhone touchscreen goes completely unresponsive and a gray bar appears, I’ve been nervous. I have an iPhone 6 Plus and my wife has a 6, both of which are being affected heavily according to numerous websites and a large number of reports on Apple’s very own discussion boards.
This problem is bad. I’ve been covering the iPhone since the launch in 2007, and this is right up there with the worst problems I’ve seen.
But it gets worse. Multiple reputable sources report the problem is one in the design of the logic board, and that means there’s a good chance it’s not repairable. And because we’re talking about 2014 models, many of these devices are out of warranty. You might be in luck if you purchased AppleCare, which is normally a good investment, but if you are anything like me, and time your iPhone purchases to the next model, you probably skipped the extra purchase and bought a nice case with the money instead. Unfortunately that case is unlikely to prevent this problem.
Terrible, right? Wait, it gets even worse. Apple has yet to recognize the problem, at least publicly. That means that while there’s no doubt in my mind that Apple knows about it, it hasn’t issued a statement or a recall. If you have the problem and bring it to an Apple Store, the Genius can’t — or at least isn’t supposed to — tell you what he or she knows about the problem beyond what Apple says he or she can tell you. And because Apple hasn’t launched a recall or replacement program, it would either cost you whatever the going repair rate is if your model can be salvaged or you’ll have no choice but to pony up the cost of a new handset. And with the iPhone 7 likely less than a month from launch, this would be about the worst time for that to happen.
So what gives? If this is as widespread as we’re led to believe, and there’s no indication it’s not, why wouldn’t Apple say something and make things right for customers? The answer is complicated. It could be that because these models are so deep into the lifecycle that it doesn’t make sense for Apple to replace them for free. It could also be that Apple is currently researching and ultimately plans to do something about it soon.
Clearly, this is a manufacturing issue that has nothing to do with the user. There are some reports that Touch Disease is exasperated by Bendgate, the name that was coined when the iPhone 6 came out to describe the ability of the casing to easily bend. If that’s true, and touch screens are failing because the screens are bent, that still isn’t a user issue. That said, there were plenty of videos back then showing people bending the display just to say they could, but even with that Apple shouldn’t be allowing such construction through quality control.
It’s almost a given these days that buying a new device, whether it’s an iPhone or computer or whatever, is something we do every few years. We all realize that technology changes and ponying up money to stay current is part of life. I’m fine with spending several hundred dollars on the next Apple Watch or thousands on a new laptop (I bought my last MacBook Pro in 2008) but I am not fine with spending my hard-earned money on an unplanned purchase because Apple allowed a flawed device on the market. When that happens, any reputable company should admit what happened and do whatever it takes to make things right with customers. These are the same customers it will want to impress with the next great thing, so the last thing it should do is leave a bad taste when it comes to customer service.
I’m holding out hope, that because the reports of Touch Disease are rising rapidly, that Apple will make a statement. I would be disappointed in Apple, a company that prides itself on quality and workmanship and great customer service, if it chose to just stay silent on such a widespread issue.
Customers, however, are not staying silent. On Monday, news broke that three people have filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple over the issues.
So to be clear, anyone who has an unresponsive touchscreen and a gray bar should go to their nearest Apple Store and have a Genius take a look at it. The trick is to be kind and not yell, which is sometimes easier said than done. Your anger isn’t with the employee, it’s with Apple’s refusal thus far to recognize that your problem isn’t a problem you created.
If you have a broken phone and can’t be without one until the iPhone 7 comes out, which is basically all of us, I would have it repaired and save all your receipts and emails. In the event Apple decides to retroactively issue a recall, it’s possible you could be in line for a refund.
If it’s any consolation, this is not the first problem Apple has had with the iPhone 6. Back in August of 2015, Apple launched a replacement program for the iPhone 6 Plus.
“Apple has determined that, in a small percentage of iPhone 6 Plus devices, the iSight camera has a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry. The affected units fall into a limited serial number range and were sold primarily between September 2014 and January 2015.”
If you entered your serial number and it was a match, Apple would replace the camera free of charge. Bravo, Apple, because the camera is one of the best parts of the iPhone 6 Plus.
Nearly a year to the day before that in 2014, Apple launched a replacement program for a battery issue affecting the iPhone 5.
“Apple has determined that a very small percentage of iPhone 5 devices may suddenly experience shorter battery life or need to be charged more frequently. The affected iPhone 5 devices were sold between September 2012 and January 2013 and fall within a limited serial number range. If your iPhone 5 is experiencing these symptoms and meets the eligibility requirements noted below, Apple will replace your iPhone 5 battery, free of charge.”
What’s so good about these examples is it shows that Apple isn’t afraid to recall iPhones when a recall is necessary. However you’ll notice in both of these that Apple refers to them as “a small percentage”‘ and a “very small percentage.” Based on the number of units sold the numbers exhibiting symptoms of Touch Disease could still be a small percentage, but clearly Apple would have quite a few takers this time around. The previous problems, since even recalled phones weren’t all exhibiting the problems, might have seen more sporadic interest.
My iPhone 5 AND my 6 Plus were both affected. I had the battery replaced in my 5 because I was noticing a rapid drain. I didn’t get the camera replaced in the 6 because I never had blurry photos even though my serial number was a match so I decided to roll the dice. I’m very happy to say that my photos still look clear and stunning (knock on wood!) and so far my touchscreen is working as intended (knock even harder!)
I can tell you from the experience with the iPhone 5 that Apple usually makes the recall and replacement process pretty seamless. All I had to do was make a Genius Bar appointment at my nearest Apple Store and let them know I had a recalled model. Apple said it would take 48-72 hours because this repair could not be done in-house. That was 2 years ago, and since then more repairs are being made in-house. They asked if I would like a loaner phone while mine was being fixed and I responded with an enthusiastic yes. When I got mine back I noticed the difference in battery life right away.
But back to the present, if you are an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus owner, all you can do right now is watch and wait. If your iPhone starts to exhibit any signs of Touch Disease, document everything. Do a hard reset too by holding down the power button and home button for 10 seconds until you see the Apple logo. Most people say that if there’s any relief from that it’s short lived, but any relief is better than none.
And if Apple decides to issue a recall, you can bet there will be a website where you enter your iPhone’s serial number to see if it’s one of the affected models. Make sure you do that right away. Go to Settings > General >About and look toward the bottom of that screen for the serial number. For your convenience you can press and hold on the screen and copy the number. If you do have an affected phone, make an appointment quickly at a Genius Bar, because they’ll likely start to get very busy.
If your phone is suffering from Touch Disease, I’d like to hear more and help if I can. Leave me a comment here or tweet at @scottkleinberg and @iDropNews.