Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus appear to be vulnerable to so-called “touch disease”, a hardware problem that is crippling phones, according to reports from users and third-party repairers.
The issue, which has been observed in iPhone 6s since the beginning of the year, seems to affect the touchscreen controller chips, resulting in problems for the high-end smartphones in responding to touch input.
Badly affected phones become next to useless. First the status bar becomes grey and flickers and the touchscreen becomes unresponsive, with users unable to control or use the smartphones without the touchscreen working.
On the eve of Apple’s unveiling of its next version of the iPhone, an extensive report by third-party repair resource iFixit has suggested the issue is widespread.
iFixit repair advocate Julia Bluff said: “Of course, there’s no way to tell exactly how many phones are afflicted with what we’re calling Touch Disease, but every repair tech we spoke to told us that the problem is incredibly common.”
“This issue is widespread enough that I feel like almost every iPhone 6 or 6 Plus has a touch of it (no pun intended) and are like ticking bombs just waiting to act up,” Jason Villmer, owner of repair shop STS Telecom, told iFixit.
A fix for the issue is possible, requiring the broken chips within the iPhones to be carefully replaced by workshops capable of performing so-called microsoldering – the use of microscopes and very fine soldering irons to remove and replace tiny chips on the main boards of the iPhones Plan Trustler.
The microsoldering repair specialist Jessa Jones puts the fault down to the same reason the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus suffered from bending issues. Their thin, wide bodies flex more than previous Apple smartphones and the flex point appears to be around where the touchscreen controllers sit within the smartphones. Apple has since strengthened the structure of its iPhones to correct the issue with 2015’s iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.
Jones said: “Over time, normal daily use of the large, thin phone will eventually create a small crack or separation in one of the balls that underlie either of the [touchscreen control] chips on the board. At first, there may be no defect at all. Later you might notice that the screen is sometimes unresponsive, but it is quick to come back with a hard reset. As the crack deepens into a full separation of the chip/board bond, the periods of no touch function become more frequent. This is exacerbated by any drop.”
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Pressure on the screen or twisting of the phone can work as a temporary fix, as can so-called reflowing of the chip, where it is heated up to try to reform broken bonds, reconnecting the chip to the board beneath it. But the problem will get worse over time, eventually rendering the touchscreen unresponsive.
Jones explained that the only solution is to replace both touchscreen control chip, cleaning the board underneath, which should cost about the same as a screen replacement or a quarter of the cost of Apple’s out-of-warranty refurbished phone replacement offer.
Apple’s in-store support are not capable of doing so, leaving those out of warranty with little recourse but to buy a new or refurbished smartphone, according to users of Apple’s support forums.
While Apple store staff have reportedly told users affected by the issue that it is a known problem, the company has not officially acknowledged the issue.