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Apple Responds to Touch Disease: Too Little, Too Late?

After months of refusing to admit they had a problem, Apple is finally offering customers a fix for Touch Disease. The issue—which affects iPhone 6 and (predominantly) 6 Pluses—often manifests as a gray flickering bar and touch screen responsiveness problems. Eventually, the screen loses functionality all together. Today, Apple announced it is offering owners of iPhone 6 Pluses a $149 option for Touch Disease-affected phones.

Since we reported on the issue back in August, there has been growing public pressure for Apple to address the widespread problem. Repair technicians we spoke to attributed the problem to a structural design flaw in the wide, thin phones. Stress on the phone causes the chips governing touch functionality to eventually lose connection with the motherboard.

Touch disease on an Apple iPhone 6 plus
The gray flickering bar at the top of this phone is symptom of Touch Disease.

While Apple is finally admitting the problem, they aren’t calling it Touch Disease. Instead they are describing it as “display flickering or Multi-Touch issues.” And they aren’t attributing it to a manufacturing defect. Instead, Apple says Touch Disease occurs after the phone has been “dropped multiple times on a hard surface.”

Apple’s statement confirms what the independent repair industry has been saying for a long time: the problem is failed solder joints beneath the touch IC components. 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. And in phones that have lived their entire lives protected in cases. The root problem is insufficient structural support around the logic board.

Apple is calling this the “Multi-Touch Repair Program”, but it looks like they are not actually repairing customers’ phones. An Apple Genius told us that they are swapping customer phones with a refurbished device. The repair service does not transfer your data over to the new device — customers must backup their important information. We chatted with Apple Support and they told us that the warranty for the repair is 90 days.

As Motherboard reported, Apple has had chronic issues with Touch Disease on refurbished devices in the past, and a limited 90-day warranty on this ‘repair’ does not instill confidence that the repaired units will stay fixed. Independent board repair specialists, on the other hand, have been fixing the motherboard on Touch Disease phones for a similar price (depending on the tech) as Apple’s Multi-Touch Repair Program since this problem first cropped up.

If you’ve already paid to replace your Touch Disease-affected phone through Apple, the company is offering a $149 reimbursement.

The program is a good start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Apple is still charging a lot of money for the device swap. And they’re only replacing iPhone 6 Pluses, even though many iPhone 6 owners have also been affected.

Apple should come clean, admit the manufacturing deficiency, and extend their warranty on this issue to 24 months from the original date of purchase (the same warranty that iPhones have in Europe) for both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. Lawsuits on the matter are still pending.