Bugs & Fixes: The iPhone ‘dead strip’

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Last week, I encountered the dreaded iPhone “dead strip.” This is when a rectangular strip of the iPhone’s screen, typically near the bottom, no longer responds to finger touches. It happened to my original iPhone, currently about 18 months old.

As it turned out, this particular strip is a critical one. It includes the region where you “slide to unlock”—needed before you can do almost anything else with the phone after waking it up. The iPhone was now pretty much useless.

I quickly learned that I was not in uncharted territory. Others had suffered a similar fate, although the exact location of the dead strip may vary. An Apple support article offers advice for touchscreens that “do not respond.” As I expected, none of the article’s software-based fixes, such as resetting the iPhone, had any effect. Repair or replacement of the iPhone loomed as an inevitable outcome. As my iPhone was no longer under warranty, I assumed that any remedy would cost me money.

However, buried in the Apple article was the following sentence; “If the steps above don’t resolve your issue, please schedule a service appointment with an Apple Retail Store for evaluation and replacement, if necessary, even if your iPhone is out of warranty.” That last phrase offered a glimmer of hope. It suggested, however obliquely, that Apple might replace even my “out of warranty” iPhone at no charge.

Sure enough, I took the troubled iPhone to my local Apple Store. After whisking it away to a secret back room for an evaluation, the Apple Genius brought out a new iPhone. It was a new original iPhone, not an iPhone 3G. It came in a white box, rather than the retail packaging. But it was definitely a new phone. The Apple Genius told me that the phone is listed as a “service part,” available precisely for these types of problems.

There was no charge for the replacement phone. The Genius would not admit that this was because of any formal warranty extension program. Instead, she made it sound as if she was doing me a favor. But others have reported similar outcomes.

So…if your out-of-warranty iPhone has a dead strip, bring it to an Apple Store before giving up and buying a new phone.

As an unexpected bonus, the replacement iPhone is superior to my old one in several minor ways. In particular, the maximum ringer volume is significantly louder, making it easier to hear the phone in noisy environments.

Revisiting the Office and Spaces conflict

After last week’s column describing problems using Microsoft Office applications with Leopard’s Spaces, the folks at Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit alerted me to a blog posting they have on this matter. In brief, that blog entry concludes the following:

  • Problems should only occur when the Microsoft Office Toolbox window is open.
  • The symptoms stem from the fact that the Toolbox window is created using Carbon rather than Cocoa APIs (application programming interfaces). By itself, this should not be a problem. Indeed, Apple confirmed to Microsoft that the Toolbox code is “generally acting correctly.” Still, the Carbon-based Toolbox and Mac OS X do not play well together.
  • The ultimate fix is for Microsoft to “overhaul the entire architecture of the Toolbox,” converting it to Cocoa. Microsoft plans to do this eventually, but not for a “dot release” of Office 2008. Why? Because it’s “too risky.” That is, any attempt to fix this problem, without doing a major overhaul, could easily wind up breaking something else, something more critical than a Spaces conflict.
  • Until the next major version of Office is released, the best hope is for Apple to remedy the problem via a Mac OS X update.
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