Outside the tolerance: An adverse reaction to an iOS update


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Would you be surprised to know there are people who get upset by Apple’s software update release notes? Probably not, because you read this column. The Macalope is sorry he’s made you so jaded.

Writing for Motherboard, Jason Koebler says the “Latest iOS Update Shows Apple Can Use Software to Break Phones Repaired by Independent Shops.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Peter Cohen.)

This update may show that Apple could do that, but what this update did is literally the reverse of that. Here’s what Apple's release notes for iOS 11.0.3 say:

Addresses an issue where touch input was unresponsive on some iPhone 6s displays because they were not serviced with genuine Apple parts.

What a load of crap! Parts is parts, no matter who makes 'em, right? You get the parts, you press them together until you get a congealed wad of electrometronics, and you got yourself a smartphone!

Uh, no. Apple makes agreements with providers that the parts they supply the company will operate within certain tolerances. Their software is coded to those tolerances. This is how Apple makes devices that are most definitely faster and, generally speaking, more reliable than those of its competitors.

You want some evidence? OK. Remember when the Apple Watch first shipped and it was in very short supply? That was because the company had to drop a supplier that was shipping bad taptic engines. Meanwhile, please enjoy your Pixel screen burn-in. There are counter-examples (Intel modems) but, for the most part, Apple does a good job with its sourcing.

The release notes for iOS 11.0.3—an iPhone operating system update pushed to customers Thursday—comes [sic] with a not-so-subtle warning: Don’t get your phone fixed by anyone who isn’t Apple.

Yeah, if you want it to work right, you probably shouldn’t. But it’s not the service that’s the problem, it’s the hardware. You can’t swap out the battery in a Tesla Model S with the one in a Chevy Spark and then @ Elon Musk on Twitter to complain about the lousy range you’re suddenly getting.

This message is the latest salvo in an ongoing cold war between Apple and the independent repair world.

Apple just issued a change so that third-party screens will work but let’s get bent out of shape over the release notes associated with it.

Third-party screens do vary in quality—some are just as good as Apple’s original parts (many are made in the same factories, according to people in the repair business)—while others are indeed inferior.

But Apple should take responsibility for any crap people shove into their phones from lousy screens to ham sandwiches because… well, just because.

Though replacement screens vary in quality, most repair shops do their best to get parts that are just as good as the ones Apple uses…

Well, as long as they do their best!

[Hands phone back with smashed screen, covered in jelly and ants.]

“We did our best. Turns out our best is really, really bad. I’m more of a prop comic than a technician. I just learned that about myself trying to fix this phone.”

The point is, you should be able to go to an independent repair shop to get your iPhone fixed if you want to.

Yeah, you can! But you should realize that updates might not work right after you do so maybe you won’t be able to install them.

Android phones, of course, don’t have this problem as much because they don’t get software updates for as long. When you don’t get software updates, there’s less of a chance that one won’t work with replaced hardware.

Koebler admits Apple didn’t brick any phones on purpose. But isn’t not bricking iPhones now exactly what someone who’s going to brick them later would do?!

In this case, not all phones that used third party parts were affected, and there’s no reason to think that, in this case, Apple broke these particular phones on purpose. But there is currently nothing stopping the company from using software to control unauthorized repair…

They just did the exact opposite of what you’re describing. They worked hard to fix iPhones with substandard third-party screens. Could they brick a phone that was repaired by a third party? Sure. They just showed you they’re highly unlikely to do that.

For instance, you cannot replace the home button on an iPhone 7 without Apple’s proprietary “Horizon Machine” that re-syncs a new home button with the repaired phone.

Yes, it sure is a shame that Apple tightly controls the proper syncing of two pieces of hardware that make up the most-used security feature on the iPhone, one that’s responsible for logging into the device as well as the payment process.

The piece that Koebler links to is a real piece of work, too.

“Imagine if every car we bought, every time you wanted to change the oil you had to take it to the dealer,” [Justin Carroll, CEO of Fruit Fixed] added.

The more proper analogy is to the car’s security system, but that’s much less self-serving that something as simple as an oil change. As someone who’s had a car stolen not by being broken into but by using master keys for older cars that are floating around, the Macalope finds this argument to be pretty weak petrol.

Before you buy an iPhone, you might want to decide what kind of phone you want and realize what you’re getting into. If you want the best phone you can get, you don’t want Apple coding around poorly made screens. Because software that’s tightly coded to high-grade hardware is how the company makes better products.

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