Has your iPhone screen stopped responding and functioning properly? The cause could be that it has contracted “Touch Disease.”
It sounds like something you might warn your children about by announcing, “Don’t let anyone else use your phone. You might get Touch Disease.”
However, the disease is not contagious. The problem is a factory defect where two chips that control the iPhone touch screen come loose. The iPhone 6 Plus is highly prone to the issue, but the iPhone 6 is susceptible too.
According to iFixIt, repair shops are seeing a growing number of cases of what the site calls “Touch Disease” for lack of a better term.
“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.”
One repair shop is reporting that it sees as many as 100 iPhones a month with the defect.
— Ed Walters (@EJWalters) July 19, 2016
The iPhone screen stops responding to touch over time because of flexing circuitry and failing solder. The phones have two chips connected to a logic board that controls the display. Experts believe that the solder holding these chips becomes brittle and breaks under the constant pressure of screen pressing. Natural flexing that occurs when phones are kept in the back pocket and are sat on is also believed to contribute to the issue. The resulting bad connection is at first intermittent, but eventually, the screen completely loses touch sensitivity altogether.
Apple has been inundated with complaints about the problem, reports iFixit, “but they aren’t doing anything about it.”
To repair an unresponsive iPhone suffering from Touch Disease, one cannot just replace the screen. The chips that process data to and from the display are the culprit and need replacing. Apple techs do not have the equipment or training to perform such repairs. The company’s solution it seems is to replace the entire logic board, which is expensive.
Louis Rossmann explains the problem to his YouTube followers. Warning: This video contains adult language.
Since the problem occurs mostly on iPhones that are out of warranty, customers who bring their phones into an Apple Store are told that they are better off just getting a new phone. However, this is not the most economical solution according to iFixit.
“Skilled, third-party microsoldering [sic] specialists (most “unauthorized” to do Apple repairs, according to official company policy) can fix phones with symptoms of Touch Disease. And they can do it a whole lot cheaper than the cost of a new logic board or an out-of-warranty phone replacement. Which is precisely why so many of these damaged iPhones are finding their way into repair shops around the world.”
At first, the problem might not be noticeable, but as the chips continue to break, the screen will become more unresponsive, and a hazy, gray bar may appear and flicker at the top of the screen. In the beginning, these symptoms may be corrected by a hard reset of the phone. Users have also reported that gently twisting the phone chassis will alleviate the problem. Experts say that these workarounds are only temporary, and the twisting method could damage the phone further.
— SFist (@SFist) August 24, 2016
“The only permanent fix is to replace the phone (expensive), replace the logic board (also expensive), or replace both Touch ICs on the board (less expensive),” says iFixit.
However, replacing the chips does not cure the underlying cause of Touch Disease. The repair can be expected to last nearly as long or longer than it took for the problem to develop, but what is needed for a truly permanent fix is the reinforcement of the logic board so that it does not flex.
A repair company called iPad Rehab will fit the logic board with a rigid metal shield after replacing the chips. This modification will help prevent the circuitry from flexing and developing the issue again.
In a move that demonstrates a lack of transparency on this defect, Apple has banned techs that have posted explanations of why the problem is occurring from Apple Support forums. It is understandable that Apple would not want to refer its customers to third-party repair houses to fix the problem. However, when the only solution that the company offers is to buy a new iPhone, it seems a bit unjust to ban those offering a cheaper solution. Apple appears to be trying to sweep the problem under the rug rather than addressing it.
This lack of response is unusual since Apple has a good track record for iPhone customer service and satisfaction. However, according to New York repair specialist Louis Rossmann, Apple has done this in the past with other products and each time, it ended with Apple caving in under pressure.
“Apple is going to get a class-action lawsuit against them [once enough people are angry], and then they will release an extended warranty program,” predicts Rossmann in his YouTube video.
The silver lining to the iPhone Touch Disease is that it seems only the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are affected. In the 6S and 6S Plus, Apple moved the logic board to a different location that is less prone to flexing. Therefore, the ‘S’ series owners should not have to worry about Touch Disease. Presumably, the iPhone 7 will not suffer this problem either, especially since the issue has been made well-known to the company.
If your iPhone screen has stopped responding to touch or has a flickering gray bar at the top of the display, do not throw your phone out just yet. Find a repair shop that can perform micro soldering for much less than you will pay for a new iPhone. The pros at iPad Rehab will even reinforce the circuit board to “futureproof” your phone. Despite how Apple is choosing to handle it, Touch Disease is not fatal.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]