Apple being sued over iPhone 6 ‘Touch Disease’

Touch. Its a critical part of how we navigate the real world and, thanks to the success of the original iPhone, a core component of modern smartphones.

As iFixit reports, an increasing number of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus devices are showing up in shops with the same problem: A gray, flickering bar at the top of the display and a non-responsive touchscreen.

“This issue is widespread enough that I feel like almost every iPhone 6/6+ has a touch of it (no pun intended) and are like ticking bombs just waiting to act up,” Jason Villmer, owner of STS Telecom—a board repair shop in Missouri, told iFixit. According to multiple sources, the problem has already been identified, and it’s a familiar problem for Mac users: The underfill layer underneath the chips that handle the phone’s touchscreen degrades over time.

Initially the iPhone 6/6+ works fine. 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 touch screen IC 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–which is a great way to fully sever an existing bga joint crack.

In the short term, the device can be torqued or pressured into working (by literally squeezing it) but this is strictly a short-term solution. Small cracks eventually expand, stress points fracture, and voila — your iPhone is now a paperweight. The iPad Rehab link goes on to describe how the solution is to replace the touchscreen ICs entirely — simply reflowing the solder isn’t always enough to ensure a solid bond and the likelihood of another failure is high. Dropping the device also hastens the failure rate.

It’s important to note that since all of this information is unofficial, we can’t say Apple has endorsed this explanation of the problem. Nonetheless, it makes sense. The problem may be exacerbated if Apple sells refurbished devices without replacing the touchscreen ICs (iPad Rehab doubts they replace the boards but again, we have no information from Apple itself).

As Reuters reports, a nationwide class-action lawsuit was filed on Saturday in federal court in San Jose, California. The suit has three initial claimants, Thomas Davidson of Pennsylvania, Todd Cleary of California, and Jun Bai of Delaware. The suit asks Apple to issue a recall for affected iPhones and offer an extended warranty period, along with paying out damages.

“Apple has long been aware of the defective iPhones. Yet, notwithstanding its longstanding knowledge of this design defect, Apple routinely has refused to repair the iPhones without charge when the defect manifests. Many other iPhone owners have communicated with Apple’s employees and agents to request that Apple remedy and/or address the Touchscreen Defect and/or resultant damage at no expense. Apple has failed and/or refused to do so.

As a result of Apple’s unfair, deceptive and/or fraudulent business practices, owners of the iPhones, including Plaintiffs, have suffered an ascertainable loss of money and/or property and/or value. The unfair and deceptive trade practices committed by Apple were conducted in a manner giving rise to substantial aggravating circumstances.”

The lawsuit lays the blame for the broken iPhones squarely at Apple’s door. It says that in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple failed to incorporate underfill or a metal shield, two ways of protecting chips on the logic board that have been seen on previous iPhones. It’s the same cause of defect as has been identified by other iPhone repair technicians.

Apple is not legally obligated to provide these schematics to third-party companies. Some argue that forcing the company to do so would be like insisting they divulge trade secrets. The lawsuit didn’t specify what it wants Apple to repay in damages but, according to Reuters, it “accuses Apple of fraud and violating California consumer protection laws.”

Apple customers can visit a nearby Apple store for repairs, though Apple usually charges a fee. If this issue becomes more widespread, perhaps it will fix the phones for free.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

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