Archive for February 7, 2016

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Error 53

Miles Brignall (via Hacker News):

Thousands of iPhone 6 users claim they have been left holding almost worthless phones because Apple’s latest operating system permanently disables the handset if it detects that a repair has been carried out by a non-Apple technician.

Relatively few people outside the tech world are aware of the so-called “error 53” problem, but if it happens to you you’ll know about it. And according to one specialist journalist, it “will kill your iPhone”.


In summary, Apple iOS uses a validation system to ensure Touch ID sensor is not maliciously replaced or modified. The Touch ID sensor has access to the iPhone Security Enclave, where fingerprint data is kept. A malicious sensor could, hypothetically, steal fingerprints from an iPhone user unknowingly. This could be used to unlock the phone and make purchases through Apple Pay without the owner’s permission. To prevent this, Apple uses a validation system whenever the Touch ID sensor is repaired. When iPhone is serviced by an authorised Apple service provider or Apple retail store for changes that affect the touch ID sensor, the validation paring is updated. Third-party repairs to the sensor will not update the pairing, and will fail validation when using Touch ID. This validation error is shown to users as the mysterious “Error 53”.

If the validation fails, the device will function mostly fine, although with Touch ID disabled. However, the device will be prevented from restoring or updating to a new version. Restoring from backup still works. I’m not too sure why restoring or updating is blocked, but my guess is that they want to prevent malicious software from being uploaded in this process.


No, the CPU reads encrypted data from the sensor and sends them to the SE for decryption and analysis. See the PDF linked here by somebody. What a malicious sensor could do is store user’s fingerprint for retrieval by unauthorized parties.

John Gruber:

It seems very reasonable to me that iOS should check for a trusted Touch ID sensor. But, if the sensor can’t be trusted, clearly the whole phone should not be bricked — it should simply disable Touch ID and Apple Pay. And, obviously, it should inform the user why. Putting up an alert that just says “Error 53” is almost comically bad.

Update (2016-02-11): Gwynne Raskind:

You must predicate everything you do in the name of security on the presumption that users are hopelessly lacking in knowledge.

They ​WILL​ be socially engineered into giving up credentials.

They ​WILL​ be socially engineered into turning off security features that give them even a moment’s annoyance even just once.


A number of people have asked why Apple didn’t disable just Apple Pay and leave the rest of the phone functional. Technically speaking, I can’t do more than guess at the details, but it’s my presumption that this is the only way they could prevent jailbreaks and other “the user will do any stupid thing rather than actually listen to security warnings” (the effect of user arrogance on security is a whole separate issue from user ignorance that I’m not going to get into) from getting around the error, which would have rendered it useless.

Update (2016-02-16): Josh Centers:

We reached out to an Apple Authorized Service Provider who is familiar with the matter. While he confirmed that Apple’s requirement is a security feature, he also sees it as Apple pushing several agendas: selling AppleCare+, pushing customers into buying new phones after AppleCare+ expires, shutting out non-authorized repairers and suppliers, and shutting out fake devices built from knock-off parts. It turns out that all iPhone screen repairs have to go back to Apple for screen replacements; Apple has a machine that restores the pairing between the Touch ID sensor and the secure enclave.


Apple’s handling of the situation has prompted the Seattle law firm PVCA to file a class action suit against Apple; if you’ve experienced Error 53, consider getting in touch with them.


However, it’s not all bad news. In order to deal with unauthorized repairs, Apple has drastically reduced the price for out-of-warranty screen repairs. Without AppleCare+, the company now charges between $109 to $149 for a screen replacement, which isn’t much more than what you’d pay with AppleCare+. However, if you have AppleCare+, Apple will give you a loaner phone and likely move your repair up in its priority list.

Adam Minter (via Slashdot):

That’s not a unique business model, of course. For decades, auto manufacturers and dealerships have done their best to undermine independent garages by limiting access to original parts and diagnostic tools. The results, in both industries, are predictable: Repair shops have to turn away willing customers, and consumers lose the benefits of free competition, notably lower prices and more convenience.

In 2000, under threat of so-called “right to repair” legislation, U.S. automakers, dealerships and service shops formed a union to share information on repairing today’s high-tech cars. Because membership was voluntary, however, there was little incentive to cough up any useful data, especially in a prompt manner.

Update (2016-02-18): Matthew Panzarino (via John Gruber, comments):

The update is not for users who update their iPhones over the air (OTA) via iCloud. If you update your phone that way, you should never have encountered Error 53 in the first place. If, however, you update via iTunes or your phone is bricked, you should be able to plug it into iTunes to get the update today, restoring your phone’s functionality.

Mike Ash:

That Error 53 thing everybody said was Super Important Security Stuff™ was an inadvertently released factory test.

Gwynne Raskind:

I’m not trying to accuse Apple of anything here; I’m personally satisfied with how they’ve handled the Error 53 situation. While I favor “right to repair”, and strongly dislike the trend towards hardware that the customer doesn’t effectively own, security of a device carrying important data in the context of the infamous gullibility and technical inexperience of the majority of users is a knotty problem at best and Apple is walking a fine line with relatively few missteps (though the “few” here is a long, long way from zero). What I do wonder about is what more there is behind some of the decisions that were made, and the timing of those decisions. If nothing else, it’s a matter of curiosity.

Update (2016-02-20): Alex Cranz:

AJ Forsythe is familiar with Error 53. He’s the CEO of iCracked and like many iPhone repair services, they’ve been aware of the problem for over a year now. […] Most third party repair agencies have learned to live with the quirk and have standardized their training of repair agents to accommodate this specific issue. (The companies that didn’t are the ones likely leading to the majority of brickings).

Update (2016-05-25): Husain Sumra:

Apple argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the company issued a fix for the error and offered to reimburse customers who had paid to have their devices replaced or repaired. However, the plaintiffs are now arguing that Apple failed to properly alert users to the reimbursement program. They argue the “vague” announcement on Apple’s website and a support document published in April isn’t sufficient enough to inform affected customers.

Stop Watch

Marco Arment:

The Apple Watch is a confused product, designed like a tiny iPhone, which is as misguided as it would’ve been to design the iPhone with the Mac’s UI and app structure. The result is promising, but clunky and slow. It could be so great at its three most useful functions — notifications, activity tracking, and timekeeping with robust complications — if only they were more reliable and better executed. Someday, I hope they are.

To be great, the Apple Watch needs to be rethought to do less, better. I see no signs that Apple is heading in this direction, but never say never.


Apple has aggressively pushed the Apple Watch as high fashion, but it’s simply not. It’s a utility watch, much like quartz watches, that has many useful functions and can be made to look very nice but won’t ever be a prestigious fashion item. There’s no shame in that. The sooner Apple realizes this and lets the Watch be what it really is, the better.

Brent Simmons:

Some time last week my iPhone started prompting me frequently to re-enter my iCloud password. And then my Watch started doing the same, about once a minute — with a little tap on the wrist each time.

Obviously I did re-enter my password — and have done so a dozen or so times now — but it doesn’t seem to matter.

John Gruber:

Lots of interesting tidbits, including the fact that Apple Watch sold better in its first holiday quarter than the original iPhone did in 2007.

Update (2016-02-10): Nick Heer:

I find these two articles, which were published within days of each other, completely compelling in their disagreement. Arment is a long-time tech guy who does not find Apple’s effort good enough — in many places, he sees it as unfinished. Forster, meanwhile, is someone who wrote a book on Cartier’s watches, and is used to wearing tiny lumps of metal on his wrist that are worth more than a car.

Apple Music Problems

Joe Rosentseel:

Every now and then — seemingly at random — I get a full screen advertisement imploring me to sign up for Apple Music. I’ve even disabled Apple Music in the Music preferences. For the love of all that is good, leave me alone. I know Apple knows I tried the Apple Music service and canceled it before the free trial was over due to bugs.


iCloud Music Library, which was a requirement of Apple Music, caused data loss where it would randomly delete my playlists that predated Apple Music. […] That was all supposed to be old news, but then I wanted to listen to a playlist yesterday. All of my playlists were gone, except for one playlist of Star Trek film scores, and the automated “Purchased” playlist. How could this happen? I haven’t had iCloud Music Library enabled, or Apple Music.


What was once a major strength of Apple — a simple-to-use music player and digital storefront — turned into the kind of garbage software that runs on cable company set-top-boxes. The experience has been turned into something more akin to a website for a print publication. You’re constantly jumping in and out of various things, which slide in from different directions, the stuff you want is buried several taps deep in hierarchical menus, and it’s centered around getting you to sign up for Apple Music.


If you try to share something purchased on iTunes, but not in Apple Music, it doesn’t generate an iTunes link, it generates nothing. It succeeds at generating nothing, which is the really wild part, since obviously, I wanted to send a completely empty tweet.

Nick Heer:

Rosensteel’s comparison to a publication’s website is absolutely apt, though, for at least one big reason: the gross interstitial ad that appears if you launch Music without having Apple Music enabled, and the tiny tap target on it to close the ad without purchasing a subscription.


Even after accounting for devices used in regions where Apple Music is not available, devices owned by subscribers, and devices — like Macs — where an interstitial full-screen ad doesn’t appear, that still leaves hundreds of millions of devices used by tens of millions of people who see that gross interstitial ad as frequently as every single day.

Previously: Apple Pushes iPhone 6s Pop-up Ads to App Store.

The MacBook Pro Tweener

Khoi Vinh:

When I think about where I’m most productive with OS X, it’s always at my desk, where I have a huge monitor (on my iMac, at home) or even two Cinema Displays (at work). It’s so much more comfortable to be able to manipulate the operating system’s myriad windows when I have copious amounts of screen real estate, just as it’s so much more pleasant to have a full keyboard (with a number pad!) and the physical desk space for all of the many peripherals—printer, scanner, USB hub, etc.—that really complement the desktop OS experience.


To be clear, I don’t argue the fact that OS X is still the best platform for heavy duty work, and that it is likely to continue to be that for years if not decades. But it seems apparent to me that it’s at its most potent in its original form: on the desktop, where immensely powerful chips do best and battery life is not an issue. When I think about what I want to be using in the near term, I would much rather own a fast and fully stationary iMac and an iPad running a much more productivity-capable version of iOS, than just a MacBook.

Jason Snell:

In 2010 and 2011 we all got excited and thought the iPad would be an amazing and cool addition to our lives, but after a few years it turned out that we’re fine using our smartphones and our computers.


As a result, the iPad reached a huge percentage of its target audience in a very short period of time. And once that audience was exhausted, it rapidly shifted into an upgrade-and-replace product cycle. Imagine a world where the iPad didn’t sell 67 million units in the first couple of years, but found its audience more slowly. We might end up with an iPad market just as large as the one we have today, but with a sales chart that looks much healthier.

Kirk McElhearn:

He particularly looks at four points that may have contributed to its fall in sales, but none of them answer the problem entirely. I think the iPad solved a problem that many people didn’t know they had, but that most people simply don’t need or want one.

I completely agree with Vinh about the usefulness of a desktop Mac, and yet I don’t have one. Instead, I use a MacBook Pro that nearly all of the time has a keyboard, mouse, external display, and lots of drives and peripherals attached.

The reason is that, although I’m rarely out of the office, when I am the iPad doesn’t let me get my work done. Having both a desktop Mac and a MacBook Pro would seem to make sense, since an iMac or Mac Pro would be much better when I’m at my desk. But I’ve tried that before, and it’s too much of a pain to administer two Macs and keep them in sync. Hence the compromise of a MacBook Pro that’s underpowered both at the office and on the go.

My ideal Mac would be less of a mobile device than a portable or luggable one. Even when traveling I’m more likely to use it on a desk or table than on my lap. And it will almost always be plugged in. So instead of thinness and battery life, give me a huge screen, a faster processor, and lots of internal storage. The 17-inch “aircraft carrier” PowerBook G4 was great but didn’t go far enough. I would love to have two spinning hard disks in addition to the SSD. Who wants to travel with bus-powered drives and cables, and run out of USB ports? And if my primary drives were all internal, I wouldn’t have to unmount and unplug them when packing up the Mac—just close the lid and they go to sleep. A larger screen would also make it a better second display in my office.

In other words, if there’s a MacBook that tries to be as close as possible to an iPad, there should be one that’s as close as possible to a desktop Mac. Although Apple no longer has any desktop Macs with lots of internal storage options, either…

Update (2016-02-08): Jean-Louis Gassée:

Despite these improvements, the iPad Pro is (still) not a laptop replacement. Actually, for my uses, it’s the other way around. The new, light Retina MacBook (935 grams, 2.06 pounds) I bought when it came out last March has taken screen and lap time from my iPad.

Mossberg Discovers the Functional High Ground

Walt Mossberg:

Whether it’s the operating systems or the core apps, a major aspect of what makes both users and reviewers value Apple products is software that melds power, reliability, and ease of use. “It just works!” was a favorite Steve Jobs phrase.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.


In response to my inquiries about this, Apple said: “We have dedicated software teams across multiple platforms. The effort is as strong there as it has ever been.”


iTunes is once again bloated, complex, and sluggish. That has gotten even worse since the recent integration of the new Apple Music streaming service.


In my experience, on both platforms, Mail is slow at both receiving and sending Gmail messages, whether they are from personal or business accounts. Some messages don’t show up. Search misses things.


iCloud Photo Library, which stores all your images in the cloud, tarnishes the improved experience. It works quickly and accurately on my iPhone and iPads, but is slow and balky on the desktop. I am not one of those people with 50,000 or 100,000 pictures, but it still takes forever on the Mac to find older photos, and some show up as just blank thumbnails. That isn’t Apple quality.


My Safari bookmarks only sync intermittently across my Apple devices. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle app for Apple products, the company’s iBooks doesn’t remember where I left off unless I set a bookmark.

Jim Dalrymple:

There are only three reasons I can think of that software issues like the ones we find in Apple Music would happen at a company like Apple that prides itself on software that “just works.”

  1. They didn’t know how bad it was when they released it. (Highly unlikely)

  2. They are so big now, they just don’t care. They are Apple, so people will use the software regardless of what they do. (Please don’t let it be this one)

  3. They were given a timeline to release the software whether it was finished or not. (This one is probably, but very scary)

John Gruber:

Maybe this is the natural result of the fact hardware standards must be high, because they can’t issue “hardware updates” over the air like they can with software. But the perception is now widespread that the balance between Apple’s hardware and software quality has shifted in recent years. I see a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement with Mossberg and Dalrymple’s pieces today.


That we’re still talking about it a year later — and that the consensus reaction is one of agreement — suggests that Apple probably does have a software problem, and they definitely have a perception problem.


My little iCloud Photo Library syncing hiccup was not a huge deal — I was even lucky insofar as the two videos that couldn’t be found were meaningless. And I managed to find a solution. But it feels emblematic of the sort of nagging software problems people are struggling with in Apple’s apps. Not even the bug itself that led to these five items being unable to upload, but rather the fact that Photos knew about the problem but wouldn’t tell me the details I needed to fix it without my resorting to the very much non-obvious trick of creating a Smart Group to identify them. For me at least, “silent failure” is a big part of the problem — almost everything related to the whole discoveryd/mDNSresponder fiasco last year was about things that just silently stopped working.

Jason Snell:

I clicked OK and the Free button was now inactive. I typed Command-R to see if that would reload the iTunes page—no normal user would do it, but it worked because the App Store and iTunes is more or less a disguised web page—and then was able to click Free and download the app.

At some point in this process, the song I was listening to finished and another song began to play. It was a randomly selected track from my entire music library. The act of viewing the App Store had destroyed my music shuffle.

This is what Walt Mossberg means by “I dread opening the thing.”


Ever since I upgraded (cranks are reminded to add their air quotes here) to El Capitan, dragging something towards the top of the screen is an exercise in frustration, and dragging something to the menu bar in order to cancel the drag is a gesture set in muscle memory that I’m struggling to unlearn. Whenever you get close, Mission Control springs to life. Mission Control is great, if you have five windows open. If you have between 10 or 20 apps open and several of them have state-restoration, let’s-restore-everything, Quit-doesn’t-mean-clean-slate endless amounts of windows, it is an exercise in chugging. It takes half a minute, then you get one frame. It takes ten seconds more for the next. This is a MacBook Pro Retina (Early 2015), so it’s not a 2011 Mac mini with low memory and a slight limp.


Add to this storing all these Numbers documents in iCloud because I might need them one day on my iPhone. Then I do need them, and I open Numbers on my iPhone, and 30 documents start syncing now for the first time, and none of them get anywhere, and there are several duplicates, and I can’t even tell it which to download first, not that it matters because like I said, none of them fucking progress in the slightest.

This is not Haxies. This is not jailbreak. This is not unsandboxed, unencrypted, uncryptographically signed. This is Apple’s own software running on Apple’s own OS, running on Apple’s own hardware, talking to Apple’s own fucking internet services the way Apple pretend it just works if you do.

Nick Heer:

I’ll add one more to the mix: since watchOS 2.0, I haven’t been able to launch native third-party apps on my Watch. Apps from TestFlight work fine, as do WatchKit apps, but native third party apps continue to experience an issue associated with the FairPlay DRM that prevents them from loading — they simply crash at launch.


As I wrote in one of the bug reports I filed on this, I cannot believe watchOS 2 launched in this state.

Paul Jones (via Hacker News):

On OS X this is especially true: OpenGL implementation has fallen behind the competition, the filesystem desperately needs updating, the SDK has needed modernizing for years, networking and cryptography have seen major gaffes. And that’s with regards to the under-the-hood details, the applications are easier targets: it’s tragic that Aperture and iPhoto were axed in favor of the horrifically bad Photos app (that looks like some Frankenstein “iOS X” app), the entire industry have left Final Cut Pro X, I dare not plug my iPhone in to my laptop for fear of what it might do, the Mac App Store is the antitheses of native application development (again being some Frankenstein of a web/native app), and iCloud nee MobileMe nee iTools has been an unreliable and slow mess since day one.


What worries me is that AAPL the stock ticker and Apple the company are in a (self-driving) crash course with one another: AAPL needs to launch new products to drive growth and Apple needs to improve the products that have already shipped. The most valuable asset that Apple own is their brand, and that’s the brand that’ll drive sales of any car that may or may not be in development. If that brand name is tarnished by regressions and performance problems, what consumer would buy a car from the brand?

I’m still encountering many of the original El Capitan bugs. And I’m continuing to run into new issues. This week it was AppleScript in Numbers, AirDrop no longer working between my Macs, and the Xcode 7.2.1 update that broke the Bots feature.

See also: Accidental Tech Podcast.

Previously: Apple’s Software Quality, Continued.

Update (2016-02-08): Katie Floyd:

Mossberg discusses his piece in more depth on his podcast this week, it’s worth a listen.

Update (2016-02-13): On The Talk Show, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi discuss Apple TV, Apple software quality, iTunes, Apple Maps, and Radar. I found this frustrating because they kept talking about how, by their metrics—which sounds like number of crashes—quality is better than ever. Any perceived quality decline is due to Apple operating at a larger scale or people missing old iPhoto features, rather than actual bugs. MobileMe had problems, but that’s in the past; iCloud is reliable. The fact that 200K iMessages are sent per second doesn’t make me feel any better about the ones I send or receive not getting through. They haven’t made major changes to iTunes because people are attached to the way it works, yet they had no problem throwing Aperture users under the bus when they thought Photos was the way to go.

Update (2016-02-16): The Los Angeles Times linked to my first post on this topic:

A lot of my research depends on PDFs, so Preview’s excellent features for highlighting and annotating them make it a must-use. But Preview crashes all the time. It commonly freezes or shuts down, sometimes taking the entire computer with it, when asked to render pages that Adobe Acrobat reader, the leading third-party PDF program, handles with ease.

Preview users have been pleading with Apple for years on the company’s user forums to fix Previews’s propensity for crashing. But Apple has failed to do so, or even to acknowledge the complaints, over three or four successive releases of new operating systems.


Conjectures about why Apple can’t get its software act together abound. The most common is that the company has become so trapped in its cycle of annual hardware upgrades -- a new iPhone had better appear every September, or else -- that it’s simply incapable of keeping its software maintained.

Jean-Louis Gassée:

I guess Federighi doesn’t consider iTunes and Mail to be core software. For more than five years, my daily use of Mail has been plagued with bugs.

Ben Lovejoy:

Failure of a design feature to work as advertised is one thing, but unprovoked random jumping is another. At least once a day, the dock will just randomly jump to a different monitor when the pointer is nowhere near the bottom of the screen. That’s irritating.

This is a bug that was introduced with Mavericks and has persisted not just through minor dot releases, but through Yosemite and into El Capitan. More than two-and-a-half years later, it’s still annoying me on a daily basis.


That’s an almost unimaginable amount of data, and to expect all iCloud services to work perfectly all of the time over every connection type is clearly unrealistic. All the same, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to complain when sometimes a Note that has existed for years is suddenly and persistently unavailable on one of my devices, and that on numerous occasions, editing a note that is available will duplicate, rather than edit, the note on another device.

Update (2016-02-17): See also: Accidental Tech Podcast 157.

Lloyd Chambers:

For some time now I get every text message in duplicate on my iPhone, a few minutes apart So does my wife. A “little thing”, but something that really undermines the value of messages and wastes my time and attention. iCloud is a serious problem because I get doubled-up address book entries, dead people returning to my address book, etc. My iPhone demands I “sign in to verify my identity” every day (often multiple times) at the worst possible time: when I want to use the phone (for things having nothing to do with sign in). Sometimes Apple randomly breaks critical functionality like personal hot spot. The iPhone gives an error alert every time I turn off call forwarding. The list goes on. So Apple Core Rot in iOS disrupts the value of the iPhone every day. The iPhone is now only half useful to me, really a mixed bag of usefulness and headache-inducing problems.


Apple Core Rot will only worsen with these clowns in charge: if you can’t see the issues and worse you’re in full-throated denial, they won’t be addressed. In MPG’s view, the problems now runs so deep that we are not talking about a few bugs; we’re talking about structural and leadership problems.

Martin Doudoroff:

I am a power user and software developer, and I know a lot of Mac users, most of whom are regular, non-techie people. I don’t know a single one who isn’t experiencing crippling frustrations of one sort or another with their Macs, and some with their iOS devices too (although I am going to focus on the Mac). Apple’s hard-earned reputation may have drawn many of these people to use Macs in the first place, but no amount of public relations and manipulation of perception cannot wave away the troubles they are experiencing.


Each OS X release has brought strongly-marketed, but mainly undercooked new features that disrupt long-held user processes. They’ve swapping out mature software willy nilly for unfinished and incomplete replacements. They’ve ignored bugs and glaring, productivity-subverting shortcomings for years.

Update (2016-02-23): See also: The Talk Show with John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple.

Update (2016-03-02): Mark Rogowsky:

Where Federighi went next, however, was on something of a series of tangents. He noted people are just flat out using their devices more, creating higher expectation. He explained Apple has internal metrics that measure software quality and said “I know our core software quality has improved over the last 5 years. Improved significantly.” But those metrics are about things like frequency of apps crashing not absolute numbers of users experiencing miserable software bugs. And here, Apple launched a defense that’s going to frustrate people struggling with some flaw in iCloud or iTunes.

Update (2016-03-14): John Siracusa suggests a different strategy for the Mac.

Update (2016-06-26): In Debug #81, Don Melton recalls texting Craig Federighi to get his iPad unbricked.

Update (2019-10-13): See also: Paul Jones.