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The iPhone 6’s ‘touch disease’ is spreading, now the largest problem reported to Apple Stores

Last week, we covered reports of the so-called ‘touch disease‘ that appears to be affecting Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. This problem, which killed Jamie’s phone as well, is caused by the method Apple uses to attach touchscreen control chips to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus motherboard. These chips lack an underfill — a critical layer of material meant to strengthen and stabilize the touchscreen ICs (integrated circuits).

When we covered the topic last week we could only report on acedotal evidence from third party shops that the touch disease problem was significant and increasing. New research from Apple Insider put some formal numbers on the problem — and it’s not good news for Apple. Apple Insider obtained information from four high-traffic Apple Stores over a period of six days — three days before the problem was reported in the general media and three days after.

Prior to any media reports on the issue, four stores with a total of 2,804 appointments fielded 1,512 appointments related to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (547 and 965 devices respectively). 47 of the iPhone 6’s and 265 of the iPhone 6 Plus devices had a problem, constituting 8.5% and 27.5% of these devices, respectively.

Once media reports began to cover the issue, the number of diagnoses surged. In the next few days, 3039 customers came in for assistance, including 1,659 customers with either an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus (564 and 1094 devices respectively). 66 of the iPhones and 409 of the iPhone Plus’ were found to have ‘touch disease,’ representing 11.7% and 37.4% of the devices presented for examination.

Now, this initial surge in traffic following media coverage is expected. It doesn’t mean device failure rates have suddenly surged, it means more customers became aware of the problem and took their hardware in. But the rate of failure is troubling, and outpaces all other known issues for the devices (iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are unaffected, though it’s not clear if this is because not enough time has passed since launch).

Apple isn’t just aware of the problem, they’ve been aware of it for months — and they couldn’t care less. It took Apple six months to issue formal guidance on how to solve the problem and Apple’s solution is that customers should buy a new iPhone or exchange their own devices. Since the devices Apple offers on exchange are actually refurbs, the problem has been cropping up again for some customers.

“It’s about time that the Apple press got a whiff of the problem,” one Apple Genius said to Apple Insider. “I’m getting tired of pulling service stock out of the box, and seeing the exact same problem that the customer has on the replacement before I leave backstage.”

If your device is still in-warranty, Apple will give you a refurbished replacement, which may or may not have the same problem. If the device is out of warranty, the repair fee is reportedly between $85 and $249, though Apple may be pushing consumers towards device replacement. Apple Insider notes that the Cupertino company may be prepping a more aggressive response but none has been announced to date. While 11% may not seem like a high number, it’s far higher than background average and apparently the largest single failure mode.

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