Apple on Friday launched the iSight Camera Replacement Program for iPhone 6 Plus, publicly acknowledging a longstanding defect in some iPhone 6 Plus devices that can result in blurry images produced by the rear-facing “iSight” camera.
The issue behind this replacement initiative began almost immediately following the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus last September, with user and media reports citing a problem with the device’s camera. Devices exhibiting the issue would frequently, or in some cases exclusively, produce blurry and unfocused images, despite user efforts to manually activate the camera’s autofocus feature via the iOS Camera app.
While some users and journalists speculate that the problem is related to the iPhone 6 Plus’s optical image stabilization hardware — a theory which would explain why the issue has not affected the smaller iPhone 6, which lacks OIS capabilities — Apple itself has explained only that “the iSight camera has a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry.” Supporting the theory that the issue is related to a specific component, as opposed to a general defect in the device, Apple claims that only the first few shipments of the iPhone 6 Plus, likely sold between September 2014 and January 2015, are affected, and that the faulty component has been fixed in newer production batches.
An example image produced by a defective iSight camera on the iPhone 6 Plus
(Image via Apple Support Communities member oneZer01)
As evidenced by user reports and our own personal experience, Apple has been dealing with the iPhone 6 Plus camera issue by servicing faulty devices on an ad hoc basis only after a Genius Bar or AppleCare service request is made by the device owner. With Friday’s launch of the iSight Camera Replacement Program, Apple is publicly alerting iPhone 6 Plus owners who may not yet be aware of the issue or, if they are, may not understand which service options are available.
Users who believe that their iPhone 6 Plus has a faulty iSight camera caused by this specific component defect can check their serial number for eligibility at the program’s webpage. If an owner’s iPhone 6 Plus serial number matches Apple’s database for units affected by the component defect, Apple will provide instructions on how to receive the free service replacement, either through an Apple Retail Store, AppleCare mail-in service, or a third-party Apple Authorized Service Provider. Apple will provide iSight replacements for eligible iPhones for up to three years after the first retail sale of the device, so there’s no need for owners of defective units to rush if they cannot obtain service immediately.
We have verified with sources in Apple Support that the iSight repair process involves only the replacement of the iSight camera component itself, and is not a replacement of the entire device. Still, Apple recommends that all users back up their iPhone 6 Plus to iTunes or iCloud prior to submitting it for service. Apple also notes that any devices submitted with physical damage, such as a cracked screen or any other damage which “impairs the camera replacement,” must be fixed prior to the camera service, and that there may be a charge associated with this repair due to out-of-warranty coverage or an incident charge via AppleCare+.
What Took Apple So Long?
While we’re glad to see Apple addressing the iPhone 6 Plus camera problem with a proper replacement program, we do wonder what took the company so long to officially address the issue. Multiple sources inside Apple Retail tell us that this issue has been well-known to Genius Bar staff since shortly after the iPhone 6 Plus launched. Initial customers complaining of blurry photographs often received a replacement of the entire device, but Apple quickly determined that the issue was limited to the iPhone 6 Plus camera, and the company put procedures in place with Genius Bar staff to replace the component.
Apple customers have long speculated that the issue was only present in early models, but Apple’s official statement that the issue affects units likely sold between September 2014 and January 2015 indicates that the company knew definitively that the issue rested with a defective component that was removed from the supply chain more than seven months ago. Customers who sought assistance prior to the introduction of the replacement program were generally given support under the device’s warranty, but the process was still frustrating for users who for months could not take advantage of their iPhone 6 Plus camera, one of the device’s best features.
Apple sells hundreds of millions of devices each year, most of them iPhones, and that level of production is bound to experience issues like faulty components and manufacturing defects. But for Apple to avoid inheriting the less-than-positive qualities of its competitors, the company must do more than design great products. It must also act — and act quickly — when things go wrong. Apple’s customer base and the market in general will forgive the occasional issues that are virtually unavoidable when dealing with the exceptionally large quantities of products that Apple now ships, but not for too long. Apple’s reluctance to publicly acknowledge the iPhone 6 Plus camera issue for so many months is pushing that boundary of trust and responsibility a little bit further than the company’s customers would like.