Is Apple Facing Faulty Flash Memory Problems?

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Soon after Apple unveiled its larger-screen iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models in September, reports from users and researchers about the new models supposed susceptibility to bending began trending in social media under the hashtag #bendgate. While there were initial concerns that the issue might negatively affect Apple’s new iPhone sales, the company ended up reporting strong September quarter sales of 39.3 million units for a year-over-year growth rate of 16%, according to a transcript provided by Seeking Alpha. However, now a second user-reported problem is threatening to dampen Apple’s iPhone sales once again.

Unlike the bendgate issue that was caused by users putting too much stress on the iPhone’s chassis, the latest issue appears to be an unavoidable problem that users have encountered on certain high-capacity versions of the latest models. As noted by Apple Insider on October 23, multiple iPhone 6 Plus owners have reported that their devices were inexplicably crashing or getting stuck in a reboot loop. Based on postings to the Apple Support Communities forum, it appeared that the problem was most commonly reported in the 128GB version of the iPhone 6 Plus. One thread dedicated to the issue has already garnered over 33,000 views.

Since the issue was most commonly reported in the 128GB version of the iPhone 6 Plus, it was widely speculated that the issue was related to an internal component, rather than a software issue. Those suspicions appeared to be confirmed when Apple’s recent iOS 8.1 update failed to correct the problem. Now, a new report from Business Korea claims to have identified the source of the problem as the type of flash memory that Apple opted to use in the 64GB version of the iPhone 6 and the 128GB version of the iPhone 6 Plus.

Apple unveils iPhone 6

Source: Justin Sullivan/ Getty Images

According to “industry sources” cited by Business Korea, the crashing issue stems from Apple’s use of a triple-level cell (TLC) NAND flash memory component made by Anobit, a company that Apple acquired in 2011. As noted by Business Korea, TLC NAND flash costs less and can hold more data than the type of flash memory typically used in Apple’s iPhones. However, TLC NAND flash is also slower than other types of flash memory, a trait that appears to be related to the crashing issue on Apple’s high capacity iPhone models. Apple Insider noted that many of the iPhone users who experienced crashing problems on their devices had app libraries with more than 700 apps, which also suggests that the issue is memory related.

“TLC NAND flash is a type of solid-state NAND flash memory that stores three bits of data per cell. It can store three times as much data as single-level cell (SLC) that stores one bit of data, and 1.5 times as much as multi-level cell (MLC) solid-state flash memory that stores two bits of data,” explained Business Korea. “On top of that, TLC flash is more affordable. However, it is also slower than SLC or MLC in reading and writing data.”

According to Business Korea’s sources, Apple has decided to discontinue its use of the problematic TLC NAND flash in future 64GB iPhone 6 and the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus models. While a previous report from Business Korea speculated that Apple might initiate a huge recall, its latest report suggested that the flash memory component would only be replaced in future models, while current models with crashing issues would be handled on a case by case basis.

While there is no question that some iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus owners are encountering this crashing issue, there is still some debate over its cause. Obviously, since Business Korea is basing its report on unnamed “industry sources” the story is impossible to verify. A similarly unnamed source “close to Apple” cited by Apple Insider recently claimed that the crashing issue is “very rare” and that there is no problem with the Anobit-made flash memory or any other hardware components used in the various iPhone models.

Apple Insider also suggested that the issue could be fixed in a future iOS update, although it was unable to provide a timeframe for the update. While Apple released its first iOS 8.1.1 beta to developers on November 3, it didn’t specifically list any fixes for the crashing issues, according to MacRumors. In the meantime, iPhone owners who experience any problems with their devices can always seek a solution with the Genius Bar experts at Apple’s retail stores.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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