View Full Version : Why the 1970 Bug Bricks Your iPhone

02-15-2016, 02:16 AM
See if you can trick someone (you don't like) to brick their phone?


Thanks to scum-of-the-internet 4chan, we’ve all been hearing lately about a particular iOS bug that will brick modern iPhones, if you set the date back to 1/1/1970. Why does that happen? YouTuber Tom Scott explains.

Scott gives a quick lesson in Unix time to explain why he thinks the bricking happens: for your iPhone, time is displayed as one single digit, representing the number of seconds since 1970. If you set the time back to Jan 1st, 1970, that value becomes 0—not a problem in and of itself, but if the phone tries to display a time before that, say a text you received a few hours ago, it will generate a negative number, which causes a crash.

This is only a theory—Apple hasn’t confirmed what causes the bug, and probably never will. Even so, Scott’s video is worth watching, both as a lesson in how computers intrepret time, and a cautionary tale for programmers everywhere.

If you’ve bricked your phone, the good news is it isn’t gone forever: you need to either let the battery run entirely down (slow), pry the phone open and disconnect the battery (scary), or perform a Device Firmware Update (hard). Or, take it to an Apple Store, and ask them nicely not to laugh at you.

A little background info:

Whatever You Do, Don't Set Your iPhone To 1970

The tech world loves their Easter eggs, from Adventure’s original hidden feature to Tesla’s various car tricks. But don’t fall for the recent claims for one hidden in your iPhone: if you attempt it, you’ll brick your device.

A prank originating from 4chan claims that if you set your iPhone’s (5s models and up) date back to 1970, it’ll display a retro Apple logo:
Whatever You Do, Don't Set Your iPhone To 1970 [Updated]

What actually happens if you decide to set your iPhone back to January 1st, 1970? It’ll brick your device, and there’s no fix for it: even Apple’s own Geniuses can’t figure out how to fix it, and you’ll have to get the phone completely replaced.

Update: according to Ars Technica, this happens because January 1st, 1970 is the first day of the Unix epoch, and that allowing the phone’s battery to go completely dead (or disconnecting the battery) will reset the date.