Get an Inside Look at Apple's Early Field Failure Analysis Program Ahead of the iPhone 6 Launch

Thursday September 4, 2014 5:38 PM PDT by Juli Clover
Ahead of the iPhone 6's launch, Adam Satariano of BloombergBusinessweek has shared some details on Apple's early field failure analysis (EFFA) program, designed to solve potential iPhone issues quickly and efficiently. The EFFA Program, which is run by Apple's AppleCare team, has been in place since the late 1990s.

As outlined by Satariano, shortly after any iPhone release, the EFFA program sees couriers shuttling defective units received from returns to a testing room in Cupertino, where they are inspected by iPhone engineers in an attempt to fix problems in a timely manner. As soon as a fix is in place, it's deployed across the company's global supply chain.

iphone_5s_5c.jpg
"They take them apart to diagnose what's happening right then and there," says Mark Wilhelm, who helped lead Apple's returns program. [...]

Often, they jury-rig a hardware fix, then coordinate a solution across Apple's global supply chain. Sometimes the problems can't be solved quickly--remember Apple Maps leading people astray. "Every day they don't recognize a problem, they are potentially manufacturing more bad products," says Michael Fawkes, the former head of supply chain for Hewlett-Packard (HPQ).
With the EFFA program, engineers in Cupertino learn of a potential problem as soon as a return is made in a retail store, and the serial numbers of each device allow the company to track defective devices down to "individual workers on an assembly line."

An example of EFFA in action came in 2007, with the release of the original iPhone. Several devices returned with a faulty touchscreen caused by an earpiece flaw that let in a user's sweat. Apple engineers fixed the problem with a new coating, which rolled out to assembly lines shortly after and prevented a more widespread issue.

According to former employees, EFFA testing is most crucial during the weeks after a device first launches, but the team remains active for many months, and publishes a weekly report highlighting common issues reported by customers. Apple's EFFA team will be called to action in just a few short weeks, as Apple is expected to introduce the iPhone 6 at a media event on September 9, with a launch coming shortly after.

For additional details on EFFA, make sure to check out Satarino's full piece over at BloombergBusinessweek.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)

Posted: 11 weeks ago
They must have been shi*ting all sort of bricks during antenna gate
Rating: 9 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago
In short. Apple has a good quality department.
Rating: 5 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago
I work for an engineering company that is slowly working toward this kind of culture in the QA department. It's slow going but, as Apple's customer satisfaction scores indicate, well worth it.
Rating: 5 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago
*something about 2011 MBP GPU failures*
Rating: 4 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago
So being the early adopters is risky after all...
Rating: 4 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago

There was no such flaw, and cases were never required. That antenna design is STILL sold today (the 8GB, over 4 years later) and works fine. The phone got better reception than its predecessor, which had already been praised for its reception, and better than many competing phones (some of which also had externally exposed antennas--not an Apple first). Yes, as with any phone, the way you hold it can affect you when you're in a weak signal location.

There was a PR "flaw," of course! Lots of people without iPhones moaning on behalf of the supposed masses of iPhone users with problems. VERY few actual owners posting complaints for themselves. Which is astonishing, considering the media hullaballoo made people LOOK for a problem they could have seen on any phone in history.

Antenna gate was mostly myth. It died accordingly, and Apple giving out the cases (which would help ANY phone ever made, and which most people already use anyway) was simply part of their PR response.

I was glad to get my free case :) And I used it only when hiking, because it simply was not needed for reception.



Agreed. Normally I'd be worried, about first-release products from ANY company. (I never install x.0 of any OS.) But with iOS, backup-and-restore is SO painless and complete, the next day after a warranty swap it's like nothing ever happened. You're risking hassle, but (IF a Genius is near you), the risk is minor.

Scratch that! Apple has terrible products, terrible service and never fixes anything! Wait at least a month before you buy! That way you won't be ahead of me in the order queue :)


The kool-aid is strong in this one.
Rating: 4 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago
Any good manufacturer will do this. Car manufacturers do this all the time since lab testing does not equal real world conditions. Otherwise they are just churning out crap with no quality control.
Rating: 3 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago

And it's why Apple's penchant for secrecy can backfire, such as with that antenna flaw that was hidden by a required camouflage case.


There was no such flaw, and cases were never required. That antenna design is STILL sold today (the 8GB, over 4 years later) and works fine. The phone got better reception than its predecessor, which had already been praised for its reception, and better than many competing phones (some of which also had externally exposed antennas--not an Apple first). Yes, as with any phone, the way you hold it can affect you when you're in a weak signal location.

There was a PR "flaw," of course! Lots of people without iPhones moaning on behalf of the supposed masses of iPhone users with problems. VERY few actual owners posting complaints for themselves. Which is astonishing, considering the media hullaballoo made people LOOK for a problem they could have seen on any phone in history.

Antenna gate was mostly myth. It died accordingly, and Apple giving out the cases (which would help ANY phone ever made, and which most people already use anyway) was simply part of their PR response.

I was glad to get my free case :) And I used it only when hiking, because it simply was not needed for reception.

Not really considering if there is something wrong you can just swap it out.


Agreed. Normally I'd be worried, about first-release products from ANY company. (I never install x.0 of any OS.) But with iOS, backup-and-restore is SO painless and complete, the next day after a warranty swap it's like nothing ever happened. You're risking hassle, but (IF a Genius is near you), the risk is minor.

Scratch that! Apple has terrible products, terrible service and never fixes anything! Wait at least a month before you buy! That way you won't be ahead of me in the order queue :)
Rating: 3 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago

Yet they still don't acknowledge heavily interlaced and flickering LCD screens since the iPhone 5.


I've never seen any 'flickering LCD' on any iPhone 5.
Rating: 1 Votes
Posted: 11 weeks ago

I agree.

Perhaps Anandtech threw that in because it made the other choice... lack of testing... more palatable to the fanboys.

Like I've always said, the antenna problem was hidden by all the secrecy. Not just the camouflage cases, but the fact that even insiders were (and likely still are) discouraged from discussing new products with each other.

Such forced silence is, in my experience, a giant mistake. I can't count the number of times that we have pinged onto a potential problem because two or more testers were talking about one-off or rare occurences, and said, "Hey that happened to me, too!" That's when you find the situations that would otherwise come back to bite you later on :)


Perhaps. It's a tradeoff for certain. Like they say in show business, never step on your own applause lines.

In the past I've offered up the opinion that Apple might be better off pre-announcing a new product long before shipping in some cases. One of the reasons: knowing that Apple is entering a product segment can log-roll the competition. Microsoft is the past-master of this technique. (The difference being, in their case the products are sometimes fictional.) It hasn't been a popular suggestion.

An "antennagate" sort of issue is less likely the way Apple is going about this launch. Once the product is no longer secret, it can be tested more openly, and presumably at least some issues resolved before shipping.
Rating: 1 Votes

[ Read All Comments ]