Everybody loves to hear about hidden secrets in their devices, from the secret Flappy Bird clone inside Android Lollipop to the various funny responses given by AI assistants when you ask them the right question. But this is one Easter egg you definitely do not want to hunt.
Apparently originating at anonymous message board 4chan, the below image has been doing the rounds on social media and across the web, encouraging iPhone users to set their system time to January 1, 1970, in order to see a special retro Apple start-up screen. In fact, doing this will kill your device and make it unable to boot.
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Putting aside how suspicious the suggestion of this Easter egg is (1970 is years before Apple was even founded, let alone releasing Macintoshes), it certainly appeals to our sense of discovery. But those who followed the advice were shocked to find their phones dead, beyond the reach even of an iTunes restore.
Even the most rigorous of reset procedures - entering DFU mode and replacing the phone's firmware - is not enough to bring an affected iPhone back to its own time.
The bug had Apple geniuses apparently scratching their heads too, with reports late last week indicating that those affected had to have their phones replaced at Apple stores.
The bug appears only to affect devices with 64-bit chips, meaning iPhone 5S, iPad Air, iPad Mini 2 and iPod Touch 2015 and newer. Obviously this isn't something you should try out just for kicks but, if you're curious, YouTube user Zach Straley has a pretty good demonstration of what sending your iPhone back 46 years will do.
Tech website Ars Technica reports that the fault occurs because January 1, 1970, is the first day of Unix time. Unix-like systems (such as the iPhone) keep track of the time in terms of the number of seconds that have passed since that first day. Setting that value to zero, it seems, causes some serious issues for Apple devices.
Fortunately there does seem to be a solution, but there's some disagreement as to how it works. Some online are saying the issue resolves itself once the internal clock progresses to a certain point, which differs depending on your time zone, meanwhile others have reported that certain SIM cards will jump-start devices to life. Ars Technica reports that the proper date can be restored by completely draining the power from your device.
The website also expressed concerns that Apple devices could be vulnerable to an attack over the air that sets a new date and causes a reset, thereby bricking the phone. There have been reports of vandals intentionally using this bug to disable phones in Apple stores, although, since doing so takes several minutes, you can expect store employees are now keeping a keen eye out for time travellers.