iPhones clock-blocked and crocked by setting date to Jan 1, 1970

Cupertino's amazing software quality showcased once again

Watch out: setting the time and date on an Apple iPhone, iPad or iPod to January 1, 1970, may brick the thing.

In a Reddit discussion today, folks described how setting their device's clock back to that point in history resulted in a crash after which their iThing was unable to boot or be restored via iTunes. The bug affects 64-bit iOS 8 and higher.

Triggering the software flaw is not an easy task, as the user must manually scroll all the way back to the 1970 date in the iOS configuration app, set the time and reboot.

Some peeps were able to successfully start up their phones after several hours of reboots had passed. Some iThings sprang to life when they were recharged after their batteries ran down to empty. Others took their bricked handsets to Apple for repair.

Video of the iOS 1970 bug

Apple has yet to provide any comment or guidance on the matter.

The issue appears to be related to the way iOS, like other Unix-flavored systems, keeps track of time. The creators of Unix set midnight UTC, January 1, 1970 as the "Unix Epoch." Time is often measured, stored and calculated as the number of seconds from that point in history. So, zero is 1/1/1970 00:00.00 UTC, and 10 is 1/1/1970 00:00.10 UTC and so on.

Key thing here is the UTC part. If your timezone is, say, Pacific Standard Time because you live on the West Coast of the US, your current time and date is -08:00 UTC: you are eight hours behind London in the UK. If you set your iPhone's date to January 1, 1970, your timezone could pull you into negative time.

That negative number could confuse Apple's software to the point where it crashes over and over again. Mishandling negative numbers has struck Cupertino's code before.

Allowing iOS to run on for several hours may restore the device: its internal clock will advance into positive time and no longer confuse Apple's notoriously wobbly software. Of course, trolls are happily trying to convince people that setting your iPhone's date to 1970 will trigger an easter egg... ®

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