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Apple Inc. Launches Another Caveat-Filled Fix-It Program

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Apple grants a free fix for those with broken power buttons on their iPhones, but the process isn't a walk in the park.

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Despite the lauded build quality of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) products, many iPhone users have found that their power buttons -- or sleep/wake buttons, as Apple calls them -- became finicky or completely unresponsive after a period of use. The problem has persisted through several models, with folks reporting the issue going as far back as the iPhone 4. My wife's iPhone 4S, for example, requires a thumbnail-cracking amount of force to operate properly, which -- for a device with a nonremovable battery -- makes reboots a tough and painful process.

Apple's official support forums have been flooded with hundreds of users complaining about the problem. Last year, the faulty button even led to a class-action suit that claimed Apple knew about the defect but chose not to disclose it.

But there is good news: Apple has heard consumers' pleas for a fix and offers a free replacement program for those struggling with a broken iPhone power button.

The bad news: You might not qualify for the program.

Apple has launched the iPhone 5 Sleep/Wake Button Replacement Program, which, as you can see in the title, applies only to those with iPhone 5 devices. Thanks to a California federal judge who dismissed last year's class-action suit due to a technicality, anyone with a defective button on an iPhone 4 or 4S is out of luck.

And even for iPhone 5 owners, the process isn't exactly a walk in the park.

You can expect the replacement process to take, according to Apple's site, "approximately 4-6 days from the time your iPhone is received at the repair center until it is returned to you." So if you don't live within driving distance from an Apple Store and are forced to mail in your device, you can expect at least a week without your technological lifeline. However, if you turn in your iPhone to a retail location or an Apple Authorized Service Provider, you may be given a loaner.

But before you drop off the device, Apple requires that you completely wipe your phone of all content and settings. The company suggests you back up your data, but anyone who's gone through that process with iTunes (which is as finicky as the broken power buttons) or iCloud (which is even more finicky than iTunes and only offers 5GB of space for free accounts) knows how hellish the process can be.

Perhaps the biggest catch: If Apple deems your device to be defective in other ways besides the power button -- like a cracked screen, for example -- that damage will need to be fixed before Apple will even look at your sleep/wake button. And since those repairs don't qualify for the free program, you'll need to fork over some cash to get them fixed first. (FYI, fixing a cracked iPhone 5 screen will set you back $149.)

The caveat-filled process is reminiscent of Apple's USB Takeback Program launched last year, wherein users could swap third-party power adapters to ones made by Apple. Unfortunately, the adapter cost $10; the required 30-pin to USB cable -- which costs $19 -- wasn't included; and, judging from the abundance of one-star reviews, the build quality was pretty questionable for many users.

So while it's laudable for Apple to offer a free fix to customers struggling with a defective iPhone, delays, backup preparation, the possibility of extra fees, and user disqualification leave the program's benefits only to a select few.

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