A neighbour of mine recently asked for some help to resolve a long-standing problem with their phone, an iPhone SE. Helping people with technology related problems generally leads to an endless number of follow-up questions and phone calls, but it's hard to say "no" for something so simple to someone who will live next door until one of you pass away1. I agreed to take a quick look and he handed me a phone that appeared to be well taken care of.

The first of three reported problems involved the device displaying an "incompatible accessory" message occasionally when it was being charged. I've seen this in the past myself when the Thunderbolt cable is a little worn out so asked to see the charging wire. The cord was brought out and I could see right away that it was a brand new, Apple-brand Thunderbolt cable with absolutely pristine connectors. Not leaving anything to chance, we plugged it into an outlet then get the phone connected. It started charging, but would stop whenever the device was put down.

A bad Thunderbolt port, perhaps?

The second problem had to do with a pair of EarPods that were used with the device. Just like the Thunderbolt cable, these looked brand new. When they were plugged into my neighbour's iPad, they worked just fine. Both headphones had sound and the remote was flawless. On the phone, however, sound would only come out of the left headphone and the remote was unresponsive.

Corrosion in the headphone jack, perhaps?

The third problem was with a USB memory stick that could also connect to the phone. When the phone and the memory stick were pushed together hard, the connection would work and data could travel from the phone to the stick and vice versa. However, when pressure was taken off the 3rd-party accessory, the connection was lost.

A poorly made Thunderbolt connection, perhaps?

My neighbour then proceeded to tell me a couple of stories about the phone and how he hasn't been able to receive pictures of his grandkids for few days as the device is out of storage space and he can't copy pictures to the USB stick. While he was doing this, I tried to visually examine the ports on the phone, flashing some light into the headphone jack and the Thunderbolt port. There was what appeared to be a bit of dirt mashed at the far end, but nothing too crazy. Still, it seemed like a good idea to clean in out before investing too much time into solving the three problems.

Using a toothpick, I poked at the bluish dirt and started to pull the foreign material out … and pull the foreign material out … and pull the foreign material out. Rather than mere dirt, enough lint had collected and been jammed by the various connectors that neither the Thunderbolt cable nor a headphone plug could fit all the way into their respective ports. After a minute or two of cleaning, we tried the cable, the headphones, and the memory stick again. Everything worked perfectly.

It's not often that I ever think to examine the ports on my phone but, after removing what appeared to be several belly buttons' worth of lint from the neighbour's device, the 6S that generally stays in my back pocket received a thorough cleaning as well.

  1. He's in his early 70s. I'm thirty years younger and not Japanese. Given the lifespan of people in this country, he'll likely outlive me by a couple of summers.