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Apple Plans to Switch to Randomized Serial Numbers for Future Products Starting in 2021 [Updated]

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Apr 12, 2001
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In an internal memo shared with Apple Authorized Service Providers, Apple has indicated that it plans to update its serial number format to a randomized alphanumeric string for future products starting in late 2020 (update: Apple now says 2021). Apple says all serial numbers that exist before the change is made will remain the same.


Apple already uses alphanumeric serial numbers, but it has long been possible to determine the date and location that a product was manufactured based on the current format. Readers would often use serial numbers to glean more information about their devices. The randomized format would likely not be decipherable, or at least hard to, and it could also help to reduce fraud.

The memo was published today and obtained by MacRumors from a reliable source. It is unclear if the change will apply worldwide.

Update: Apple has delayed this change until some point in 2021, according to an internal document viewed by MacRumors.

Article Link: Apple Plans to Switch to Randomized Serial Numbers for Future Products Starting in 2021 [Updated]
 
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brewmonkey

macrumors regular
Feb 17, 2016
202
137
Anything to reduce fraud is appreciated.

In addition to fraud, I wonder if this is also to help prevent accidental registration of things. I've seen several of them recently where an organization accidentally registered a device serial #...I wonder if it was the next one in the list and they just accidentally added another one or something?
 
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tennisproha

macrumors 65816
Jun 24, 2011
1,315
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Texas
This would be a switch for the worse. Serial numbers are the only remaining useful tool in determining more info about a product, like chip type used, place or date of manufacture, etc. This makes it harder for consumers to get product information Apple hides.

I have yet to find examples of serial number being used for outright fraud.
 
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guzhogi

macrumors 68040
Aug 31, 2003
3,208
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Wherever my feet take me…
I also wish they'd make the serial numbers bigger and easier to read. I work in IT, and it's a real pain to read the serial numbers off the bottom. Before anyone asks, checking About My Mac / Settings → General → About isn't possible if the device doesn't even start up. Maybe add a barcode version of it so I can use a barcode scanner.
 
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MikhailT

macrumors 601
Nov 12, 2007
4,513
1,178
This would be a switch for the worse. Serial numbers are the only remaining useful tool in determining more info about a product, like chip type used, place or date of manufacture, etc. This makes it harder for consumers to get product information Apple hides.

I have yet to find examples of serial number being used for outright fraud.

Don't people ask for serial numbers to look up the warranty and activation thing? I've seen it via Ebay purchases.
 
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underattack

macrumors member
Oct 15, 2008
72
14
try to read the serial number on earbuds like the PowerBeats :(. Maybe there is a way to get an RFID tag that only "broadcasts" if you press a contact. That way, you could easily read them with a mobile device no matter how small the printed number is on the device, and not run into privacy issues where they can be triggered by a third party without the user knowing.
 
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iPhysicist

macrumors 65816
Nov 9, 2009
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I also wish they'd make the serial numbers bigger and easier to read. I work in IT, and it's a real pain to read the serial numbers off the bottom. Before anyone asks, checking About My Mac / Settings → General → About isn't possible if the device doesn't even start up. Maybe add a barcode version of it so I can use a barcode scanner.
Or the new thing called magnifying glass :cool:
 
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BBCWatcher

macrumors regular
Jan 28, 2008
116
60
Maine
I like this idea overall, but Apple really ought to include some sort of check digit mechanism, and publish the formula they picked, so that it's possible to determine with high confidence whether a supplied Apple serial number could actually really be a genuine Apple serial number. (Only Apple would know for sure, of course.) There are all sorts of real world scenarios when businesses, governments, and other organizations need to take accurate inventories and when somebody transposes a digit or otherwise gets the serial number wrong. It'd be darn helpful if all these organizations could know, right away, when they've collected a serial number in their inventory taking that cannot possibly be a genuine Apple serial number.

Also, Apple ought to eliminate all characters from serial numbers that can be easily mistaken for other characters. This generally includes (as examples):

0, O, D, and (probably) Q
5 and S
1, 7, and I
8 and B
U and V

The choice of typeface can matter a lot here -- for example, to distinguish A from R -- but some easy-to-confuse characters ought to be dropped no matter what the typeface. This'll help even Apple's own support teams over the phone, etc., as they deal with consumers. There are still plenty of characters available to allow plenty of serial numbers for billions of products.

Finally (and now that Jony Ive has left!), don't be afraid to make serial numbers easier to read (in larger type) on devices. Apple has got typographic experts, so spend some effort making serial numbers easier to read within whatever (sometimes lame) aesthetic goals Apple is trying to achieve. IBM ThinkPads were pretty damn stylish, and they had big, easy to read serial numbers in easy to inventory places.
 
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Relentless Power

macrumors Nehalem
Jul 12, 2016
35,106
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This is a great idea, which this needs to happen. I think serial numbers contain too much information about the product itself, and there are those who will try to manipulate by abducting serial numbers off products.

For example: Those sites that you can put your serial number that can decipher when/where your iPhone was manufactured, some of those sites are merely trying to abduct your iPhone serial number for fraudulent purposes.
 
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blackcrayon

macrumors 68020
Mar 10, 2003
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This is a great idea, which this needs to happen. I think serial numbers contain too much information about the product itself, and there are those who will try to manipulate by abducting serial numbers off products.

For example: Those sites that you can put your serial number that can decipher when/where your iPhone was manufactured, some of those sites are merely trying to abduct your iPhone serial number for fraudulent purposes.

For that though, couldn't there just be two serial numbers, one that contains all of the information, and another "ID" that is needed to uniquely identify your machine for warranty, etc, but should not be shared with other than Apple...
 
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tk_mac

macrumors member
Dec 26, 2019
61
7
Jailbreakers often use serial numbers to estimate the iOS version on a device prior to buying and opening the sealed box, because they are looking for a noncurrent version that can be jailbroken. Jailbreaking is a completely legal process where a user opens his device up to more software from nonstandard and hobbyist sources to customize appearance or functionality. It would really be asinine if they are really motivated to stop shopping for iOS versions because of their hatred for this completely legal hobby.

I look forward to the day that right to repair legislation in some jurisdiction places a ban on irreversible software updates on all electronic devices. I suspect that if Apple is faced with such a law that they would just sign all the iOS versions permanently to comply and not hassle themselves to detect device location as part of the criteria to allow an install.

This would help both jailbreakers and other users who regret doing a software update due to bug, performance issues, or other reasons. The right to repair should include the right to repair software by reverting back to a prior version that is perceived by a user to be more desirable.
 
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Relentless Power

macrumors Nehalem
Jul 12, 2016
35,106
37,353
For that though, couldn't there just be two serial numbers, one that contains all of the information, and another "ID" that is needed to uniquely identify your machine for warranty, etc, but should not be shared with other than Apple...

Possibly. Not sure entirely how that would work. But that’s a great idea, that way it separates the user away from the device itself.
 
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Hodar1

macrumors regular
Seems like this is going to create more problems than it solves. The T2 chip job, among others, is security and prevent fraudulent Macs from hitting the market. Serial numbers are a handy way to track date/lot codes - so if they happen to get a bad lot of components (microprocessors, capacitors, bad resistors, etc) that exhibit premature failures over time - you can do a partial recall based on Serial Numbers. The Automotive Industry does this all the time with VINs.

I don't see how randomized Serial Numbers will do anything to either help, or prevent fake Mac's from making it into the marketplace.
 
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macduke

macrumors G4
Jun 27, 2007
11,296
15,342
Central U.S.
Then technically it's not a serial number anymore. Serial numbers are in series.

But whatever. It's irrelevant to the concept.
Came here to say this, lol. They'll need a new term.
This would be a switch for the worse. Serial numbers are the only remaining useful tool in determining more info about a product, like chip type used, place or date of manufacture, etc. This makes it harder for consumers to get product information Apple hides.
This is basically why they are doing it. Also it probably helps keep "analysts" from figuring out how many units they've sold. Apple is existing vertical growth and is expanding their product lines and areas of influence horizontally.
Jailbreakers often use serial numbers to estimate the iOS version on a device prior to buying and opening the sealed box, because they are looking for a noncurrent version that can be jailbroken. Jailbreaking is a completely legal process where a user opens his device up to more software from nonstandard and hobbyist sources to customize appearance or functionality. It would really be asinine if they are really motivated to stop shopping for iOS versions because of their hatred for this completely legal hobby.

I look forward to the day that right to repair legislation in some jurisdiction places a ban on irreversible software updates on all electronic devices. I suspect that if Apple is faced with such a law that they would just sign all the iOS versions permanently to comply and not hassle themselves to detect device location as part of the criteria to allow an install.

This would help both jailbreakers and other users who regret doing a software update due to bug, performance issues, or other reasons. The right to repair should include the right to repair software by reverting back to a prior version that is perceived by a user to be more desirable.
I've always been under the assumption that by disallowing iOS software to be reverted, this prevents criminals and government (is there a difference?) from downgrading our devices and then cracking them with their outdated tools that Apple has already locked down, such as those $30,000 or whatever boxes with the lightning cable that law enforcement was using a few years ago.
 
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BBCWatcher

macrumors regular
Jan 28, 2008
116
60
Maine
Sure, if you're only reading off one device once in a while - but when you're processing machines frequently, as an IT professional often needs to, it just adds more time to each item.
It's also fairly common when I have to enter an office building or other facility where somebody at a security (or "security") desk inventories all entering and exiting laptops by serial number. Owners of laptops with easy-to-find and easy-to-read serial numbers breeze right through both ways. The few brave (foolish?) Mac owners like me have a much, much tougher time. Me: "There's the serial number in teeny, tiny print. See?" No, the security officer doesn't see it. Virtually nobody does, not without a magnifying glass. Of course there's no magnifying glass or it cannot be found, and then "hilarity" ensues at the security desk.

Or I suppose I could power up my Mac (if not already powered up), unlock my Mac, go to the Apple menu, select "About This Mac," and show the security officer the on screen serial number. And I could do all that in the "alien" place with recording cameras everywhere, with some unknown security officer ready to grab my laptop? No thanks.

Come on, Apple! This class of problems is easy to fix. Just make the damn serial number human readable.

And how about including the 5 character device model identifier (e.g. A2346) as part of the serial number, for example:

A2346 XW9 E32 6CHY

and, as I've done above, including spaces to make the serial number easier to read? Humans tend to do better processing "words," as the face of every credit card (including the Apple Card) indicates. Look at the difference here:

A2346XW9E326CHY

It's much easier to read off the serial number when it contains spaces like that. The spaces can be optionally entered but are ignored in Apple serial number input fields and in the check digit algorithm.
 
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JPack

macrumors 604
Mar 27, 2017
6,812
11,552
Major benefit is it allows Apple to hide the country and factory of origin.

Devices can still be manufactured in Zhengzhou, forwarded to Vietnam, then shipped to the U.S. to avoid potential tariffs.

Apple serial numbers are already non-sequential. Currently, fraudsters pay Apple Store staff to retrieve lists of serial numbers. So randomizing serial numbers largely benefits Apple in masking the supply chain.
 
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