iPhone 13 screen repair process called a ‘trap’ that may have huge implications for the repair industry

Apple would very much like to keep tabs on the repair process for all of its devices. For some, that’s a bonus because it means that the company who makes the devices can also fix them. And there are also authorized service providers if one can’t make it to a physical Apple Store. However, some see it as a way for Apple to keep an iron grip on something it doesn’t want out of its control. Both are probably true.

It’s hard to argue with the latter point when Apple appears to be making conscious decisions to limit third-party repair shops. For instance, iFixit has expanded on its initial findings with the iPhone 13’s teardown, showcasing that Apple has made it so that repairing the display in the iPhone 13 lineup can lead to the biometric security measure Face ID outright breaking.

iFixit indicated that replacing the display in the iPhone 13 can lead to Face ID breaking in its initial teardown. Since then, it has confirmed as much. But that’s not all, either. Apple has also made the process of replacing the display even more difficult. Up until the iPhone 13, replacing a display could be handled with handheld tools. Now? It requires not only a microscope but also microsoldering tools.

iFixit says it’s a “unprecedented lockdown” technique, when it comes to breaking Face ID when a display is replaced by anyone other than Apple or an authorized service provider:

For shops that want to survive, their only options will be to join Apple’s onerous IRP network—not an option for shops that value their customers’ privacy—or work past the iPhone’s locks with microsoldering tools and training. This unprecedented lockdown is unique to Apple and totally new in the iPhone 13. It is likely the strongest case yet for right to repair laws. And it’s all because of a chip about the size of a Tic-Tac, tucked into the bottom of a screen.

As noted by iFixit, the problem comes down to a microcontroller. This pairs the display to the iPhone 13. Right now, there doesn’t exist a tool outside of Apple’s own house (or authorized providers) that allows for iPhone owners or independent, third-party shops to replace a damage display with a new one. If they even try to replace the display, including one from an otherwise new iPhone 13, there will be a pop-up that reads, “Unable to activate Face ID on this ‌iPhone.”

Apple even manages to include cloud syncing in the official repair process. Authorized technicians must use Apple’s Services Toolkit 2 to log the intended repair, which is synced to Apple’s cloud services. This will then sync the iPhone’s display and the serial number.

The “most sophisticated repair shops” have apparently found a workaround, but it isn’t easy:

The most sophisticated repair shops have found a workaround, but it’s not a quick, clever hack—it’s physically moving a soldered chip from the original screen onto the replacement. We’ll go into more detail on that process below, but it’s important to note how completely unprecedented this is. Screen replacement is incredibly common. Tens of thousands of repair shops around the world support their communities by replacing screens for customers at competitive prices. And Apple is, with one fell swoop, seemingly cutting the industry off at the knees.

Apple’s decision to go down this route is even more frustrating when the amount of screen repairs is taken into consideration. It’s certainly one of the more prominent repair needs for smartphone owners, including iPhones. Apple going to these lengths to limit repair availability might not be a welcomed change for some iPhone owners.

In the report from iFixit, interviews with repair shops have some third-party repairers saying that they believe Apple is doing this on purpose to “thwart a customer’s ability to repair” their own device. Of course, Apple is more than happy to repair the device(s) in question directly, or point to Authorized Service Providers to handle repairs.

Not that any of this should be all that surprising, considering Apple has gone on record as saying that it believes repairs should be handled by Apple technicians or authorized individuals only. What’s more, this isn’t even a new practice for the company. Back in 2019 it was reported that Apple was locking iPhone battery replacements in an effort to “discourage” third-party repair efforts.

As it stands right now, though, it appears that the best –and safest– way to make sure that you don’t lose any functionality in your iPhone 13 when it needs a screen repair/replacement, is to visit an Apple Store or locate an Authorized Service Provider.