iPhone 13 Face ID is made to break after third-party screen repair

iPhone 13 Face ID is made to break after third-party screen repair
The Right to Repair movement around Apple products is a sore subject for many, and definitely a hot topic in the smartphone industry, for iPhone users but especially for the thousands of third-party repair shops who make their living from fixing broken tech.

And Apple may have just dealt the final blow to said third-party services with the newly released iPhone 13, as revealed by a new discovery just made by iFixit.

As per annual tradition, the repair team over at iFixit stripped down Apple's newest flagship to its bare bones to see just what it's made of, only to find that the Cupertino tech giant has implemented an extra little piece of hardware which essentially ensures that here on out, only Apple-certified repair shops can perform screen repairs on iPhones.

This new "feature" comes in the form of a tiny chip, the size of a Tic-Tac, that is soldered onto the bottom of the screen of the iPhone 13 series. This tiny microcontroller is what allows the device to be paired with its screen—something that has been dubbed "serialization," reports iFixit.

From now on, repairing an iPhone screen will disable Face ID, except when performed by an Apple technician

When a repair technician swaps out a broken iPhone 13 screen with a new one, the device's serial number then has to be re-paired with the new screen's serial number. This process can be performed using the Apple Services Toolkit 2 software—something which Apple refuses to share with anybody who is not certified by the Cupertino company.

While an iPhone 13 screen technically can be replaced without performing a new serialization to re-pair the new combination, Apple has set it up so that this will permanently disable the iPhone's Face ID functionality. 

Face ID is undeniably a key flagship feature of the iPhone series as of the iPhone X, and the primary biometric after the fingerprint sensor disappeared—and few people are likely to be willing to let it go for the sake of saving a few dollars by performing DIY repair, or taking it to a third-party shop, either.

It's technically possible without sacrificing Face ID, but requires highly specialized tools and training

According to iFixit, the only way to bypass Apple's unprecedented lockdown now is through the use of highly specialized tools, such as a microscope and micro-soldering tools, and the necessary training to use them. This means thousands of dollars of additional investments for all repair shops if they want to continue working on iPhone devices.

This certainly does not bode well for the future of smaller repair shops, who rely largely on income from repairing iPhones, yet could never afford to make such an investment—even if the larger third-party service chains could afford to buy the equipment and train their technicians.

Many smaller shops' only remaining option will be to join Apple's Independent Repair Program—or face extinction 

This turn of events means many smaller repair shops will be forced to join the IRP, or Apple's Independent Repair Program. However, this program has come under fire for its extremely invasive nature, forcing shops to agree to be subjugated to “unannounced audits and inspections by Apple"—compromising both technicians' and customers' privacy. 

Even if a business decides to leave the program, Apple “reserves the right to continue inspecting repair shops for up to five years." 

The CEO and founder of Fruit Fixed (a chain repair shop in Virginia), Justin Carroll, shared that screen replacements made up about 35% of the shop's revenue due to their popularity, making them a core component of the business.

“At one point it was 60 percent, a few years ago," stated Carroll. "We worked really hard to push that figure down, so that one revenue stream wasn’t such a huge part of what we do. Obviously, it’s still an incredibly important part of our business model.”

Another repair shop consultant and YouTuber, Justin Ashford, also expressed his concern at Apple's latest blow to the Right to Repair movement. “This IC [chip] swap thing, it’s a disaster, and we definitely need to fight it, 100 percent," he declared. "But our industry’s definition of what basic repair is needs to change … this is the new basic. Going forward, the first tool you need is a microscope.”

Unless repair shops band together and "fight like hell for the right to repair," as iFixit puts it, this could mean the end of cheap iPhone repairs for all time—without Apple Care+, an iPhone 13 screen repair cost starts at $279. 

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