apple screen repair

Apple allows independent repair centres to use its secret iPhone screen-fixing machines

Apple will allow third-party repair centres to use its proprietary machines to fix iPhone screens in a bid to reduce long wait times for iPhone repairs at its retail stores.

The company will distribute the devices which are used to mend cracked iPhone glass to about 400 authorised third-party repair centres in 25 countries.

Among the first recipients is Minneapolis-based Best Buy, which has long sold and serviced Apple products. The electronics retailer already has one of the screen-repair machines at a Miami-area store and one is coming soon to an outlet in Sunnyvale, California.

Fixing cracked screens may seem like small potatoes, but it’s a multi billion-dollar global business. The move is also a major shift for Apple. The company had previously restricted use of its so-called Horizon Machine to its own 500 retail stores and mail-in repair centres and has guarded the machine’s design closely.

Until now, Apple had never even formally acknowledged the Horizon Machine’s existence.

The change also comes as eight US states have launched “right to repair” bills aimed at prying open the tightly controlled repair networks presided over by high-tech manufacturers - measures that have been opposed by Apple. 

The company said legislative pressure was not a factor in its decision to share its technology. The initial rollout aims to put the machines in 200, approximately four per cent, of Apple’s 4,800 authorised service providers worldwide over the next few months. The company plans to double that figure by the end of the year.

“We’ve been on a quest to expand our reach,” said Brian Naumann, senior director of service operations at Apple. He said repair wait times have grown at some of the company’s busiest retail stores.

Pilot testing started a year ago. In addition to Miami, a few machines already are operating at third-party repair centres in the Bay Area, London, Shanghai and Singapore. Shops in some countries where Apple has no retail presence will also be early recipients, including locations in Colombia, Norway and South Korea. Apple would not say how much its partners are paying for the equipment.

Theoretically, any mall repair kiosk can replace a cracked iPhone screen. Apple says its customers can get their devices fixed at non-authorised shops without voiding their warranties as long as the technician caused no damage.

However, the Horizon Machine is needed to remedy the trickiest mishaps, such as when the fingerprint sensor attached to the back of the glass gets damaged when a phone is dropped.

For security, only Apple’s fix-it machine can tell the iPhone’s processor, its silicon brain, to recognise a replacement sensor. Without it, the iPhone won’t unlock with the touch of a finger. Banking apps that require a fingerprint won’t work either, including the Apple Pay digital wallet.

Meanwhile, the company’s CEO Tim Cook has said it is working with the UK Government in its investigation of recent terror attacks.

“We have been co-operating with the UK Government not only in law enforcement kind of matters but on some of the attacks,” he said.

“I cannot speak on detail on that. But in cases when we have information and they have gone through the lawful process we don’t just give it but we do it very promptly.”

Following the London Bridge terror attack, Prime Minister Theresa May said that technology companies must stop being a “safe space” for terror suspects.

Apple uses end-to-end encryption across many of its services, which it says it does in order to protect user privacy, but has been criticised by the Government for its approach.

The company was also involved in a stand-off with the FBI last year over gaining access to the locked iPhone of a terror suspect.

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