Hey Siri, where can I get my cracked iPhone screen fixed?
Apple Inc customers will soon have more choices as the company looks to reduce long wait times for iPhone repairs at its retail stores.
By the end of 2017, Apple will to put its proprietary machines for mending cracked iPhone glass in about 400 authorised third-party repair centers in 25 countries, company executives told Reuters.
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 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 nearly 500 retail stores and mail-in repair centers; and it has guarded its design closely.
The change also comes as eight US states have launched “right to repair” bills aimed at prying open the tightly controlled repair networks of Apple and other high-tech manufacturers.
Apple said legislative pressure was not a factor in its decision to share its technology. It allowed Reuters to view and photograph the machines in action at a lab near its Cupertino, California headquarters. Until now, Apple had never formally acknowledged the Horizon Machine’s existence.
The initial rollout aims to put machines in 200, or about 4 percent, 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 centers 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.
To be sure, 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.
But 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.
“Right to repair” gaining steam
Apple has sold more than 1 billion iPhones worldwide, many to customers who don’t live near an Apple Store or an authorised third-party repair center.
For fixes, many have turned to mom-and-pop shops and independent technicians that now dominate the trade. Research firm IBISWorld estimates the global cell phone repair business generates about $4 billion (roughly Rs. 25,740 crores) in revenue per year.
Many of these entrepreneurs do good work. Some don’t. All use copycat parts because Apple, like other major manufacturers, doesn’t supply original parts or repair manuals to anyone but authorised service partners.
Big companies defend this arrangement as the only way they can guarantee high-quality repair work and keep hackers away from the proprietary software that makes their products tick.
Consumer advocates, however, say their aim is to wring outsized profits from repairs. Independent technicians often charge less than the cost of a factory fix.