Replacing iPhone 13’s Screen Breaks Face ID, Could ‘Shatter’ Third-Party Repair Shops

BY Rajesh Pandey

Published 5 Nov 2021

iPhone 13 Face ID - MicroController

iFixit says that Apple wants to “shatter” the third-party display repair market entirely with the changes it has introduced with the iPhone 13 series. Replacing the display on the new iPhones completely disables Face ID, a huge implication for one of the most common iPhone repairs.

iFixit says it tried several iPhone 13 models running iOS 15 and iOS 15.1 and got the same results. The move could lead to small shops being shuttered or force them to spend thousands on new equipment. The only option for independent third-party repair shops is to join Apple’s IRP network.

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.

Apple has used a small microcontroller to pair the iPhone 13’s display to that specific unit. It also does not provide independent repair shops with any tools or guidelines on pairing a new screen. Only authorized technicians and shops can pair a new display by logging the repair to Apple’s cloud servers and syncing the serial numbers of the phone and display. It is then up to Apple to approve that repair, and not doing so would lead to Face ID being disabled on that iPhone 13 unit.

Even when a shop has the equipment and experience to de-solder a BGA chip and move it to a new screen, they’re competing at a disadvantage with Apple’s repair network and protection plan, AppleCare. An authorized Apple technician can make an iPhone 13 accept a new screen with a few clicks inside their secret software—no heating, desoldering, or resoldering required. Apple’s techs can also keep True Tone working, something that independent repair techs have not yet achieved with third-party programmers on newer iPhone 12 and 13 models.

Some repair shops have found a way to bypass this restriction: physically move the soldered chip to the replacement unit. But this is a hacky and time-consuming process, making a common iPhone repair process tedious and complicated.

iFixit says that it’s time to support the right to repair bill to prevent small shops from shutting down due to this “predatory, monopolistic behavior.”

[Via iFixit]