• John O'Rangers

iPhone 13: Early Repair Analysis And Face ID

As we all know, the new iPhone 13 has debuted to varying perspectives. Some have been critical of the design for its similarities to the 11 and 12 series, others are more favorable. The real question is, how repairable is this new device compared to the previous models?

That issue is still in flux right now. Certainly the earliest teardowns reveal it to be more challenging than the past models. but overall it's similar enough to not make it exceedingly difficult to deal with as far as assembly and disassembly. There is, however, an early issue that is in question, and time will tell what Apple's plans are with this new device.

What is the issue? Thus far, it appears that the displays may be serialized further than the past models. Early testing has revealed that if you replace the display, the Face ID is disabled. Is this a deliberate condition by Apple or an abnormality? That isn't clear as of this time. There has been some talk that it may be iOS 15 related, so the next firmware update is much anticipated. But as of now I cannot say if this is the case.

Historically speaking, it is quite possible that it is a deliberate serialization by Apple, as they have done similar things with past models dating back to the iPhone 5S. Certainly there was the controversy surrounding iTunes Error 53 and fingerprint scanning home buttons with the iPhone 6 and 6S series, the 7 and 8 home buttons, and certainly the batteries, LCDs, and cameras with the XS through 12 series. As far as CDCs position on the 13 is concerned, I'm in a wait and see position at this time. None of this has been 100% confirmed yet, so I will give Apple time to respond to the matter.

This does, however, bring up the issue of Right to Repair. Many of you know that manufacturers, Apple included, have increasingly made repair of your devices more and more difficult due to various proprietary measures used to restrict access. Apple themselves prefers to use component matching to their secure enclave where mismatched components are rendered non-functional. It's a controversial practice, and activist groups have been lobbying for some time against these practices. There's certainly a case to be made about ownership rights when it comes to repair of these devices, I cannot disagree with that at all.

As far as the whole Right to Repair movement goes though, I've always had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, as I said in the previous paragraph, yes, you own your phone so it should be your decision what to do with it. On the other hand I also see that Apple or any other major company is a private entity that should be able to conduct business as they see fit. I'm of the belief that a middle ground is achievable, but nether side of this matter seems to be able to reach that point.

To make things a little easier to understand, where it seems the controversy lies is comparable to a house. If you own your house, you should be able to paint it purple if you want. But in some situations, the HOA may not allow for it and you may be required to use only their approved colors. It's sort of like that, with some differences. Right now we only have a certain amount of approved colors but need more colors, and neither side seems to be able to reach an agreement on what these colors should be.

So what might an agreeable middle ground look like? Anyone's guess, but I have some examples based upon past experiences in sales & marketing to large retail chains. First, where I believe Apple doesn't want to face reality is in repair volume. They sell billions of devices globally, and for them to be able to offer a level of service their customers want is really not possible. For them to have enough corporate owned repair shops to meet that demand would be very expensive for them. And considering the fact that creating shareholder value is the name of the game these days, I doubt their stockholders would approve of a heavy increase in the expenses associate with such a venture.

On the other hand, us independents tend to be younger people without a lot of experience in corporate matters. Many on our side lobby under the umbrella of "fairness and equality" and so forth. That doesn't fly in big business, so our side needs to understand more about what Apple and companies like them want and deliver on those expectations. Ultimately using the government to force a big company to do business a certain way doesn't work very well. What does work are solid relationships between manufacturers and suppliers, and ultimately proving that what you have to offer a big entity is good for their bottom line. I know this from experience.

Unfortunately, I believe there have been missed opportunities in recent history in this regard. For example, a couple of years ago Apple got into some trouble over the slowing of phones with weak batteries. On paper what they were doing was sound tech, but their communication with the customers was not. What it led to was a belief that Apple was deliberately slowing devices in a "backhanded" attempt to get people to buy new phones. That was not the case at all, it was just a technique to keep phones functioning. I wrote on this blog about it at the time and explained that it wasn't malicious but just poor communication.

Apple, as you may recall, responded with a good will program agreeing to replace customer's batteries for $29, and that program lasted for about 1 year. Most of us in the independent repair field understood that while Apple's gesture was fine, their ability to actually implement it was suspect because their repair infrastructure, chiefly the Apple Stores, did not have the capacity to handle the volume. Here at CDC I had customer after customer come to me because they were either unable to get appointments or were turned away due to sellouts at the Apple Store. I responded, as did many many other independents, by mirroring the $29 program Apple was doing. Certainly the response was huge and I replaced a lot of batteries, let's put it that way.

I do feel, however, that we missed a big opportunity with this one, and I'll tell you right now for the record what that was. Apple had a PR problem, there's no question about it. Certainly the $29 battery program cost them some money. However, it cost them a fraction of what it would have if not for us independents picking up the slack. By mirroring the program, we were able to play a huge role in helping make a problem go away for them, but there was one aspect of it that was key. We did this with our own parts source, and with our own money. Our work did not cost Apple ONE DIME. That's a fact, and if we're talking shareholder value, what we did played a very big role in helping them maintain this.

Yet honestly I am not aware of any entities involved with the independent repair community that made this case to Apple. Perhaps there were and I just missed it, but have no recollection of any efforts to speak of. That was a missed opportunity, and while it's been a couple of years now, it is well past time that someone mentions this. I feel what we did is clear proof that independent repair is a win-win, not only for Apple, but its customers and shareholders. These are the situations that need to be emphasized to a company like them if we really are serious about normalized relations. I tend to disagree with the argument of "fairness" and "rights", as that just doesn't convince many large companies to do business with anyone making these arguments.

How do I know this? Am I some wise man with all the answers? Nope. Experience is my guide. And always remember that "experience" is politically correct for "screwing up". Yes, I've been in those situations where you're trying to sell to a large entity, and have been laughed out of their offices many times. I had a great boss who used to say "There are sharks in this business, and they will eat you whole". I've been eaten, believe me, and a company like Apple is no different. Either prove to them your value or be gone, that's just how it works. I've tried to explain this many times to the advocates and they just laugh at me. Oh well, that's the way it goes I guess? They must be smarter than I am.

So these are my thoughts at this time regarding the iPhone 13 and repair. I'm taking a wait and see approach; others my may have varying perspectives. But for now it appears that Face ID is a problem, and it's not yet confirmed what the solution will be. But I reiterate that none of this is solvable by the status quo, in my opinion. It takes much more to convince a large and influential company like Apple to do business with you, and right now I just believe we are not making that connection.

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