iPhone 13 sales are skyrocketing as millions of users around the world race to buy Apple’s latest smartphones. But all these new owners are now in for a nasty surprise.
Stripping iPhone 13 models down, what iFixit discovered is that Apple has added a small chip (“about the size of a Tic-Tac”) into the bottom of their 13 screens. The chip is a microcontroller which pairs each iPhone 13 to its display. When a display is damaged and needs to be replaced, the microcontroller must be told to pair with the new screen. Doing this requires ‘Apple Services Toolkit 2’ (AST2), an expensive proprietary service which requires consent and certification from Apple.
What happens if you don’t pair the new screen with the iPhone 13 microcontroller? Face ID, the iPhone’s primary form of security, is disabled and owners will receive the message “Unable to activate Face ID on this iPhone.” This happens even if the repairer is using a genuine Apple display and, as iFixit notes, it’s entirely unnecessary:
“As far as our engineers can tell, keeping Face ID working on the iPhone 13 after a screen swap should be easier than ever, since its scanner is wholly separate from the display,”
“It’s important to note how completely unprecedented this is,” the site continues. “Screen replacement is incredibly common. Tens of thousands of repair shops around the world support their communities by replacing screens for customers at competitive prices. And Apple is, with one fell swoop, seemingly cutting the industry off at the knees.”
And iPhone 13 owners should care about this, even if you only ever get your devices repaired by Apple. First, the move eliminates choice so those without an Apple store nearby will have fewer options. Second, without competition Apple is free to set whatever prices it wants. The company already charges $600 for out of warranty glass replacement on an iPhone 11 Pro Max, effectively forcing its owners to pay for AppleCare+ insurance ($200pa).
Interestingly, we have been here before. Historically, Apple has caused third party repair blocking issues for Touch ID, iPhone batteries and cameras. Each time, the public reaction was hostile and Apple walked them all back saying it was a bug on all three occasions. With enough public outcry, it is possible Apple will make the same claim and fix it. In short: it’s time for iPhone 13 owners to get angry.
I have reached out to Apple and will update this post when/if I get a response.