Apple will put its proprietary screen repair machines in hundreds of third-party locations by the end of 2017, making it easier for customers to fix cracked, damaged, or otherwise broken iPhone displays. Reuters reports that Apple will outfit some 400 authorized repair centers in 25 different countries with the machines, which it calls “Horizon.”
The move comes after eight US states raised legislation targeting tech companies’ proprietary and restrictive repair practices. Service procedures like the use of the Horizon Machine — which is used to validate the repair of screen breakages — are the target of so-called “right to repair” bills. Until now, the company only allowed the machines to be housed at its own stores, and did not formally acknowledge its existence.
Despite this pressure, Apple says that such legislation wasn’t the driving force in the adoption of its new program. “We’ve been on a quest to expand our reach,” senior director of service operations Brian Naumann told Reuters, claiming that the move was inspired by increasing wait times for repairs at particularly busy Apple stores.
Apple allows authorized third-party repair centers to fix broken iPhones without voiding the devices’ warranty, but the Horizon Machines are required in some more serious cases. The machine is the only one that can install a replacement fingerprint sensor, for example, as other repair procedures won’t be able to tell the iPhone’s processor to accept the new hardware.
US repair provider ComputerCare announced two days ago that it was one of three third-party firms in the US selected as part of a new pilot to get new calibration machines and complete repairs on site. The first wave of Apple’s new plan reportedly goes further, aiming to install the Horizon machines in around 200 of its 4,800 authorized third-party repair providers, with another 200 planned to arrive before the end of the year. Among the first to receive the machines are Best Buy stores, including one in the Miami area, and one in Sunnyvale, California.
Reuters was able to see the Horizon Machine in action at a location in California, marking an apparent softening in Apple’s previously strict secrecy around the procedure. That secrecy may be due to the machines’ ability to access every part of the iPhone — rather than simply exchanging components, the machine can also connect to iOS itself and potentially give access to proprietary software. Apple (and other firms) lobbied against right to repair bills for this reason, saying that giving such machines to third-party vendors opened up its phones to hacker attacks.
But it could also be indicative of Apple’s previous desire to keep part of the lucrative repair industry to itself. Reuters notes that the company doesn’t specify how much it earns from screen repairs, but with standard procedures costing $129 without AppleCare+, analysts estimate it pulls in between $1 and $2 billion a year in revenue. That’s a significant chunk of the $4 billion in revenue the entire global screen repair industry is believed to generate annually, with manufacturers’ locked-down repair practices forcing third-party repair centers to use unauthorized parts.
As part of a previous pilot that began a year ago, machines are also in place at repair centers in London, Shanghai, and Singapore. Reuters says that centers in countries with no official Apple stores — including Colombia, Norway, and South Korea — will also be early recipients of the machines.