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iPhone 13 screen repairs could cause this big problem

photo of iPhone 13 Face ID notch
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you've managed to break your iPhone 13 display already, then we suggest you get down to the Apple Store, even if you don't have Apple Care Plus; don't be tempted by a third-party repair shop. 

That's because teardowns of Apple's new flagship phones, including the iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, have revealed that because third-party repairs will stop Face ID working. 

This isn’t the first time Apple has made design choices that served as a slap in the face to the third-party repair industry. The company employed proprietary screws as far back as 2011, and just last year it was discovered that the iPhone 12’s camera would stop working properly if it wasn’t repaired by an authorized Apple technician. 

But now Apple appears to have taken it a step further, with Face ID being permanently disabled if the screen is replaced. That's been noted by both Phone Repair Guru and iFixit during teardowns of the iPhone 13 Pro. And we all know that screen replacements are one of the most common phone repairs.

Phone Repair Guru notes that Face ID has always made it tricky to replace iPhone screens. The module itself used to be attached to the screen, and any damage to it would affect Face ID’s functionality. That’s not the case on the iPhone 13, making it possible to swap around the phone’s microphone and ambient light sensors without issue.

However, the catch here is that Face ID data is now stored on chips within the screen itself. And swapping out the screen appears to disable the feature. Phone Repair Guru even attempted to reset Face ID to see if that was the issue, only for the iPhone to tell him that it wasn’t available. 

Phone Repair Guru notes that it may be possible to transfer the Face ID data chips to a new screen, though it likely isn’t the kind of thing an ordinary repair shop will be able to do. 

While Apple may release an update that fixes this issue, as it has done with similar cases in the past, there’s no guarantee that it will happen this year. So unless you hear otherwise, any screen repair work should only be done by Apple or an authorized Apple technician.

If you have AppleCare Plus, a screen repair will only cost you the standard $29 service fee. However, if you don’t, it’ll be a lot more expensive: $229 for an iPhone 13 mini, $279 for an iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro, and $329 for the iPhone 13 Pro Max.

Meanwhile, the cost of AppleCare Plus for two years is just $149 for the iPhone 13 and 13 mini, or $199 for iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max — which is significantly cheaper than a single screen repair, even after you account for the $29 service fee. 

Apple is subject to an awful lot of criticism from right-to-repair activists, as a result of these kind of requirements. Apple obviously wants to be able to repair all its iPhones in-house, but not everyone can afford to pay $279 for a cracked screen. It’s not hard to see why people might resort to third-party repairs, which typically charge much less — particularly if the phone is already out of warranty.

But, unfortunately, unless an update rolls out, you're going to have to choose between an expensive Apple repair job or the loss of Face ID. And since there's no other biometric security available on the iPhone 13, that might not be an option.

All of which is yet another reason to kit out your new iPhone with a protective case. We've got guides to the best iPhone 13 mini cases, best iPhone 13 cases and best iPhone 13 Pro Max cases.

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.