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Apple just backtracked on iPhone 13 repairs that break Face ID

iPhone 13 image zoomed in at the notch.
(Image credit: Future)

Editor's note (Nov. 17): Building on this repair-friendly decision, Apple's also now letting people buy parts and tools to fix their iPhone 13 and iPhone 12 themselves.

After the launch of the iPhone 13, it only took a handful of days before tinkerers found that replacing the phone's screen at home or at a repair shop would render Face ID useless. Well, after much outcry, it seems that Apple has had an about-face. 

In a confirmation made to The Verge, Apple has told the publication that third-party screen replacements, including those not done at an authorized Apple repair shop, will not break Face ID. Apple will issue the fix via a software update. The company has not given a date on when this update would go live. 

Replacing the screen alone is not what broke Face ID. Rather, repair technicians learned that it was also necessary to export the tiny microcontroller from the original screen into the replacement. This, however, is a difficult task. It's not a problem for authorized Apple repair shops as those locations have have special software that can make an iPhone 13 accept a new screen.

While it's not impossible to micro-solder the screen's integrated circuit over from the old screen into the replacement, it is a major hassle. The chip sits on solder balls, and removing it takes tremendous patience and time. YouTube channel iCorrect demonstrates the process, and it's not for the novice iPhone repair enthusiast. iFixit also has an article documenting the replacement process. 

The reason why this decision caught so much ire amongst owners and repair advocates is because it would put an onerous blockade on independent repair shops, those that may rely heavily on screen replacements for their business.

Plus, right to repair advocates saw this as a malicious move by Apple to siphon off potential revenues from independent repair shops so that customers would instead bring their device into an Apple store for a more costly repair. Or, would opt to pay for Apple Care. 

At least with the iPhone 13, it's good to know there are options for customers outside of Apple's network of stores. 

Imad Khan

Imad Khan is news editor at Tom’s Guide, helping direct the day’s breaking coverage. Prior to working at the site, Imad was a full-time freelancer, with bylines at the New York Times, the Washington Post and ESPN. Outside of work, you can find him sitting blankly in front of a Word document trying desperately to write the first pages of a new book.