iPhone 13 Screen Replacements Can Break Face ID, a Repair Restriction iFixit Calls 'Completely Unprecedented'

An inability to replace the iPhone 13's display without breaking Face ID could have a major impact on companies that offer iPhone repairs, iFixit said today in an article advocating for Right to Repair laws.

iphone 13 face id display repairs
iFixit first pointed out this repair issue in its iPhone 13 Pro teardown, and has confirmed it with multiple tests. Replacing the display of the ‌iPhone 13‌ renders ‌Face ID‌ non-functional, so at-home repairs are not an option. Swapping an ‌iPhone 13‌'s display with a display from a new ‌iPhone 13‌ results in an error message that says "Unable to activate ‌Face ID‌ on this ‌iPhone‌."

An ‌iPhone‌ display repair, which could previously be done with hand-held tools, now requires a microscope and microsoldering tools or access to Apple's Independent Repair Provider Program, which repair shops have criticized for its "draconian" contracts and requirements.

At issue is a small microcontroller that pairs the ‌iPhone 13‌ to its display. Apple does not have a tool that allows ‌iPhone‌ owners or repair shops not affiliated with Apple to pair a new screen to an ‌iPhone 13‌. Authorized technicians who do work with Apple need to use Apple Services Toolkit 2 to log a repair to Apple's cloud services, thereby syncing the serial numbers of the ‌iPhone‌ and the display.

Some repair shops have found a workaround, but it is difficult and work intensive. A soldered chip must be moved from the original screen to the replacement, which iFixit says is "completely unprecedented" as screen repair is "incredibly common" and accounts for a good amount of the revenue that independent repair shops bring in.

iFixit says that Apple's decision to disable ‌Face ID‌ with a screen repair could cause small repair outlets to shut down, spend thousands on new equipment, or lose out on Apple repairs. The site also does not believe that the ‌Face ID‌ repair issue is an accident, as Apple has previously introduced similar repair restrictions for Touch ID, True Tone functionality with display repairs, and iPhone 12 cameras.

Technically, yes: Face ID failure could be a very specific hardware bug for one of the most commonly replaced components, one that somehow made it through testing, didn't get fixed in a major software update, and just happens to lock out the kind of independent repair from which the company doesn't profit.

More likely, though, is that this is a strategy, not an oversight. This situation makes AppleCare all but required for newer iPhones, unless you happen to know that your local repair shop is ready for the challenge. Or you simply plan to never drop your phone.

Other independent repair shops that iFixit spoke to believe that Apple has implemented this change in an effort to "thwart a customer's ability to repair," directing ‌iPhone‌ owners to Apple retail locations or Apple Authorized Service Providers for help with their displays.

With the ‌iPhone 12‌, camera repairs initially required Apple's proprietary system configuration tool to function properly, and cameras that were replaced were non-functional. Apple addressed this issue with an update that notifies customers that the camera in their device might not be genuine, but doesn't disable it entirely. Apple could do something similar for ‌Face ID‌ in a future update, but it's not clear yet if that will happen.

Customers with an ‌iPhone 13‌ would be best served by visiting an Apple Authorized Service Provider or an Apple Store for any kind of repair due to the difficulty of display replacements and the potential for ‌Face ID‌ failure. Without AppleCare+, display repairs are expensive, priced between $229 to $329 for Apple's ‌iPhone 13‌ models.

Related Roundups: iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro
Tag: iFixit
Related Forum: iPhone

Top Rated Comments

dba415 Avatar
12 months ago
Apple screwing over everyone in order to make more money, then coming up with disingenuous arguments that people on here will defend.

Rinse and repeat.
Score: 98 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mannyvel Avatar
12 months ago
No, Apple did this so you can't spoof FaceID.

Apple doesn't give a **** about third-party repair services, they care about ensuring the security of their devices.
Score: 41 Votes (Like | Disagree)
LogicalApex Avatar
12 months ago
I get their reasoning for FaceID being something that isn’t easy to tamper with since it is used to secure payments for cards in the Wallet app.

But they should still have the camera/Face ID module be seperated from the screen so it can be replaced independently allowing third party shops teh ability to repair the screen, but not the Face ID unit itself.

This is definitely going to cause a lot of pain for third party shops and users who skip Apple Care+.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
CubeHacker Avatar
12 months ago
Not surprised at all. Apple only looks out for Apple. Specifically, their own full pockets.
Score: 29 Votes (Like | Disagree)
SamRyouji Avatar
12 months ago
I get it. Doing this could heavily impact any independent repair shops from the smallest to the largest.

But it's a double-edged sword:
At most countries, iPhone thefts are so problematic. Why? Even though we iPhone users could lock our iPhones and render it unusable, those thieves could still rip them apart and sell those parts to independent repair shops. By making this simple and oh-so-common screen replacement process near-impossible, Apple further make iPhone not as sexy and profitable to thieves compared to other phones.

At the end of the day, this positive effect make me support Apple's decision. You may disagree with me though, it's called "agree to disagree" a.k.a democracy. :)
Score: 25 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheYayAreaLiving ? Avatar
12 months ago
There goes the hope for local independent shops. Apple just wants consumers to go directly to Apple retail locations or Apple Authorized Service Providers.

It’s simple as that.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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