Over the years, iPhone screen repairs have become increasingly complex. Early on, it could be a matter of whether or not the part of the casing that slid off was the front or the back. But, as displays became laminated, as biometric security required securely paired hardware components, as wider gamuts necessitated individual color calibration, as 3D Touch meant it had to be calibrated for 3D precisely where you touched, and as more advanced sensors demanded more exacting alignment, a lot more work had to be done to ensure a high quality repair.
So much so, in fact, Apple had hardware devices installed at all retail locations and certified service centers to do the job better and faster than your average human.
Right now, as you're reading this, Apple is in the process of making a change. One as simple and profound as moving previous calibration process from hardware to software.
In a partner communication I managed to get a glance at, Apple is telling its service providers:
Apple is excited to announce that we have optimized iPhone display calibration to support your work in conducting an in store display repair.
Beginning September 17, 3D Touch Calibration Fixtures will no longer be required to complete display repairs for iPhone 6S and later. We have optimized the calibration process using software. This means we can now calibrate a repaired iPhone by simply connecting the device to [redacted] running our calibration and diagnostics, without the need to run it through a separate ﬁxture. This change will create more ﬂexible workspace in many repair rooms. Most importantly it will save time for you and our customers.
By moving the process from hardware to software, it won't just open up space in existing workshops. The reduced time and expense should hopefully open up the process to even more workshops, so that certified repairs with certified parts become available to more people in more places.
Making better iPhones better
The new screen repair process is part of Apple's ongoing initiatives to better protect customers and the environment but making protects that don't just work better but last longer. Everything from iOS 12 working on all iPhones going back to the 5s, to alchemy-ing up stronger forms of aluminum, steel, and glass, to making repairs increasingly easier and more affordable.
This move won't satisfy everyone. "Right to repair" is a complicated, often contentious issue. I'm not talking about the extremes on either side — people who want to get attention or sell you things by telling you everything should be hermetically sealed or, on the opposite end, bloated out to twice the size and weight so you can get in there with their expensive lego. I'm talking about people who simply want to have quality parts available at affordable prices so they can keep their stuff working and keep themselves safe.
It's a step, but it's one of many that still needs to come.
Earlier this week, Apple also announced a permanent reduction in the cost of iPhone battery replacements. Previously, Apple dropped the price from $79 to $29 for anyone affected by performance throttling on several recent models. That runs out at the end of the year. But, from January 1, 2019 and on, that price for out-of-warranty battery replacements will change to $49 for older models and $69 for iPhone X or later.
And lithium-ion batteries, which can be dramatically flammable, really aren't something you want to screw around with.
In the U.S., Apple is also making AppleCare+ available on a monthly payment schedule in addition to the traditional lump sum up front. It's great for people who want the protection but can't afford to pay for all of it at the time of purchase.
Theft and Loss for the digital age
Apple's also expanding AppleCare+ with optional theft and loss protection. It costs more, but it's better than traditional carrier and insurance plans because, if something every happens, there are no police reports to file or hoops to jump through. Thanks to Find my iPhone, which has to be enabled at the time of purchase, Apple knows your phone is gone and that you've removed it from your account and wiped it. That's faster and more convenient than filing reports and waiting for results, for everyone.
I know not everybody thinks it's worth it, but I get AppleCare+ for everything.
Screen repair fireworks
A few years ago I was at a New Years Party when some fireworks misfired. One of them hit me in the chest, singed my jacket, and then fell onto my iPhone and melted the oleophobic coating. Basically turned it into sandpaper. As soon as the Apple Store opened, I took it in. The Genius on duty gave me a short lecture about taking better care of my possessions — despite my protests that it leapt in front of me to heroically save me from explosive injury — and then promptly captured it for the engineers back in Cupertino, who, I'm guessing, hadn't previously included that particular test in their suite.
An iCloud login and half an hour later, I left with a brand new version of what was essentially an identical copy of my phone, with all of my stuff on it, ready and able to get on with my life.
Not everyone has the same of experience I did, and not every time. As Apple scales, it's going to be an ongoing challenge to scale quality and speed of service as well.
But I think steps like moving screen calibration from big, expensive hardware to more widely accessible software is inarguably part of the solution. So is dropping the cost of repairs, seeing to the rapid availability of parts, and expanding protection to new areas where existing services can provide additional support and convenience.
Long repair road ahead
OK, so, yeah, I can already feel some of you getting ready to rage into the comments about how this sounds like an ad for AppleCare. But it's not. It's my considered opinion that most clumsy people like me will benefit from AppleCare in the long run, even if it'll makes the lines slightly longer for me personally, at the same time. You folks are beyond worth it.
But I think everyone will benefit from better and more accessible repairs, in and out of warranty. Both for our personal devices and our shared environment.