Apple has never been friendly to user repairs, but the company has opened a new front in its efforts to convince customers to only pay Apple to fix their own devices. Last month, we discussed how the company has changed its battery health messaging in an attempt to scare users into only using Apple-authorized repair services. Now the company has introduced similar messaging around displays. Screen and battery replacements are two of the most common smartphone repairs and Apple is targeting both. Thus far, the company has only announced this ‘feature’ for the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max.
This warning supposedly persists for four days and then moves to the Settings menu. After 15 more days, it’ll be moved to Settings -> General -> About, which means you only have to put up with Apple annoying you about non-genuine screens for the better part of a month before the company will deign to allow you to use your device in the manner you chose without nagging you about it.
According to Apple’s support site, the use of a non-authorized service could result in phone damage, overheating, and injury. Your multi-touch functionality might not work properly. True Tone might not function correctly. The ambient light sensor might not work. The display might be incorrectly calibrated or the brightness might not be uniform.
Apple’s documentation further implies that your device will be permanently flagged as having undergone a non-authorized Apple repair. The text states: “You might see an additional notification that says, ‘Apple has updated the device information for this iPhone.” This means that Apple has updated the device information maintained for your iPhone for service needs, safety analysis, and to improve future products.”
iFixit reports that they tested this behavior by swapping out the displays on several iPhone 11 models. The warnings weren’t present in iOS 13 betas or the final version of iOS 13 that shipped with the iPhone 11, but it’s baked into the iPhone 13.1 iOS version that’s now being distributed. Of course, Apple hasn’t actually baked anything into the device that can detect whether an authorized screen has been used. iFixit still saw the same message when swapping iPhone 11 displays with other, 100 percent legitimate, Apple-manufactured iPhone displays. The problem is, without the software tools required to authorize the repair, the message is still shown. Even swapping the FaceID hardware along with the display doesn’t make the message go away.
Apple recently announced that it was going to begin opening up its process for authorizing more repair shops to become Apple-authorized resellers, but in the past, the repair programs Apple created for third-party shops did a remarkably poor job of actually providing useful service. Firms who signed up under these rules were almost always required to ship products back to Apple for repair rather than performing the work themselves. The company still maintains that it can forbid any firm from performing Apple repairs for any reason and that completing all of its required coursework and certifications does not mean that a business will be allowed to qualify as an Apple-authorized repair center.
Screen Quality Can Vary, But This Isn’t an Answer
Apple loves to talk about how these restrictions are in place to protect customers, but what they mostly protect is Apple’s bottom line. There’s no hardware-level check being performed to make sure that a display meets objective quality control concerns here and no way for a phone to independently know if it’s outfitted with Apple-approved hardware. If there were, swapping both the screen and FaceID hardware from one iPhone 11 into another iPhone 11 would work.
It’s absolutely true that a cheap third-party shop might use a low-quality screen to repair a smartphone, resulting in a poorer customer experience, but this solution does nothing to prevent that problem. This is the essence of what it means to inject FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) into a topic. Apple knows that a healthy chunk of its customer base is unhappy about the high cost of repairing devices and the associated price of AppleCare+. They know that declaring “We wall off our repairs to make money” isn’t going to play well. So they play the “This screen isn’t genuine” card, hoping that customers will assume that being non-genuine is the same as being bad. Apple never comes right out and says “Your third-party display definitely won’t work as well.” They use weasel words like “might not,” and “could.” They say: “Repairs that don’t properly replace screws or cowlings might leave behind loose parts that could damage the battery, cause overheating, or result in injury.”
To this, we would add: “And building large phones without appropriate internal framing will cause them to catastrophically fail a few years after purchase due to high bending stress.” Except, oh wait. Apple did that. And Apple knew what it had done before it launched the iPhone 6 but gaslit its own customer base about the reality of the problem. Someone please remind me again why I’m supposed to trust the company when it comes to messaging on issues like this. What kind of damage is caused internally when IC solder joints break due to stress fracturing caused by removing important parts of the phone? What’s the risk of damage, overheating, or injury then?
The implication of this statement is that a third-party shop is more likely to make this kind of mistake than an Apple-certified repair center. And that’s the whole point of FUD. At this point, it looks as though Apple’s move to widen the pool of companies that can repair its devices is mostly about convincing customers that they can only use Apple-approved sources while giving lip service to the idea of expanded repair access.