By the end of 2017, Apple will to put its proprietary machines for mending cracked iPhone glass in about 400 authorized third-party repair centers in 25 countries, company executives told Reuters.
Among the first recipients is Minneapolis-based Best Buy, which has long sold and serviced Apple products. The electronics retailer already has one of the screen-repair machines at a Miami-area store and one coming soon to an outlet in Sunnyvale, California.
Fixing cracked screens may seem like small potatoes, but it's a multi-billion-dollar global business. The move is also a major shift for Apple. The company had previously restricted use of its so-called Horizon Machine to its nearly 500 retail stores and mail-in repair centers; and it has guarded its design closely.
The change also comes as eight U.S. states have launched "right to repair" bills aimed at prying open the tightly controlled repair networks of Apple and other high-tech manufacturers.
Apple said legislative pressure was not a factor in its decision to share its technology. It allowed Reuters to view and photograph the machines in action at a lab near its Cupertino, California headquarters. Until now, Apple had never formally acknowledged the Horizon Machine's existence.
The initial rollout aims to put machines in 200, or about 4 percent, of Apple's 4,800 authorized service providers worldwide over the next few months. The company plans to double that figure by the end of the year.
"We've been on a quest to expand our reach," said Brian Naumann, senior director of service operations at Apple. He said repair wait times have grown at some of the company's busiest retail stores.
Pilot testing started a year ago. In addition to Miami, a few machines already are operating at third-party repair centers in the Bay Area, London, Shanghai and Singapore. Shops in some countries where Apple has no retail presence will also be early recipients, including locations in Colombia, Norway and South Korea. Apple would not say how much its partners are paying for the equipment.
To be sure, any mall repair kiosk can replace a cracked iPhone screen. Apple says its customers can get their devices fixed at non-authorized shops without voiding their warranties as long as the technician caused no damage.
But the Horizon Machine is needed to remedy the trickiest mishaps, such as when the fingerprint sensor attached to the back of the glass gets damaged when a phone is dropped.
For security, only Apple's fix-it machine can tell the iPhone's processor, its silicon brain, to recognize a replacement sensor. Without it, the iPhone won't unlock with the touch of a finger. Banking apps that require a fingerprint won't work either, including the Apple Pay digital wallet.
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