Apple Putting Screen-Replacing Robots In Some Best Buy Stores

Image courtesy of Michael Gil

Smartphones are great, sure. But the problem with your modern smartphone is that the outside is made of glass — and humans are, well, kind of klutzes, by and large. So cracked screens happen. A lot. Now, Apple is making it easier for iPhone owners to get their screens properly repaired — but it’s also a tactic to help the company avoid laws requiring them to let you fix your own phone.

In its own stores, Apple uses a specialized, proprietary machine to repair your spiderwebbed screen. Now, as Reuters reports, it’s sharing those machines with certain other stores worldwide.

Here in the U.S., the first authorized third party to get one of these Horizon Machines is Best Buy, which already has one of the screen repair machines at a store in the Miami area and is getting another one soon in California.

The eventual plan is to have Horizon Machines in about 400 third-party locations worldwide by the end of the year, Apple told Reuters. There are also some pilot tests of the repair machines going on in the greater San Francisco area, London, Shanghai, and Singapore.

If you’ve strolled through any mall, strip mall, or city street in the last several years, you may even be wondering why these machines are necessary. After all, we seem to have “Repair 4 U” style kiosks and storefronts popping up all over.

These third-party repair shops are fine for some screen repairs, Apple confirmed to Reuters, but not for all. If your phone’s fingerprint sensor is damaged when the screen is cracked, a replacement from something other than one of Apple’s Horizon Machines can render it inoperable — basically, turn it into a brick.

That’s for security purposes, Reuters says — that way you know that the replacement sensor is actually authorized, and someone’s not trying to break into and access things they shouldn’t on a stolen phone.

But as Reuters also notes, it’s probably not just a desire to shorten waits at the Genius Bar that’s making Apple share its fancy robots at this particular time.

Right now, there are eight separate states — Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, and Wyoming — considering some kind of “right to repair” bill. These laws, basically, want to protect third-party repair shops’ right to keep existing, and consumers’ rights to choose who fixes their stuff.

It’s not just phone companies that use the software embedded in their products to restrict third parties’ ability to repair or tinker with the devices they sell. Phone and electronic device-makers do it, sure, but so do makers of every other kind of machine — even tractors.

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So the measures in these states would require manufacturers to let third-party shops and the general public acquire repair manuals, diagnostic tools, and genuine, authentic replacement parts — at fair prices. That would increase competition, and allow consumers more choice.

Apple, however, is not a fan of these bills. In Nebraska, Apple was among the companies that lobbied against the right to repair bill traveling through the state legislature — and it stalled out shortly thereafter.

Apple tells Reuters that its plan to get Horizon Machines into more locations is unrelated to “legislative pressure.” But legislators tend to want to fix problems that exist, and constituents complain about. If fewer people have to wait in line to get their Phones fixed, that’s probably fewer people who will agitate for more repair options.