Apple to Roll Out ‘Horizon’ iPhone Screen-Repair Machines

One of the concerns people expressed way back when the first iPhone launched was, “Aren’t glass phones going to break?” Well, yeah they are. In fact, Apple has been making a surprising amount of cash repairing broken iPhone screens over the years. It hasn’t exactly made it easy for third-party repair centers to replace the screens themselves, but that’s about to change. Apple is set to deploy its proprietary iPhone-fixing “Horizon” machine in more than 400 third-party repair centers across the world.

Apple reportedly took in $ 1-2 billion fixing broken iPhone screens last year. If Apple fixes your screen, the warranty remains intact. However, take that busted phone to a third-party, and you’re more than likely going to void the warranty. A number of states have taken aim at restrictive rules about repairing devices with so-called Right-to-Repair bills. Apple says its decision to roll out the Horizon device is not related to these bills, but of course it would say that.

Apple has refused to even confirm the Horizon machine existed until now. Previously, Horizon devices were only found in Apple’s retail stores and mail-in repair centers. Even with this new program, the hardware will not be available widely. Apple is starting its Horizon rollout by putting machines in 200 of the company’s 4,800+ authorized repair centers. It aims to get that number up to 400 by the end of 2017. Select Best Buy stores will be among the first to get their own Horizon hardware, but some smaller shops got a Horizon last year as part of a secret test.

Credit: Reuters/Stephen Lams

Reuters was given a chance to examine the device in real life, describing it as a gray box about the size of a microwave. Technicians begin by removing the broken screen, which may be in multiple pieces. A new screen is mounted by hand, but that’s only the start of the process. The iPhone is then mounted inside the Horizon machine, where special Apple software communicates with the hardware for 10 to 12 minutes. This step registers the new fingerprint sensor with the phone. For security reasons, only Apple can associate a new sensor with a phone.

After the hardware is active, the Horizon machine uses a mechanical finger to poke the display in various places. Touch input accuracy is verified by the machine to make certain the new display is working correctly. Horizon also calibrates the display to match the original. The result is a perfect repair and no voided warranty. Owners will still have to put up with spotty repair quality until the machines to do this are more widely available.

Image credit, top: Reuters/Stephen Lams

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