Raise your hand if your iPhone screen is cracked. (Oh, you, too?) iPhones have gotten sleeker, faster, and smarter over the years, but their screens have remained fragile as ever. Until now, repair options were limited to in-store appointments with lengthy waits, shipping devices off to an Apple Repair Center, or visiting a third-party repair provider (likely located inside a mall kiosk). But as Reuters reports, Apple plans to make the mending process easier for customers by installing its special iPhone screen-fixing machines in around 400 third-party locations worldwide. They’re expected to roll out by the end of 2017.
To fix phones with shattered screens, Apple uses a special, microwave-sized machine called the Horizon Machine. Unlike other repair mechanisms, Horizon can detect damage to sensors (like the fingerprint sensor) and replace them as needed. But until now, Horizon was a closely guarded trade secret, and it wasn’t used at third-party locations.
Apple reps first defended the company's decision to restrict Horizon’s use to its own retail stores and mail-in repair centers, saying they wanted to protect their proprietary software and ensure quality repairs. However, they’ve evidently changed their minds, citing long wait times at Apple stores and the desire "to expand our reach," according to Reuters.
Outside pressure may have also played a part, as eight states have introduced "right-to-repair" bills that would require manufacturers to sell affordable repair manuals, diagnostic tools, and replacement parts. This way, smaller repair shops could make high-quality repairs for lower costs. (According to Apple, iPhone owners can get their devices fixed at unauthorized stores without voiding their warranties, so long as they aren't damaged in the process.) Apple denies that these bills swayed their decision.
Horizon has been piloted at third-party stores in the Bay Area, London, Shanghai, and Singapore, and at Best Buy locations in Miami and Minneapolis. Over the next few months, 200 authorized Apple service providers will also get their very own Horizon machines, with this number doubling by year’s end.