Apple is moving to install its proprietary iPhone screen-repair machines inside some 400 partner retail store locations around the world as it works to reduce repair delays for customers and also eyes legislation that takes aim at device manufacturers that make their products too difficult to fix.
The distribution of the special screen-repair equipment, called Horizon Machines, was revealed in a June 7 story by Reuters, which reported that unnamed people within the company said Apple is working on getting the machines installed by the end of 2017 inside stores such as Best Buy. They will be installed in 25 countries. Previously, Apple has only allowed the repair machines to be installed inside official Apple Stores, according to the report.
Apple aims to install about 200 of the Horizon Machines inside partner locations within the next few months, with the remainder being installed through the rest of the year, the story reported. Best Buy apparently already has one of the screen-repair machines inside a store in Miami, with another one expected to be installed soon in a store in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Apple’s move to install the 400 proprietary Horizon Machines in non-Apple stores is intriguing because the company has in the past restricted their use outside of some 500 official Apple Stores and mail-in repair centers, the story reported. Until now, Apple had not publicly acknowledged that such a machine even existed.
In the midst of the strategy change, however, Apple denied the move is due to efforts in some eight U.S. states to launch “right to repair” bills that aim to make it easier for consumers to get broken devices fixed by third-party vendors, rather than through more restrictive processes from device makers.
“We’ve been on a quest to expand our reach,” as repair waiting times have grown longer across the company’s stores, Brian Naumann, senior director of service operations at Apple, told Reuters.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment by eWEEK.
Screen repairs on iPhones and other devices can often be done by many other third-party repair providers, but Apple’s machine is the only one that can apparently be used when repairs involve the phone’s proprietary fingerprint sensor, due to security protocols for the devices.
Several IT analysts interviewed about the pending Horizon Machine installations told eWEEK that the idea is a good move for the company.
“The key is that these machines allow [repair technicians] to do screen repairs well,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst with research firm GlobalData. “You can do it manually, but it’s hard to be as precise as this machine will allow.”
Greengart said he believes Apple’s ultimate motivation here is to reduce waiting times for customers whose iPhones are in long repair queues. “I think that’s the main driver here. Wait times have increased. This lets them tap into a larger network that can solve this problem.”
Jan Dawson, principal analyst with Jackdaw Research, said he agrees that Apple’s expanded use of the Horizon Machines doesn’t imply a direct response to the right to repair bills that are appearing, especially since certain repairs can’t be done by third-party vendors due to the proprietary fingerprint sensors.
“But I do think that Apple is clearly aware of the risks involved here and wants to broaden access to its screen repair technology, which could help neutralize some of those calls” for legislation, he said. “I still think the right to repair push around Apple devices tends to ignore the security implications of messing with the Touch ID sensor—I haven’t seen any proponents of those laws explain how they would deal with that situation.”
Bill Menezes, an analyst with Gartner, said Apple’s move could also be “tacit recognition that people are holding onto their phones longer instead of paying extra to buy into a carrier’s early upgrade program.” With buyers spending upward of $800 for new phones nowadays, “if things like the battery and software continue working great, there’s probably more interest in holding onto it if the only problem is a spidered screen,” he said.
The spread of the official Horizon Machines could hurt third-party vendors, though, if phone owners choose to pass up those shops for repairs made using Apple equipment, he said. “It could bring in more customers who are leery of using the smaller repair chains or the no-name mall kiosk repair outfits,” said Menezes. “People may be willing to pay a bit of a premium for the comfort level of going with a big brand name store.”
Another analyst, Charles King of Pund-IT, told eWEEK that the new strategy will create new revenue streams for Apple and its partner stores where the machines will be installed. “The company will also argue that the move will ensure that customers will enjoy higher quality repairs as a result, though it’s also likely that Apple-sanctioned screen replacements will cost more—perhaps considerably more—than they would through independent shops.”
For many consumers, though, this will be a disappointing development, added King. “It’s analogous to automakers insisting that repairs be performed by dealership’s service departments,” rather than through cheaper independent repair shops. “It’s also part of a deeper game among product vendors to push unauthorized third parties out of their product ecosystems.”