Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Apple will approve used parts in iPhone repairs, in long-awaited reversal

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 22: New Apple iPhone 15 models are displayed in the Apple The Grove store on the phone’s worldwide release day on September 22, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. The four new iPhone handsets feature a titanium frame, 48 megapixel main camera, and a USB-C charging cable. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)  (Mario Tama)
By Chris Velazco Washington Post

The next time you need to have your iPhone fixed, you may not have to pay as much to get it working just the way it used to.

Apple told the Washington Post it is easing a key restriction on iPhone repairs. Starting this fall, owners of an iPhone 15 or newer will be able to get their broken devices fixed with used parts – including screens, batteries and cameras – without any change in functionality.

When an iPhone breaks, owners have historically had three options: They can get it repaired using expensive new replacement parts from Apple, aftermarket parts made by third-party suppliers, or used parts pulled from other iPhones. The catch? If you take either of the latter two routes, the parts won’t work exactly the same as the originals.

These limitations have long frustrated repair shops, researchers and consumer advocates who say these practices can scare people away from cheaper, independent fixes.

Apple won’t supply repair shops or technicians with used parts, John Ternus, the company’s senior vice president of hardware engineering, said in an interview. And this shift in policy won’t apply to older versions of the iPhone.

Still, the change could be especially helpful for people who can’t afford Apple Store prices for an out-of-warranty repair, or for those whose most convenient repair option is a local shop.

Apple’s about-face is a big change, one that’s been in the works for years, Ternus said.

In older versions of the iPhone, replacing certain parts with components harvested from other iPhones yields an on-screen warning and a disabling of some features. Swap a screen from one iPhone into another, for example, and the True Tone feature – which makes colors on your screen look more natural – stops working. That would happen even if that replacement screen came from a new iPhone.

That’s because these parts are effectively locked to the device they came with originally – a practice commonly known as “parts pairing.” Historically, the only way to restore full functionality is for an authorized repair person to use new Apple parts that the company has certified through a “system configuration” process.

Going forward, Apple says, that configuration will happen right on the phone and won’t require a repair person to provide a part’s serial number.

The company also announced on Thursday that it is extending its anti-theft Activation Lock feature to the parts inside iPhones. If you get your phone fixed by a less than scrupulous repair outfit that used parts from a stolen iPhone, those parts can’t be configured to work correctly.

Ternus told the Post that Apple engineers from across the country have had to figure out how to change the design of products, their components and the manufacturing process “to enable the use of used parts without compromising.”

Together, these changes will make it a little less tricky – and a little less expensive – to get a busted iPhone running as well as before.

What hasn’t changed, however, is Apple’s approach to aftermarket replacement parts built by other companies. If one of these components – say, a replacement battery or screen – is used to fix an iPhone, the owner will continue to see a warning that the part may not be “genuine” and that related features like True Tone or the battery health readout will not work.

Ternus said Apple “totally believes that third-party parts should be usable in repair” as long as the use of those parts is disclosed to a device’s owner. But the reason those aftermarket parts in iPhones won’t work the same as original parts do, he added, is because Apple doesn’t know how to calibrate them to work as the company intended.

Even so, the company may have no choice but to more fully embrace parts it doesn’t make.

In late March, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek (D) signed into law a right-to-repair bill that includes one strict requirement missing from similar legislation in states like New York, Minnesota and California.

The law, which is set to take effect in January 2025, would prevent device makers like Apple from using parts pairing to deter people and repair shops from using third-party replacement parts.

The law also specifically says that companies can’t use parts-pairing practices to “reduce the functionality or performance of consumer electronic equipment.”

That’s a first for right-to-repair laws in the United States and seemingly requires Apple to ensure that iPhones repaired with aftermarket or third-party replacement parts act identically to ones full of genuine Apple components.

It’s not clear how Apple might approach this requirement on a technical level because it has no control over the companies building their own replacement screens and batteries.

Neither Ternus nor Apple spokespeople commented on what changes may have to be made to abide by Oregon law, but the company said in an earlier statement that the bill’s language “introduces the possibility that Apple would be required to allow unknown, non-secure third-party Face ID or Touch ID modules to unlock” a user’s personal information.

“We will continue to support repair legislation, but strongly believe this bill does not offer the consumer protections Oregonians deserve,” the company said at the time.

Companies that violate the law are subject fines of up to $1,000 per day – a drop in the bucket considering iPhones generated nearly $70 billion in revenue for Apple last quarter. With enforcement set to begin in July 2027, the ball is in Apple’s court to further expand its repair plans, push back or let the fines pile up.