Ap­ple re­pairs to be done at 400 third-party cen­tres by year’s end

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Stephen Nel­lis

HEY SIRI, where can I get my cracked iPhone screen fixed? Ap­ple cus­tomers will soon have more choices as the com­pany looks to re­duce long wait times for iPhone re­pairs at its retail stores.

By the end of 2017, Ap­ple will put its pro­pri­etary ma­chines for mend­ing cracked iPhone glass in about 400 au­tho­rised third-party re­pair cen­tres in 25 coun­tries, com­pany ex­ec­u­tives said.

Among the first re­cip­i­ents is Min­neapo­lis-based Best Buy, which has long sold and ser­viced Ap­ple prod­ucts. The elec­tron­ics re­tailer al­ready has one of the screen-re­pair ma­chines at a Mi­ami-area store and one com­ing soon to an out­let in Sun­ny­vale, Cal­i­for­nia.

Fix­ing cracked screens may seem like small po­ta­toes, but it’s a multi-bil­lion-dol­lar global busi­ness. The move is also a ma­jor shift for Ap­ple. The com­pany had pre­vi­ously re­stricted use of its so-called Hori­zon Ma­chine to its nearly 500 retail stores and mail-in re­pair cen­tres; and it has guarded its de­sign closely.

The change also comes as eight US states have launched “right to re­pair” bills aimed at pry­ing open the tightly con­trolled re­pair net­works of Ap­ple and other high-tech man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Ap­ple said leg­isla­tive pressure was not a fac­tor in its de­ci­sion to share its tech­nol­ogy. It al­lowed Reuters to view and pho­to­graph the ma­chines in ac­tion at a lab near its Cu­per­tino, Cal­i­for­nia head­quar­ters. Un­til now, Ap­ple had never for­mally ac­knowl­edged the Hori­zon Ma­chine’s ex­is­tence.

Ex­pand the reach

The ini­tial roll­out aims to put ma­chines in 200, or about 4 per­cent, of Ap­ple’s 4 800 au­tho­rised ser­vice providers world­wide over the next few months. The com­pany plans to dou­ble that fig­ure by the end of the year.

“We’ve been on a quest to ex­pand our reach,” said Brian Nau­mann, se­nior di­rec­tor of ser­vice op­er­a­tions at Ap­ple. He said re­pair wait times have grown at some of the com­pany’s busiest retail stores.

Pilot test­ing started a year ago. In ad­di­tion to Mi­ami, a few ma­chines al­ready are op­er­at­ing at third-party re­pair cen­ters in the Bay Area, Lon­don, Shanghai and Sin­ga­pore. Shops in some coun­tries where Ap­ple has no retail pres­ence will also be early re­cip­i­ents, in­clud­ing lo­ca­tions in Colom­bia, Norway and South Korea. Ap­ple would not say how much its part­ners are pay­ing for the equip­ment.

To be sure, any mall re­pair kiosk can re­place a cracked iPhone screen. Ap­ple says its cus­tomers can get their de­vices fixed at non-au­tho­rised shops with­out void­ing their war­ranties as long as the tech­ni­cian caused no da­m­age.

But the Hori­zon Ma­chine is needed to rem­edy the trick­i­est mishaps, such as when the fin­ger­print sen­sor at­tached to the back of the glass gets dam­aged when a phone is dropped.

For se­cu­rity, only Ap­ple’s fix-it ma­chine can tell the iPhone’s pro­ces­sor, its sil­i­con brain, to recog­nise a re­place­ment sen­sor. With­out it, the iPhone won’t un­lock with the touch of a fin­ger. Bank­ing apps that re­quire a fin­ger­print won’t work ei­ther, in­clud­ing the Ap­ple Pay dig­i­tal wal­let.

Ap­ple has sold more than 1 bil­lion iPhones world­wide, many to cus­tomers who don’t live near an Ap­ple Store or an au­tho­rised third-party re­pair cen­tre. For fixes, many have turned to mom-and-pop shops and in­de­pen­dent tech­ni­cians that now dom­i­nate the trade. Re­search firm IbisWorld es­ti­mates the global cell phone re­pair busi­ness gen­er­ates about $4 bil­lion (R51.06bn) in rev­enue per year.

Many of these en­trepreneurs do good work. Some don’t. All use copy­cat parts, be­cause Ap­ple, like other ma­jor man­u­fac­tur­ers, doesn’t sup­ply orig­i­nal parts or re­pair man­u­als to any­one but au­tho­rised ser­vice part­ners.

Big com­pa­nies de­fend this ar­range­ment as the only way they can guar­an­tee high-qual­ity re­pair work and keep hack­ers away from the pro­pri­etary soft­ware that makes their prod­ucts tick. Con­sumer ad­vo­cates, how­ever, say their aim is to wring out­sized prof­its from re­pairs. In­de­pen­dent tech­ni­cians of­ten charge less than the cost of a fac­tory fix.


En­ter right-to-re­pair bills. New York, Mas­sachusetts, Ten­nessee, Illi­nois, Min­ne­sota, Ne­braska, Kansas and Wy­oming have in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion look­ing to aid small shops and do-it-your­self tin­ker­ers.

These pro­posed mea­sures would re­quire man­u­fac­tur­ers to sup­ply re­pair man­u­als, di­ag­nos­tic tools and au­then­tic re­place­ment parts at fair prices to in­de­pen­dent tech­ni­cians and the gen­eral pub­lic.

Ap­ple, heavy equip­ment man­u­fac­turer Cater­pil­lar and med­i­cal de­vice maker Medtronic have lob­bied against New York’s bill. – Reuters


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx A tech­ni­cian in­stalls a screw in­side an Ap­ple iPhone at Ap­ple’s dis­play re­pair lab­o­ra­tory in Sun­ny­vale, Cal­i­for­nia.

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