Apple told The Verge today that it will release a software update to keep Face ID working after third-party and DIY screen replacements, days after iFixit’s report on the issue and its market impact gained media attention. That’s all we know. Whether Apple was always going to get around to this fix, or was trying out a new stance on dominating repair, we’ll likely never know.
Apple didn’t say when the software update will arrive. The company also declined to explain why Face ID was disabled after screen replacement, when the Face ID flood illuminator is entirely separate from the screen in the iPhone 13. It remains a stunning coincidence that bugs affecting repair outside Apple’s purview—Touch ID and cameras, to name two—are often the most severe, and the slowest to be addressed.
It’s a good day, if media attention and public pushback truly forced Apple’s hand. It might have helped that Google’s newly released Pixel 6 and 6 Pro allow anyone, customers or repair shops, to re-calibrate the fingerprint scanner on their screen after replacing it. It’s hard to argue that only Apple-licensed techs could securely replace a login tool when Google is letting anybody do it in a browser.
This is a tactical achievement for the repair market, but it’s an endless fight until the battlefield changes. Apple—and the many companies it inspires—will advance again with more parts lock-downs, more feature reductions, more reasons why only their profitable repair centers can do this work. Repair shops are still looking at a future that involves more microsoldering, more time, and possibly tighter profit margins, as they compete against a company that can fix its own firmware blocks from the cloud.
This is the kind of thing that keeps us fighting for the right to repair, in the press and everywhere else we can.