With much of the tech world's attention on the WWDC event Monday, some of today's most important Apple news wasn't even announced by the company: Apple has quietly begun making its mysterious "iPhone calibration machine" available to select third party repair companies, meaning the company won't completely cut independent repair companies out of the market once the new iPhone is released.
As I've reported previously, the machine looks kind of like a mix between a 3D printer and a toaster, and it's used behind the scenes at every Apple store. The machine's purpose is allow for the replacement of iPhone home buttons, which are locked down to the device they originally shipped with. This makes iPhone screen replacement difficult for third parties, because the original home button needs to be swapped from the original device in order for Touch ID to work.
In practice, this means Apple has long had a monopoly on iPhone repairs that require home button replacement. More concerningly, it's rumored that Apple will embed Touch ID into the screen of the upcoming iPhone, which would make all screen replacements impossible without recalibration.
So it's good news, then, that Apple has sent the proprietary calibration machines to three "Authorized Service Providers" around the United States. Georgia Rittenberg, president of Santa Clara, California's ComputerCare repair shop, says her company is piloting the device and is unsure if or when more calibration machines will be made available to other repair shops.
According to Rittenberg, customers were getting fed up with having to wait for Apple Store appointments for screen replacements.
According to Rittenberg and owners of other authorized repair companies I've talked to, without the calibration machine, Apple-approved repair companies are required to collect the phones and send them out for repair offsite, which sometimes takes several days.
"Apple had wanted to identify some key partners to help alleviate some of the influx into the Apple Stores," she told me. "Previously, we were unable to do any glass repairs in house. All of the glass had to be repaired either at an Apple facility or at their warehouses."
This is a good step forward for Apple, which has traditionally tried to keep as much of its repair business in house as possible. It's a good sign that Apple won't completely cut independent repair companies out of the repair market as Touch ID software allows Apple to more tightly control who works on iPhones. But let's hope that Apple will make the machine available to more of its "authorized" repair providers and to truly independent companies as well.
So far, details on if that will ever happen are much harder to come by. Rittenberg could not tell me if the program will be expanded: "I asked, and I think at this point they're looking at getting the pilot to be successful," she said. She was also unable to tell me if her company is renting, leasing, or purchased the machine, and could not tell me whether Apple provided the machine free of charge or for a fee.