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Apple potentially taking all repairs inhouse

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Apple’s secret iPhone calibration machine and its Touch ID sensor will allow it to monopolize the repair industry. Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the next iPhone will have some significant changes. The report notes that the next iPhone will not have a home button and will instead be made of a single piece of glass, a long-rumored and seemingly inconsequential move that is in fact central to an ongoing and hugely important legislative struggle between America’s largest company and thousands of independent smartphone repair shops. Moving the Touch ID fingerprint-reading sensor from the home button into the screen itself will have the side effect of giving Apple a straightforward path to monopolizing screen repair. The move could give Apple unprecedented control over the ownership and repairability of your phone, which means that in the very near future, it’s possible that the only company that will be able to do a simple iPhone screen replacement will be Apple itself. If the Wall Street Journal report is true (similar things have been reported by Bloomberg  and featureless, buttonless fingerprint-reading technology has been patented by Apple), the development could hurt thousands of independent smartphone repair companies around the United States, and it threatens the very concept of phone ownership. The move would combine the only part of the iPhone that can currently only be replaced by Apple (the Touch ID sensor) and the most often broken part of the iPhone (the screen) into one part. The removal of the home button would be an instant death blow to many of the roughly 15,000 independent smartphone repair companies in the United States, most of which are small businesses that work primarily on iPhones and specialize in screen replacement. A few caveats before we get to the meat of the matter: Even if Apple decides to not get rid of the home button in the next iPhone, the way the company currently handles Touch ID replaceability is still central to the ongoing right-to-repair legislation currently being considered in eight states; this matters, even if Apple kicks the redesign further into the future. This is because the only part of the iPhone that has a software lock preventing repair, and Apple’s lobbying against this legislation has been focused on protecting that software lock. It is also entirely possible that Apple makes Touch ID easier to repair with the next iPhone by redesigning its software; this would be a good result. How independent iPhone screen repair works todayIf you crack the screen of your iPhone and take it to a third-party repair company, a technician can swap your broken screen for a new one. This screen may have been salvaged from another phone, or it might be an aftermarket part bought from any number of factories in China. These aftermarket parts are of varying quality—some are as good as Apple’s original parts, others are less good. Regardless of the quality of the part, however, the repair tech never replaces the actual Touch ID button. Instead, they will swap it from your old screen onto your new one. The Touch ID sensor is paired with the “Secure Enclave” chip inside of the phone, which you may remember from the Apple vs. FBI encryption debate from last year. The Secure Enclave stores your fingerprint data, passcode, and other cryptographic information using a built-in random number generator. The security features that have to do with preventing repair, it should be noted, have nothing to do with the overall encryption of data on the iPhone. For the purposes of this article, accessing the data stored within the Secure Enclave is functionally impossible without entering your passcode to unlock the phone.