A lot of people buy iPhones, and there are just a few models of iPhones (relative to, say, Android phones). That’s good for repair: an iPhone with a busted board might still have a working camera, display, speaker, and much more that can be harvested for repairs.
Unless Apple goes out of its way to stop you from swapping parts between iPhones. Which, increasingly, they do.
So we’ve gotten in the habit the last few years of testing which parts you can swap between iPhones. We test between the same models (iPhone 13 to iPhone 13, 13 Pro to 13 Pro) and across the “Vanilla”/“Pro” divide (iPhone 13 to iPhone 13 Pro). We’ve previously tested the iPhone 11 and the second-generation iPhone SE against the iPhone 8 (its almost identical predecessor).
Last year we tested the iPhone 12, which shipped with a rear camera that could not be swapped, while Apple provided documents to its techs suggesting that was intentional. Later software updates made the cameras work, but added a warning about a non-“genuine” camera inside.
Now that we’ve torn down an iPhone 13 Pro, we’re facing yet another early-days parts-swapping conundrum. As of this post’s publishing, replacing the screen on your iPhone 13 disables Face ID entirely. This could change, or it could be a turning point in Apple’s campaign to lock out repair outside its purview.
In the meantime, we kept picking up iPhone 13 parts and putting them in other 13 units. To set expectations: unlike the 12 series, there are far fewer similarities between the “Pro” and “Vanilla” models of the 13 line, so what we’re hoping for is portability inside the same models. Here’s what we can report back:
- Vanilla/Pro swaps: No (connectors are incompatible)
- Same-model swaps: Yes, but without Face ID, True Tone, or auto brightness, and with a “genuine” warning
As noted in our teardown, the 13 series adds a new downside to DIY or independent repair shop display fixes (and cost the phone one point in our repair score): Face ID no longer works. A repair tech friend reports that Apple’s support told them that this will be fixed in a future iOS software update. It seems an odd coincidence that a parts-pairing bug would happen to be the one that didn’t get fixed before launch, for two major iPhone releases in a row.
If this problem sticks, it’s the most concerning sign yet of Apple’s intent to bring all repair under its authorized-only roof. Apple took away battery health and statistics for all batteries installed without Apple’s in-house software tools, but the battery still worked. Giving iPhone owners a choice between a replacement screen for which Apple sets the price, and a third-party screen (even a genuine screen harvested from other phones) that disables numerous features, including your ability to avoid typing in a passcode with every phone unlock? That’s something else, and it’s something worth fighting over.
- Vanilla/Pro swaps: No, physically impossible (size/shape)
- Same-model swaps: Yes, but “genuine” warning and no battery health or performance options.
As has become the new normal, any battery installed in an iPhone without the use of Apple’s repair software is seen as not “genuine.” It displays a warning that starts on the lock screen, then migrates to the Settings app. And it removes your ability to see your battery health, a useful marker for when you need to replace. It’s not great, Bob. But at least you can get juice out of the thing.
- Vanilla/Pro swaps: Boots, but no function
- Same-model swaps: Yes, but “genuine” warning present
This is how Apple wanted a swapped camera to function: working, but with a warning. It’s nearly ridiculous, as there are almost no third-party iPhone cameras (we’ve looked). Any camera you install in an iPhone was made by Apple; the “genuine” issue is that Apple didn’t see any repair revenue from your swap.
Selfie camera and sensors
- Vanilla/Pro swaps: Physically impossible
- Same-model swaps: Yes on Vanilla and Pro, but without Face ID (explicit warning)
Beyond the issues we found with selfie camera replacements, Hugh Jeffreys found other things that can possibly go wrong in this swap, especially after a few tries. We’re keeping an eye on this as future software updates are released.
Earpiece speaker, main speaker, Taptic Engine
- Vanilla/Pro swaps: Physically impossible
- Same-model swaps: Verified yes for main speaker and Taptic; most likely yes for earpiece.
SIM tray and reader
- Vanilla/Pro swaps: Yes for tray, No for reader
- Same-model swaps: For Pro models: Yes for tray, No for reader; iPhone 13 vanilla readers can be swapped.
You can remove the metal tray that holds a SIM card in place and move it between any iPhone 13 model. But the pins that read the contacts on a SIM card are now built directly onto the logic board on the Pro models. If that goes, you’re out of luck (unless you can use an eSIM). The standard iPhone 13 SIM reader remains a modular part held on by a press connector.
Not yet tested: wireless charging, Lightning assembly, logic board, LiDAR
We’ll have updates on at least some of these parts as we compile repair guides for the iPhone 13, mini, Pro, and Pro Max. For now, godspeed fixers, the waters are getting choppy. Maybe we can do something about that?
apple is monopolizing everything. i wish that the government would do something about this…
rhaneem2 - Reply
Hudson Green - Reply
Come on Apple get on the page.
It is this kind of mindset that is slowly destroying our, so far, habitable planet.
Do no Apple executives have children or grandchildren? If they do, do they not care about their future?
I am very puzzled. Seems like very irrational behaviour.
mike - Reply
Not defending Apple on the FaceID-screen replacement thing (because screens should NOT affect FaceID). It’s worth mentioning that it would be a lot more scary if we replaced the FaceID module with one from another phone and it worked. Replacing hardware from an entirely different phone breaks thes associations between the various hardware security elements - which were established at the factory, under strict security controls.
Michael Kadonoff - Reply
I as a customer and not a repairman, have to say I applaud Apples thinking and hope it goes on to every single part under the hood. When I pay $1,200.00 and need that phone repaired, I DO NOT WANT Chinese knock off parts, nor do I want per this article, “harvested” parts from someone else’s phone. I don’t want ANYONE to have the ability to do that to these fantastic flagship devices. Apple gives you a REASONABLE solution to all this, join there repair network. You ought to be trained by Apple anyways. What about Patents? If a part or piece is fully patented then no one else can reproduce it. People don’t jump up and down and pitch fits over patented items because they should be able to copy it too.. Apple designs and produces these fantastic devices and have every right to decide not to all the brand to be tarnished with untrained and junk brand parts. I am glad to know if my 13 pro max needs repaired, that it will tell me if someone without the proper programs and authorization has been bungling about…..
Nicholas Cross - Reply