Tech News

iOS 15.2 Fixes iPhone 13’s Face ID Repair Trap (and Improves Its Repair Score)

iPhone 13 with its screen replaced, warning showing.

We’ve tested it, and it’s true: iOS 15.2 stops Face ID from malfunctioning after you replace the screen on an iPhone 13, outside their official repair channels. 

We can’t really say whether iOS 15.2 “fixes” this issue, or “corrects” it, or “undoes” it, because Apple won’t say whether its imperilment of the phone repair industry was a bug, a design decision, or an experiment. When it announced that Face ID would no longer fail after (non-Apple-sanctioned) screen replacements, it did so with a single non-attributed statement to The Verge about “a software update.” There’s no mention of Face ID function or repairs in the official iOS 15.2 release notes.

Whatever its origin, it only took five days after our report for Apple to acknowledge it was a problem. That’s not a common occurrence with a nearly $3 trillion company. That makes this a quietly huge decimal-point software update. It’s significant enough that we’ve updated our repairability score for the iPhone 13 line, adding a point to make it 6 out of 10, back in line with most recent iPhones. More on that in a bit.

Let’s make some Important Messages

Face ID unlocking an iPhone 13 with a swapped screen (left).

When the public 15.2 release arrived, we grabbed two iPhone 13 Pro Max phones. We set one up as the testing unit, and the other as the parts donor. The testing phone had all original parts, had Face ID set up and working, battery health showing, True Tone working, and full camera function. Then we removed the battery, rear camera, and screen from the testing phone and replaced them with parts from the donor phone. We turned on the testing phone and, right away, we could unlock it with Face ID.

Then the warnings arrive, one after the other: “Important Camera Message,” “Important Battery Message,” “Important Display Message.” There’s an intriguing, if small, discrepancy between the warnings: it cannot “verify” the battery, rather than “determine” the screen or camera, and the concern is a genuine Apple “battery” rather than “part.” Our guess is that the battery warning is older and the copy hasn’t been updated. You can either dismiss the message with “OK” or “Go to Settings for more information.”

Click that “Settings” button, and you see a new section: “More for Your iPhone.” Here is where the “genuine” warnings hang out, along with nudges for you to finish setting up your iPhone. 

Elsewhere, in the “About” section of Settings, you can see the new “Parts and Service History” that details the concerns Apple has about Unknown Parts in your phone. It states that “Apple has updated the device information for this iPhone.” 

On Apple’s website, the remote logging is explicit: “This means that Apple has updated the device information maintained for this iPhone for service needs, safety analysis, and to improve future products.” And: “Information about parts and service history is collected by Apple and stored as part of the device information maintained for your iPhone. This information is used for service needs, safety analysis, and to improve future products.” When you move these major components between iPhones, using Apple tools or otherwise, Apple knows.

As we’ve seen before, in addition to these written warnings, there are real consequences to Apple’s concern. You lose Battery Health information, cluing you into when you should next replace your battery. And True Tone, or automatic display color calibration, is non-functional and missing from your Display & Brightness settings.

iOS settings screen, showing no "repair history" as before.
With original parts back in place, there’s no indication whatsoever that anything happened (at least on your phone).

Our testing iPhone now sufficiently full of Unknowns, we turn it off, open it up, put back all its original parts, and turn it on again. Not only does Face ID work, and Battery Health and True Tone return, but the iPhone no longer has a Parts and Service History at all. The section between the numbers on top and the Songs/Videos/Photos section below is simply gone. Apple, however, says it keeps a record.

What this means for the iPhone 13 repairability score

We first discovered the iPhone 13’s Face ID failures during our teardown of the iPhone 13 Pro. Further testing confirmed that it wasn’t a fluke. It made for a complicated narrative about iPhones and repairability.

Removing the whole upper assembly from an iPhone 12 screen, to be pasted onto a replacement.

The iPhone 13 was, physically, more repairable than the iPhone 12, because the Face ID scanner and front-facing camera components were no longer tied to other screen components. Having to transplant a combination speaker/sensor/scanner module from one screen to another, using heat and gentle prying, was a pain. Moving the Face ID module to a more easily removed bit in the iPhone 13 seemed like a concession to easier screen replacements. The dim future of iPhone repair, seemingly fraught with increasingly serialized lockdowns, had a bright spot.

Until we tried actually replacing that de-coupled screen. Face ID refused to activate or work when we traded screens between any models. It was “A pretty devastating parts compatibility update that further violates your right to repair,” we wrote, which “undermines credibility of third party repair, and reduces critical functionality of the device when repaired without Apple’s proprietary calibration tools.” As such, we gave the iPhone 13 a 5 out of 10 on our repairability index, one point less than the iPhone 12 and most other recent iPhones.

Removing the more simple, single-purpose assembly from an iPhone 13 screen.

Now, with an unmentioned change to some code, we step back from the brink. Had this Face ID problem continued, we would be hard-pressed to recommend anybody replace their own iPhone 13 screen, lest they lose a critical feature and put a big dent in their phone’s resale value. While there’s no broader indication that Apple will cease discouraging third-party repairs, this change has a big impact on how people can fix their own iPhone 13. So we’re adding a point back to the iPhone 13 line’s score, making it a 6 out of 10.

We’ll have to do a similar reassessment when Apple offers parts, manuals, and tools to anyone who wants them for recent iPhones in early 2022. We’ve yet to see official prices or procedures, but this is more than most smartphone companies offer (minus one very notable exception). Even if Apple has strict ideas about what counts as “repair,” allowing anyone to buy parts, manuals, and specialty tools—and presumably access the software needed to prevent an “Important Message” on your phone—are core pieces of the right to repair campaign.

Watch this space. There’s a lot changing inside your iPhone, even if it’s not in the release notes.