Inside the iPhone Repair Ecosystem: Where Do Replacement Parts Come From and Can You Trust Them?

Discussion in ' News Discussion' started by MacRumors, Aug 14, 2018.

  1. MacRumors, Aug 14, 2018
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 14, 2018

    MacRumors macrumors bot


    Apr 12, 2001

    There's a thriving market for unofficial, aftermarket iPhone parts, and in China, there are entire massive factories that are dedicated to producing these components for repair shops unable to get ahold of parts that have been produced by Apple.

    The entire Apple device repair ecosystem is fascinating, complex, and oftentimes confusing to consumers given the disconnect between Apple, Apple Authorized Service Providers, third-party factories, and independent repair shops, so we thought we'd delve into the complicated world of Apple repairs.

    The Aftermarket Factories

    Our exploration of the repair ecosystem was inspired by a video sent to us by a trusted source that MacRumors has worked with in the past, who captured footage inside one of the many facilities in China that are dedicated to creating aftermarket iPhone parts.

    This is a small scale operation where workers appear to be creating an aftermarket touch screen digitizer for the iPhone, a thin plastic component that attaches to the LCD through a flex cable and allows physical touch on the screen to be transformed into digital input, allowing the iPhone's processor to translate your touch into system commands.

    In addition to producing touch screen digitizers for the iPhone, given the clean room setup, the facility pictured in the video likely also attaches them to LCDs sourced from other factories to produce a full iPhone display assembly that can then be sold to iPhone repair shops around the world.

    While this is a small facility, our source tells us that the factory, which employs approximately 10 people, is able to produce up to 10,000 display components per month, with setup and equipment for a factory this size costing approximately $90,000, a minor investment for a major return.

    iPhone X display assembly with touch screen digitizer visible, via iFixit

    Larger factories, such as those that produce aftermarket LCDs for iPhones and other smartphones, are huge operations that can output millions of components per month. Companies like Tianma, Longteng LCD, Shenchao, and JingDongFang are well-known in the repair world for producing the aftermarket LCDs used by many repair shops. If you search for display components on auction sites like Alibaba, these are the names that pop up over and over again.

    These are not small, no name factories producing LCDs - these are major operations creating components by the millions, which should give you an idea of the kind of demand there is for aftermarket components across the globe. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase the kind of equipment needed to produce aftermarket LCDs.

    "It's a crazy industry that involves millions of dollars, probably into billions a year. It's just absolutely nuts," said our source.

    The Demand for Aftermarket Parts

    Companies that produce aftermarket LCD components are doing so because there's significant demand for these parts in repair shops around the world. Shops that are not Apple Authorized Service Providers are not able to source parts from Apple because Apple limits OEM parts to the repair shops that it partners with.

    With no way to purchase components from Apple, sourcing parts from third-party suppliers is the only option for independent repair shops that want to be able to offer iPhone repairs to their customers.

    There are more than 15,000 independent repair shops in the United States, all of which are sourcing components from suppliers that receive them mainly from these factories in China. In the South Bay Area alone, where Apple's Cupertino headquarters is located, there are hundreds of non-AASP locations that can fix a broken iPhone. And that's just the United States. There are thousands more independent repair shops around the world.

    An independent iPhone repair shop near Cupertino, California​

    Aftermarket Parts Quality

    When thinking of third-party components, you might assume that the parts produced in facilities like the one in the video are far inferior in quality to actual Apple components, which is also the viewpoint of the source that sent us the video.
    That's not always entirely true, though, according to many of the repair shops that we spoke with.

    Click here to read rest of article...

    Article Link: Inside the iPhone Repair Ecosystem: Where Do Replacement Parts Come From and Can You Trust Them?
  2. Michael Scrip macrumors 603

    Mar 4, 2011
    Great article!

    Though I think you're missing a "Read More..." link in this article on the front page...

  3. HobeSoundDarryl, Aug 14, 2018
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018

    HobeSoundDarryl macrumors 604


    Feb 8, 2004
    Hobe Sound, FL (20 miles north of Palm Beach)
    Wow! What a spectacular article! Nice job MacRumors
  4. AutoUnion39 macrumors 601


    Jun 21, 2010
    This article was way more detailed than I expected...
  5. Solver macrumors 6502a

    Jan 6, 2004
    First MacRumors article that I will have to set aside a large portion of my day to read.
  6. G5isAlive macrumors 6502a

    Aug 28, 2003
    it is fascinating how the industry evolves... I never put much thought into where they got their spare parts. This does add fuel to my concern over variability in quality.
  7. jclo Editor


    Staff Member

    Dec 7, 2012
    Added, thanks for the reminder :)
  8. RedGala macrumors regular


    Jun 17, 2015
    Keep up the good reporting, Macrumors! This is the high quality investigative journalism that we like to see sprinkled around the site.
  9. nwcs macrumors 68000


    Sep 21, 2009
    A very good article and worth the read. Although I would contend UBreakIFix does not use premium parts. We had an old iPad mini display replaced and it separated from the device on the same day and only half the screen was responsive to touch. They replaced it again and it popped off again not too long after. Maybe bad adhesive that time. Ended up taping the corners with gaffer tape. Won’t go there again.
  10. Theyayarealivin macrumors 6502

    Jun 18, 2013
    Outstanding job with this article Macrumors! Keep up the great work.
  11. alpi123 macrumors 6502a


    Jun 18, 2014
    Is it possible for an aftermarket display to look different than an original one? Not crisp enough, colors are off, not very bright etc.
  12. Heineken macrumors 6502a


    Jan 27, 2018
    That is the point of the article.
  13. jclo Editor


    Staff Member

    Dec 7, 2012
    Yes, absolutely. You're always going to see some slight differences with an aftermarket display, but how much of a difference depends on the quality of the aftermarket part. Sometimes it's just a slight difference in color tone, while other times, it can affect brightness and other aspects of the display.
  14. JCCL macrumors 6502a

    Apr 3, 2010
    Great article, always wondered about this! Kudos to Macrumors, I really enjoyed reading this.

    So if you see someone selling an aftermarket display assembly that means it is a part from broken / stolen iPhones?
  15. jclo Editor


    Staff Member

    Dec 7, 2012
    Sort of. There are aftermarket displays that companies are manufacturing for the iPhone X, but they're LCD, not OLED, and the quality difference is huge. There are no aftermarket factories that can produce OLED displays, the technology is too new and too limited.

    Edit: To answer your other question, an iPhone that's been repaired with a new display assembly can either have an LCD that's been recycled from another iPhone, so it's a repaired and refurbished original component, or an LCD that's been manufactured by a company that makes aftermarket LCD displays like Tianma.
  16. adamdport macrumors newbie

    Mar 19, 2011
    I once got a screen repaired from one of those kiosks in the mall. The screen began to separate from the phone and would get caught on my pocket. I took it back (it was still under warranty), and the guy was like "do you charge your phone overnight?" "yes?" "when you do that, your phone gets hot and it voids the warranty. Sorry."

    Never again.
  17. aliensporebomb, Aug 14, 2018
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2018

    aliensporebomb macrumors 68000


    Jun 19, 2005
    Minneapolis, MN, USA, Urth
    Interesting article and timely - my wife's iPad Mini 3 had a shattered screen and she took a chance getting it repaired from one of those "non-apple repair shops" that was in the same mall as an Apple Store (who must look the other way). She figured it would be far more expensive for Apple to repair it so took a chance.

    The glass that was replaced was noticeably heavier than the original glass and the guy who ran the place was a bit of an odd duck, his english was poor and indicated that the screen "wouldn't work today but would tomorrow" due to the adhesive taking a long time to cure.

    Well, it kind of does and kind of doesn't. There are times the touch screen doesn't work effectively. And since he was a sort of 'cash only kiosk no paperwork please' type place it ended up being less than happy for her.

    And I realize now that if we have it repaired again at another place we take a crapshoot, as a result she is thinking of replacing it outright at this point. Kind of sad, up until the screen problem happened it was fine.

    If anyone has any ideas on a repair let me know! She's a little afraid to bring it to Apple for fear they'll go "yeah, you had this fly by night repair done and now we can't fix it either."
  18. iReality85 macrumors 6502a

    Apr 29, 2008
    Upstate NY
    A very interesting and informative long form article, thank you for this.
  19. Return Zero macrumors 6502a

    Return Zero

    Oct 2, 2013
    Fantastic piece, thank you! This kind of information remains a complete mystery to the vast majority of consumers. I wish this could be reprinted by major news outlets.
  20. barkomatic macrumors 601

    Aug 8, 2008
    Wow, impressive article that rivals CNET. After reading it, I'm glad I have Applecare since it sounds like getting your iPhone repaired at a non-authorized shop is hit or miss with lower quality parts. I can understand why Apple limits it's parts to authorized shops. Currently, I think most people understand that Apple isn't responsible for crappy repair work at these places. If Apple is forced to provide them with genuine parts, they will undoubtedly advertise that and confuse the issue with consumers who may hold Apple responsible.
  21. morjesta macrumors newbie


    Jan 17, 2017
    Frisco, TX
    A couple of weeks ago i went to an Apple Store to get my 2016 MacBook fixed, after the Genuis Bar took my machine for a diagnostics test, they told me that the repair would be $579 + tax and it could go up if they found anything anything else wrong with it. I felt outraged, is almost than half the total cost of the machine.

    I went to a well known aftermarket repair store, and they fixed my MacBook for $199 all extras included. I even writing this post from this very machine and it had been working like a charm.

    When I was at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, they had a long waiting time in order to get my machine checked, if you don't have an appointment you could easily wait 4 hours, also there where many costumers waiting in order to get other devices checked, and the bad thing i heard was that most of them apple wouldn't respect the 1 year warranty, even if the device didn't show any sign of physical or water damage. I saw this guy very pissed-off since his milanese loop band magnet fell off, the Genius bar worker, told that there is nothing they can do since, his sweat and water was the reason for the damage, he had the receipt that he got the band 2 months ago from the same store.
  22. emulajavi macrumors regular

    Dec 15, 2011
    Thank you for such a great a lengthy article. Very interesting.

    The prices that Apple charges for screen or battery repairs (till this year) are ashaming. More than $100 dollars for a screen that costs them half the price is ridiculous.
  23. MRrainer macrumors 65816

    Aug 8, 2008
    Zurich, Switzerland
    Good article, with obviously a lot of original research.

    I think Apple would make its parts available more easily, if it could keep up the quality of the repairs. They are obviously worried about the brand getting tarnished by sub-par repairs.

    But of course, they would want you to come visit the Apple Store and browse the displayed goods for an impulse-purchase of a pair of Beats headphones are a HomeKit compatible light bulb - no question about that either.
  24. Dj64Mk7 macrumors 65816

    Sep 15, 2013
    While the content of the article was appreciated, the unprofessional tone and wording was not.
  25. JPack macrumors 68040


    Mar 27, 2017
    Aftermarket OLED for iPhone X has been available for several months now.


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