Why Apple Doesn't Want You to Fix Your iPhone Camera

Even genuine parts trigger an alert

Key Takeaways

  • iPhone 12s running iOS 14 will warn you if a non-original camera unit is installed.
  • Even swapping in a genuine Apple iPhone camera triggers an alert.
  • There are almost zero non-Apple iPhone cameras in existence.
Someone wearing gloves and an anti-static wrist wrap while repairing an older iPhone.
VladTeodor / Getty Images

If you need to get a cheap repair for the camera in your iPhone 12, tough luck. You’ll have to either take it to Apple for a replacement, or suffer a never-ending warning alert telling you all about it. 

If you get your iPhone 12 repaired outside Apple’s official repair network, and you’re running iOS 14.4, then you can’t go to a third-party repair shop to get a camera replacement. Or rather, you can replace the camera module, but you will see a warning alert. This continues a worrying trend, in which Apple’s devices get less and less repairable. 

"Apple's camera warning hints at dire malfunctions and the crude incompetence of independent repairs," iFixit’s Kevin Purdy told Livewire via direct message. "Combined with similar warnings on screens and batteries, it points to Apple's appetite to completely control repairs of their products—something nobody should want to see."

Scare Tactics

Apple has published a support document detailing the reasons for these warnings. They are twofold. One is that Apple only uses genuine Apple parts, of course, with the implication being that third-party repair shops use substandard knockoff parts.

The other reason is that only Apple can repair a camera without leaving screws rattling around inside your iPhone. Seriously. Here’s a line from that support document. "Additionally, repairs that don't properly replace screws or cowlings might leave behind loose parts that could damage the battery, cause overheating, or result in injury."

iPhone Camera Warning.

There is some merit to Apple’s caution. These cameras are so tightly calibrated, and integrated with the phone they inhabit and the software they interact with, that a small discrepancy could throw things off. According to Apple, the following problems may occur:

  • Camera does not focus correctly or images are not sharp.
  • When using Portrait mode, the subject might not be in focus or only partially in focus.
  • A third-party app that uses the camera might freeze or quit unexpectedly.
  • Real-time preview in third-party apps might appear blank or might get stuck.

Even if you swap in a genuine iPhone camera, taken from another iPhone 12, then you’ll get this warning. The kicker is that there are almost no non-genuine iPhone cameras anywhere, at all. 

What’s Going On?

According to Purdy, it’s 99% certain that any replacement camera comes from Apple. iFixit’s supplier and other contacts confirmed that there are pretty much zero non-Apple cameras in existence.

In large part, that’s because there’s a plentiful supply of cameras from broken iPhones. The warning, says Purdy, is not really about the camera at all. It’s about preventing unauthorized repairers from performing the work.

An iPhone camera.

If you swap in a camera with a serial number that doesn’t match the phone you’re putting it into, then you’ll see a warning on the iPhone’s lock screen. This sticks around for four days, then moves to the first page of the Settings app, and finally ends up in the About section of Settings. The only way to get rid of this message is to "bless" the repair with Apple’s System Configuration software, which is only available to official repair shops. 

Not Green

There are legitimate reasons for checking whether non-genuine parts are inside a phone. If you’re buying used, it’s good to know nothing has been tampered with. And there’s also warranty fraud, where bad actors buy new phones, swap in non-genuine parts, then return the phones. This nets them a supply of new, genuine parts that can then be sold. 

But, as Purdy points out, if Apple wants to warn us about knockoff parts, then it should make those parts available, along with the software that lets us properly install and calibrate them.

That’s the thinking behind iFixit’s Right to Repair activism, but it’s also just plain good. After all, repairs done using old units harvested from broken phones are about as environmentally friendly as it gets. Apple makes big claims for its environmental actions, with some merit. But this just comes off like a way to sell more spare parts, and that’s not a cool look at all.

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