iPhone 12 camera replacement issues could hint at further restrictions on third-party Apple repairs

Apple’s latest iPhone 12 smartphone appears to be even more difficult for third-party companies to repair, according to a report from iFixit. Specifically, the new phone appears to run into issues if a user replaces the camera module, which renders the cameras almost totally unusable.

The issue — first spotted by YouTuber Hugh Jeffreys — doesn’t appear to be a strictly hardware-related problem. As iFixit’s teardown notes, the iPhone 12 is actually a relatively good device when it comes to disassembly and replacement of various key parts.

But should you actually swap a camera module from one iPhone 12 to another, it appears that the phone will reject the replacement part, with iFixit describing issues with the ultrawide camera and general issues of unresponsiveness.

The iPhone 12 marks the first iPhone to have these problems — previous models allowed for replacement cameras with no issues, and even the iPhone 12 Pro appears to work completely fine. It’s not clear whether this is a one-off glitch or some specific quirk of the iPhone 12’s cameras. Previous iPhone models have had related issues, like the iPhone 7 and 8 Plus, where Apple used three different display manufacturers that weren’t fully interchangeable.

But even if the camera issue is just a temporary one, iFixit notes that it seems clear that Apple is looking to maintain a stricter control over iPhone repairs. The DIY repair site also claims to have gotten ahold of Apple’s new internal training guides for iPhone 12 support, which note that repairing a camera or display will now require Apple’s own, in-house System Configuration app, something that had previously only been required for a battery swap.

And Apple has long since limited some aspects of iPhone repairs, like its Touch ID and Face ID sensors, which it’s barred third-party repairs from in the name of security. But even if those components — which are critical parts of unlocking an iPhone — really do have those additional security requirements that would necessitate Apple-only repairs, it’s hard to see how the camera or battery would require similar restrictions.

It’s possible that this is all just a glitch in the system, especially given Apple’s past history with slightly wonky part swapping and the fact that the issue appears to only impact that iPhone 12 and not the 12 Pro. But given Apple’s past history with things like its attempt to lock down “unauthorized” third-party battery or display repairs with ominous warnings, it’s possible the camera issue here is just the start of even further part restrictions.

In a statement, Apple didn’t address the compatibility issue for iPhone 12 camera parts. The company instead commented that “We are committed to giving our customers more options and locations for safe and reliable repairs. Our new independent repair provider program is designed to give repair businesses of all sizes access to genuine parts, training and tools needed to perform the most common iPhone repairs. These service providers have access to the same tools and repair manuals used by Apple and Authorized Service Providers (AASPs).”

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