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Apple will share its secret iPhone screen-repair machines

Four hundred authorized third-party repair centers in 25 countries are reportedly slated to get Apple's proprietary Horizon Machines.

It's unclear how long people with shattered screens hold onto their iPhones, but Apple pegs average use for new owners at 3 years.

David Carnoy/CNET

You probably know that a lot of people crack their iPhone screens each day, even each minute. You may have even done it yourself. But what you probably don't know is that Apple has its own sophisticated machine -- the Horizon Machine -- to repair cracked displays. It's now ready to share it more freely.

A common problem.

Rick Broida/CNET

Until recently those microwave-sized machines have largely been a secret. They've been primarily located in Apple retail stores around the world and in a handful of third-party repair centers. But with repair wait times growing at some of its busiest retail stores, Reuters reports that Apple will supply about 400 authorized third-party repair centers in 25 countries with Horizon Machines by year's end. That figure represents about 8 percent of Apple's 4,800 authorized service providers worldwide.

Apple has had a pilot program running for a year with Horizon Machines seeded to a handful of third-party repair centers in the Bay Area, London, Shanghai and Singapore, as well as Best Buy stores in Miami and Minneapolis.

Plenty of authorized -- and unauthorized -- repair centers replace iPhone screens without the help of Apple's Horizon Machines. Some states have introduced legislation that would "require manufacturers to supply repair manuals, diagnostic tools and authentic replacement parts at fair prices to independent technicians and the general public," according to Reuters.

The proposed legislation is designed to help smaller repair shops make high-quality repairs and bring repair prices down. (Apple says you can get your iPhone fixed at an unauthorized shop without voiding your warranty "as long as the technician caused no damage," but there's obviously a gray area in that statement.)  

Apple wouldn't comment directly on the Reuters article or how much its partners are paying for its Horizon Machines, but it confirmed that it plans to roll out the machines to 400 authorized third-party repair centers in 25 countries by the end of the year. 

The company also indicated that the Horizon Machine wasn't just designed to overcome the trickiest repair problems that smaller repair shops would have trouble with. Rather, it was designed to create the perfect repair, with the right Apple parts and a calibration system that matches your iPhone to what it was like when it was brand new, fresh out of the factory.