Product Design

Sorry Folks, iPhone 7 Home Buttons Aren’t User Replaceable

Bad news for the DIY-inclined: looks like the home button in an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus can’t be replaced with a different one. If you break the button or rip the cable, you’ll have to go to the folks at the Genius Bar for a repair—or be stuck with a completely non-functioning home button.

The home button has been a tricky fix for DIYers since the iPhone 5s was released in 2013. In the 5s and newer, the Touch ID part of your home button is paired to the logic board that came with your phone. Swapping out a broken home button for a new one means sacrificing the ability to unlock your phone with your fingerprint. Fortunately, the button itself still works as a button—and the phone remains secure and protected with the phone’s passcode and Apple ID password.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus appears to take this feature a step further. Home button replacement—or damage to the original home button cable—renders the button completely non-functional: no Touch ID and (here’s the new part) no return-to-menu ability. You can still navigate your phone by turning on Assistive Touch. But for all practical purposes, you’ve got a dead home button. One that you can’t fix on your own or at an independent repair shop.

What makes the iPhone 7 different?

iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus home button

When we first tore down the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, we were pleased to find that the home button was removable. Because removable generally means replaceable—as all home buttons on all previous iPhones have been. But, recently, more and more independent repair shops have started reporting that this doesn’t hold true with the iPhone 7.

On Friday, Motherboard’s Jason Koebler confirmed it: “The company is now using software locks to prevent independent repair of specific parts of the phone. Specifically, the home buttons of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are not user replaceable, raising questions about both the future repairability of Apple products and the future of the thriving independent repair industry.”

We’re not in the room when Apple designs and programs products, so it’s difficult for us to say why the iPhone 7’s home button isn’t replaceable when previous models were. Here’s what we think is tripping up replacements: The iPhone 7’s button is non-mechanical. Sure, you press it, and you feel something. But that’s just smoke and mirrors, courtesy of the Taptic Engine—which simulates the “click” of a press. The iPhone 7’s button isn’t actually a button. It’s more of a button-shaped touch sensor.

There’s some benefit to that: By equipping the iPhone 7 with a solid-state home button, Apple probably made the button more durable. You won’t wear it out with button mashing. But as the button is entirely software controlled, it’s possible that only the original button/phone pairing can communicate with the logic board. In prior versions, communication was reserved for fingerprint identification, but now communication covers every use of the button, including “pressing.”

Of course, the iPhone 7’s expanded software lock could also be an effort to limit iPhone repair to Apple stores, Koebler points out: “Locking down Touch ID makes at least some sense from a security perspective, but locking return-to-home functionality seems like an arbitrary and vindictive move against independent repair businesses and consumers,” he writes.

Whatever Apple’s motive, the fact remains: Replacement iPhone 7 button = dead Touch ID and dead “button.” No matter how hard you press.

What does it mean for repairs?

We’re crossing our fingers that Apple issues a fix for this—as they did with Error 53. But until then, I’m afraid there’s no DIY fix for a broken home button. You’ll have to go to Apple for that. (Apple reportedly has a secret tool that recalibrates an iPhone to a new home button.)

If your home button broke during an accident, that trip to the Genius Bar could be a little pricey. If you opted for AppleCare+, a home button replacement will cost $99. Out-of-warranty home button replacements could cost up to $319 for the iPhone 7 and $349 for the iPhone 7 Plus—according to Apple’s iPhone repair info.

There is some good news: You’ll still be able to do other iPhone 7 repairs on your own, including repairs to the screen. Just be sure to (very carefully) transfer the original home button from your broken screen to your new screen during the repair. As long as you don’t damage the cable, the original home button should still work fine.