It is likely that we have never noticed an almost imperceptible detail on our iPhone: a QR code hidden just beneath the screen. Although it sounds surprising, since 2020 — including the iPhone 15 — Apple has been engraving tiny codes on its devices, and the reason behind this decision directly impacts the prices of the same.
The discovery comes from a report published by The Information, which details how this small code has helped Apple more effectively control its production costs and, consequently, save hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
The purpose of the mysterious QR code
If we have ever had the opportunity to see inside an iPhone, we will have noticed that many internal components have visible QR codes. These codes allow Apple to precisely track the origin of each component. However, what is surprising is that even the iPhone screen has a hidden code.
These codes, which are the size of a grain of sand, are etched onto the glass of iPhones at various stages of their manufacturing. With the help of special equipment, Apple can closely monitor how many glass units are produced by their Chinese suppliers, Lens Technology and Biel Crystal, and how many of these units turn out to be defective and are discarded.
It’s a matter of costs and quality control
The report mentions that in the past, suppliers like Lens and Biel prevented Apple from knowing the true rate of defective units in production. This lack of knowledge increased costs for the Cupertino company. That’s why Apple decided to invest in installing laser and scanning equipment in the factories of these suppliers to add the QR code and scan the glass at the end of the process.
Technical challenges, but with very significant savings
Implementing this code was not an easy task. In initial models, such as the iPhone 12, the code was laser-etched onto the glass, resulting in a slight weakening of the glass. After several iterations and the use of more advanced techniques involving microscopic lenses and special lighting, Apple’s engineers managed to overcome the challenge.
Since the introduction of these codes, the rate of glass units discarded due to defects has significantly reduced, going from 3 out of 10 pieces to only 1 out of 10. As a result, Apple has achieved savings of hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
That tiny QR code, even though we may never see it on our screen, is more than a testament to the detail and precision that Apple applies to its products and their manufacturing. It also reflects how the company constantly seeks ways to optimize its production process and, consequently, offer the most competitive prices possible.