Apple, having long stood in the way of customers who want to fix their own devices, now says it wants to help those who feel they have the right to repair their own products.
On Wednesday the iBiz announced Self Service Repair, “which will allow customers who are comfortable with completing their own repairs access to Apple genuine parts and tools.”
This may be something of a mixed blessing as Apple hardware is notoriously difficult to mend, due to the fact that special tools are often required, parts may be glued together, and components like Apple’s TouchID sensor and T2 security chip can complicate getting devices to work again once reassembled.
Kyle Wiens, CEO of DIY repair community iFixit, told The Register in an email that Apple’s reputation for making difficult to repair products is deserved, particularly for things like AirPods, Apple Pencil, and their keyboards which iFixit has rated 0 out of 10 for repairability.
“Some products that get a 1 are fixable, but it’s really really hard,” said Wiens. “And some like the new MacBook Pro get a 4. Not great but certainly fixable.”
The recently released iPhone 13 received a repairability rating of 5 out of 10. As it happens, Apple last week promised an iOS update to facilitate iPhone 13 screen repair without breaking FaceID.
Initially, Apple will provide more than 200 parts and tools for those determined to conduct common iPhone repairs, such as replacing the display screen, battery, and camera. The program will focus first on iPhone 12 and 13 devices, and will expand later to include M1-based Macs.
Starting early next year, DIY-inclined customers in the US will be able to order Apple-approved parts and tools from the Apple Self Service Repair Online Store – at Apple prices – instead of scouring eBay, Alibaba, and various grey market tool and parts sources. The program is expected to expand internationally at a later date.
A victory for the right to repair
Apple’s about-face follows years of lobbying, advocacy, and regulatory pressure by those who support the right to repair purchased products. Previously, the company said such fiddling represented a security risk. In 2017, the iGiant argued that a right to repair bill under consideration in Nebraska would make the state a Mecca for hackers if it passed.
“This is the clear result of tireless advocacy from the repair community and policy proposals on three continents,” said Wiens. “Right to repair investigations at the FTC and the Australian Productivity Commission are ongoing.
“Consumers deserve the right to repair their own products. Repair manuals should not be secret. We’ve been saying this for a long time, and it’s great to see that Apple finally agrees. We still need to pass legislation and guarantee a level playing field for the entire industry. Apple’s announcement shows that it’s possible to do the right thing. Hopefully Samsung will be next.”
Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, offered a similar assessment via email.
“Apple is reading the tea-leaves correctly,” said Gordon Byrne. “Legislation is going to pass, and the FTC is going to create some new rules that will probably happen after states get bills done.”
While Gordon Byrne sees a broad movement in support of fixable products, she expects some challenges along the way. “I personally doubt Apple has figured out how to make this work effectively – it may be a while before consumers and independent repair see any benefit,” she said.
Apple made a prior concession to repair advocacy in 2019, when it said it would provide independent repair shops with the access to the same technical resources provided to Apple Authorized Service Providers – a move described as a PR stunt by right-to-repair activist Louis Rossmann.
This concession of sorts came after Apple lobbied to have a California right-to-repair bill proposed by State Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) delayed, which ultimately led to the bill’s demise.
Nonetheless, right-to-repair legislation has proliferated. At least half of US States are considering repair rules, which are often opposed by companies capable of exercising intellectual property rights to limit how their products can be modified and to capture repair revenue.
“Intellectual property considerations cannot be allowed to stand in the way of a customer’s right to repair equipment that they have purchased,” said Bruce Perens, an open source pioneer, venture capital firm board member, and CEO of a stealth startup, in an email to The Register. “Apple is simply acknowledging this fact before right-to-repair is legislated and they have no choice.”
Apple may also be recognizing the growing importance of revenue from services as opposed to hardware sales. If, as some analysts have predicted, services come to represent the majority of Apple’s profit by mid-decade, the Cupertino titan will have more incentive to focus on retaining customers (and associated monthly subscription fees) and less pressure to convince them to buy shiny new iThings every year or two. ®