Apple’s right to repair system needs fixing

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There is no company more notoriously controlling than Apple. Even if your device has been on your desk or in your pocket for years, if it needs repair, you will almost certainly need to return to Apple or one of its authorized service centers to have it repaired. At least, that was the case. At the end of April, Apple’s new self-service repair program launched in the US and gave a glimpse of a world where anything is possible, even fixing your own iPhone.

Now anyone can log on to Apple’s website and find repair manuals for the two most recent generations of iPhones, detailing how to safely disassemble them and replace everything from the camera to the screen, without going to the Genius Bar.

“Creating better access to genuine Apple parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer (COO), said in a statement. press when the program was announced late last year.

At first glance, this seems like a big step forward for the so-called right to repair. “We were happy to see Apple take a step towards expanding repair options, it’s certainly positive,” says Ugo Vallauri, co-founder of the Restart Project. However, despite being receptive, Vallauri doesn’t think the new schedule goes far enough. “When you look at their manuals, you see it basically requires a whole bunch of tools that are proprietary to Apple, which they will be the sole supplier of,” he continues. “It is not the right to repair.”

Apple is still in control

Despite the apparent openness, he still believes Apple has tight control. “The biggest problem isn’t necessarily with the manuals per se, but that Apple is going ahead with requiring matching parts for parts,” says Vallauri. Under the program, any new component requested will require the buyer to provide a serial number, which will be tied to the specific iPhone being repaired, limiting what can be done with replacement parts.

Then there is the issue of proprietary tools. To help DIYers purchase the widgets and tools they need, the self-service repair program has its own online store. But beware shoppers, they may not be for the faint-hearted.

“It’s a significant amount of equipment, it could be [only] appropriate for a repair shop,” says Vallauri, and he might be right. For example, removing an iPhone screen with the Apple-approved method requires the use of a £209 “heated display removal device”, effectively industrial equipment. To fit a new display, a separate £176 piece of hardware called Display Press is required. “It’s not exactly the kind of situation where most people would just order such a set of tools and do a repair,” says Vallauri.

Even if self-repair is an option, the economy of it won’t make sense to ordinary users. “Is this a step forward in terms of repair options? Absolutely. Is this something that really competes with you when you go to an Apple store and have the screen replaced with them? It’s not clear,” says Vallauri.

In fact, Vallauri speculates that while this move appears to be Apple shedding its restrictive shackles, the structure of the new program represents market consolidation. “If you add up the cost of renting the tools and buying the parts, even if you were to receive some money back for sending the broken parts back to Apple, that still wouldn’t necessarily be competitive with going in an Apple store,” Vallauri said. . “At this point the question becomes, is this a move towards greater control of the repair market by creating a restrictive view of what the right to repair should be?”

Apple could be on the defensive

A moving read by Apple is that although the new program positions itself as an egalitarian movement, it is actually a defensive move. The theory goes that it is designed to outpace regulators in the United States and Europe, which are taking an increasingly skeptical approach to monopolistic or controlling behavior of big tech. This is symbolized by the passing of the Digital Markets Act (DMA). The UK has also introduced new Right to Repair legislation.

“We see Apple and other manufacturers trying to ‘concession’ to some extent, giving a little more,” Vallauri says. “But that still differs quite significantly from giving everyone the power to decide how, where and by whom a device should be repaired.”

So far, the service is only available in the US and only covers the iPhone 12 and 13, but it’s expected to launch in Europe later this year, with more Apple devices supported. So what would make him good enough for Vallauri?

“The right to repair that we advocate is that everyone can choose who should perform the repair, on products designed to be repaired, with common and non-proprietary tools,” he says. While it’s a step in the right direction, he thinks Apple’s self-repair program still needs fixing.

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