By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Apple yesterday announced a long-awaited self-repair program with enough complex eligibility requirements to satisfy any liberal Democrat.
This reality is not apparent from looking at Apple’s announcement itself – which instead seems to promise that Apple if finally getting with the program and allowing us to fix our stuff when it breaks. From Apple’s press release, Apple’s Self Service Repair now available:
Apple today announced Self Service Repair is now available, providing repair manuals and genuine Apple parts and tools through the Apple Self Service Repair Store. Self Service Repair is available in the US and will expand to additional countries — beginning in Europe — later this year.
The new online store offers more than 200 individual parts and tools, enabling customers who are experienced with the complexities of repairing electronic devices to complete repairs on the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups and iPhone SE (3rd generation), such as the display, battery, and camera. Later this year the program will also include manuals, parts, and tools to perform repairs on Mac computers with Apple silicon.
To start the Self Service Repair process, a customer will first review the repair manual for the product they want to repair by visiting support.apple.com/self-service-repair. Then, they can visit the Apple Self Service Repair Store and order the necessary parts and tools.
The Apple tools available to customers on the Self Service Repair Store are the same as used by Apple’s repair network. They are custom designed to help provide the best repairs for Apple products, and are engineered to withstand the rigors of high-volume, professional repair operations where safety and reliability are the utmost priority. The high-quality tools offered through Self Service Repair include torque drivers, repair trays, display and battery presses, and more.
Apple will offer tool rental kits for $49, so that customers who do not want to purchase tools for a single repair still have access to these professional repair tools. The weeklong rental kits will ship to customers for free.
So far, so good.
But, what awaits our consumer when s/he visits tthe Apple Self Service Repair Store ?
For an answer to that, I turn to a statement from Nathan Proctor, senior right to repair campaign director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) and long-standing observer of the sneaky games companies play to get in the way when we try to fix things that belong to us.
“The dam is starting to give way: Right to Repair is breaking through. Apple users can now, for the first time, order a new screen or battery to repair their iPhones. We’ve seen a lot of signs that Right to Repair was making progress, but this is a ‘rubber hits the road’ moment.
“We are really pleased to see public access to Apple service guides for the first time in decades. However, it’s clear that Apple is doubling down on requiring each part be encoded to a specific phone, and then requiring a connection to Apple to verify the part before it gains full functionality. I don’t see how locking parts to a specific device and requiring manufacturer approval to install it offers any benefit to the product owner, but it does allow Apple to maintain a lot of control over the repair process. It also means that Apple can decide to stop supporting repairs. If Apple decides that a phone is too old, they can effectively put an expiration date on any product needing repair, defeating one of the most important aspects of repair — minimizing toxic electronic waste.
“While this is a start, there are still too many hoops to jump through to fix phones. As it’s becoming clear that Apple and other manufacturers can give us the Right to Repair, we should require them to. And we should have more options. Not just one set of parts. Not just a few manufacturers. No product should be tossed in the scrap heap, wasting money and adding to our toxic electronic waste problem, because the manufacturer doesn’t properly support repair.”
I’m not surprised that Apple is determined to make it difficult to fix things when they break. Earlier this year, in January, I awoke one morning and turned on my computer, to face a blank laptop screen. The screen was dark but for a bright lighted circle in one quadrant. When I tapped the light – gingerly – the circle expanded – as on a touch screen. But my standard MacBook doesn’t have a touchscreen. Alas, in January, there were no Apple stores open for repair in all of NYC. Third party repair options were showing a one week minimum wait just to diagnose a computer problem – let alone fix it. Repair of said computer was covered by an Apple Care policy – that is, if I could satisfy Apple that I hadn’t damaged the computer by dropping it, etc.
I hadn’t. The night before I shut down my laptop, closed it, and then picked up a book to read for a while before retiring for the night. The next morning, when I returned to my desk and flipped open the screen: nothing.
Anyway, back in January, faced with deadlines and a busted machine, I had no choice but to replace my computer. Apple told me that after-the-fact, I could call them back, and they would send me a box to ship the computer back to them, and then they would tell me whether it qualified for free repair.
It’s taken me a while to export my data from old machine to new. The other day, I called Apple. After fifteen minutes of increasingly annoying questions, in which the chirpy rep told me I could of course bring the laptop for assessment to a nearby Genius Bar, I said, enough. At the moment, I’m not leaving my home for crowded indoor destinations, unless it’s for some vital and necessary purpose. She then told me I would have to answer other questions about the state of the machine, which I couldn’t do quickly. I’ve hooked up the machine with a cracked screen to an external monitor to make it functional, and it takes a minimum of 15 minutes to boot it up.
So that machine is still in limbo.
Back to the new Apple program. I note here that it only applies to some recent iPhone models. Apple’s yet to announced what it intends to do about self repair for the vast number of other products it supplies.
I emailed Proctor yesterday to solicit his further thoughts on whether he thought Apple’s new program made a statutory right to repair less necessary:
While Apple is helping more stuff get fixed, they are still trying to maintain control over the repair process in a way that undermines our rights as product owners, and Apple can end this program at any time it pleases. It’s critical that we enact legislation to set ground rules to protect our rights around repair, and create a basic expectation for what manufacturers should do to support repair going forward.