This week, Apple has rolled out its self-service repair store. Consumers and independent stores can now order replacement parts and rent company-approved tools to repair select iPhones.
That’s the topic of our recurring segment, “Quality Assurance,” where we take a second look at a big tech story.
Nathan Proctor directs the Right to Repair Campaign for the United States Public Interest Research Group. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Nathan Proctor: Right now, starting with a few repairs for the last three iPhones, you can get all the necessary materials that Apple would use within its authorized parameters to do the repairs, and an independent store can also order them. Some restrictions are important. But this is the first time they have been able to get these official Apple parts and tools.
Kimberly Adams: Let’s just say I want to use this new kit from Apple. How does this process work?
Prosecutor: Seems a bit complex, even for a committed DIYer. You have to order a specific part, which is basically pre-coded to your phone. So you have to order it through this special process. They will also send you over 70 pounds of tools in the mail that you rent to complete the repair. And then you have instructions, and you can walk through the repair. And I don’t know how many people would do that. But I’m on a lot of message boards with repair shops across the country, given the campaign, and I know repair shops across the country have already placed orders because they have a set of phones that they need to fix.
Adam: How does this actually address the right to repair concerns around these phones?
Prosecutor: Honestly, other companies just don’t have as many barriers between you and your repair. Both Samsung and Google announced that they would join forces with I fix it, which is much like the DIY headquarters on the internet, to sell replacement parts directly to consumers, along with official documentation and instructions and any special tools needed. And there are very few restrictions on who can buy them and how they can do these repairs. I think the biggest downside of Apple’s system is this pairing of digital parts that they do when the phone is paired to a specific part. And I think that makes this program proof that more could be done, but also proof that more needs to be done.
Adam: Apple, Google, and Samsung are moving toward disclosing information considered proprietary, and they were guarding that information pretty tightly. Why is this happening now?
Prosecutor: I mean, I think that’s a sign that the kind of collective action that’s happening around the right to repair is breaking through, isn’t it? So in the past two years, more than 27 states have passed legislation giving consumers access to parts, tools, and information to fix things. The Biden administration issued an executive order in July, which was followed up shortly after with the Federal Trade Commission issue new guidelines against repair restrictions. And then the two Google and Apple shareholders tabled resolutions to push companies to make these changes, so I think it’s coming from all sides.
Adam: Some states have enacted their own right to repair laws, both the House and Senate introduced legislation. As you mentioned, there is a regulatory push. What are you watching next, in terms of federal action on the right to repair?
Prosecutor: We really hope that the FTC can begin to take public action to make it truly clear that certain types of fundamentally monopolistic repair restrictions will not be allowed under current law. And I’m really excited about the opportunity to see some of this app come to big companies like Apple, and, you know, potentially other mainstream manufacturers and other industries, whether it’s medical technology or agricultural equipment at John Deere. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the FTC to force these companies to open up their repair markets.
Adam: Why is it time for the right to repair?
Prosecutor: I think so many people have had this experience where they bring a broken device to the Apple Store, to the manufacturer’s official repairer, and they’re told, “No, it’s impossible to fix. Here let me show you the newest models. Meanwhile, e-waste is the fastest growing part of our waste stream. And it’s very expensive to keep buying new products all the time, especially when you know the supply chain is facing all kinds of big hurdles and the economy is tightening. People need to make the most of what they already have, and companies need to stop stopping us from fixing what we already have.
We asked Apple to comment on reviews that its phone repair system is inconvenient. An Apple spokesperson referred us to the company online explanation of the service and repair program and added that there is no obligation for consumers to rely on Apple tools if they “prefer an alternative”.
Related Links: More from Kimberly Adams
If you want to know more about the program, Apple has a frequently asked questions page which contains more details about the contents of these 70-pound toolkits.
And if you wonder, like me, how profitable it is, The Verge has a story break down some of the DIY repair costs, which he says are probably not much cheaper than having it fixed by Apple.
Finally, if you want to know more about the right to repair, we have a few episodes we’ve published over the past year, including the complications of fixing something bigger – say your John Deere tractors. And one on right to repair laws making their way through state legislatures.