Apple announced on Wednesday that it will start letting people repair their own products. The announcement marks a change in Apple’s repair policies and a big step forward for the right-to-repair movement. At the same time, the new program shows how Apple still wants these self-service repairs to happen on its own terms.
The iPhone maker’s new approach is relatively simple. Apple will soon make repair manuals available for certain devices, and after reviewing them, customers will be able to order the tools and components they need to make those repairs from a new section of Apple’s website. At the beginning of the program, Apple will sell more than 200 different parts or tools for fixing its iPhone 12 and 13 lineups. Apple says the program will eventually include Mac computers that have M1 chips.
Wednesday’s announcement is a major shift for Apple. Historically, the company has typically only offered repair tools and replacement parts to its 5,000 Apple-authorized service providers and another 2,800 independent repair shops that have Apple-certified technicians. Apple has long faced criticism from right-to-repair advocates, who want manufacturers to give customers the ability to fix their own devices, for this policy as well as for its practice of designing hardware that can’t be easily upgraded or incorporating certain components that only Apple has access to.
Dozens of states have proposed right-to-repair legislation in recent years, bills that Apple has fought. For instance, the company successfully convinced California lawmakers in 2019 that customers might set off a fire if they accidentally damage the lithium-ion batteries in iPhones while trying to repair them. Apple has also suggested that the security and privacy of its devices could be compromised by non-authorized repairs.
Despite Apple’s best efforts, this right-to-repair movement has recently won support in the White House. In July, President Joe Biden passed an executive order that, among other things, directs the Federal Trade Commission to create new right-to-repair regulations. Later that month, the agency also declared that it would ramp up enforcement against “illegal” restrictions on repairs, after an investigation documented different strategies technology makers used to make products harder to fix. Apple’s decision was announced on the same day as a key deadline related to a right-to-repair resolution filed by activist Apple shareholders back in September, a connection first reported by The Verge.
Green Century — the sustainability-focused mutual fund that led that effort — has now rescinded its resolution, which would have pushed Apple to study the environmental impact of its strict repair policies.
“We felt it was a big enough step forward,” Annalisa Tarizzo, a shareholder advocate at Green Century, told Recode. “We hope to continue engaging companies that we invest in on this topic because we think it is really important and there are real risks to investors related to this issue.”
New guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may have influenced Apple’s timing, Tarizzo added. About two weeks ago, the agency rescinded a Trump-era rule that had made it easier for companies to dismiss socially conscious shareholder resolutions. Wednesday was also Green Century’s deadline to defend its proposal to the SEC, which Apple had requested the agency to block.
So Apple’s concessions to some demands from right-to-repair activists seem to be an attempt to preempt any new regulations with its new repair program. But the company‘s steps forward have some limitations. It isn’t exactly encouraging all users to start rooting around in their iPhones and MacBooks. In the press release announcing the Self Service Repair, Apple says the program is intended “for individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices” and that the “vast majority of customers” should visit an authorized repair shop. Meanwhile, customers who decide to repair their devices themselves under the new program will still need to buy parts directly from Apple, which also sets the price of those components.
“This isn’t the open-source repair revolution we’ve sought through our fight for the right to repair,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, the director of sustainability at iFixit, said in a Wednesday blog post. “If there’s now an ‘official’ way to avoid warning messages and a loss of features when you need to replace a battery, camera, or display, there’s less incentive for Apple to help those using third-party parts, or even those salvaged from other iPhones. By controlling the parts marketplace, Apple can also decide when devices go obsolete.”
This is not the first time Apple has adjusted its strategy to get ahead of potential regulations or legal action. In a proposed settlement with a class action lawsuit representing software developers this summer, Apple said it would let companies tell iPhone and iPad users about ways to pay for purchases like subscriptions outside of the App Store ecosystem. In September, the company also tweaked its rules for in-app purchases while the company was locked in a contentious lawsuit with Epic Games. Neither of these app-related updates involved Apple changing its policy of charging sizable fees to third parties operating in Apple’s ecosystem, while Apple’s own apps get a free ride.
Apple seems to be taking a similar approach with its new repair system. But even though the company’s new program comes with plenty of caveats, the move is still a big win for customers who don’t want to send their devices to Apple or hunt down an authorized repair shop. Soon, they’ll be able to swap out an iPhone screen or battery in the comfort of their own homes.
Update, November 17, 4:20 ET: This piece has been updated to report that Green Century Capital Management rescinded its right-to-repair shareholder proposal following Apple’s announcement.
Vox – Recode