Why Apple changed its mind about Right to Repair

Apple does not have a good track record in terms of letting customers repair their hardware. The last decade plus has seen Apple’s computers become virtually impossible for users to service or upgrade, and the iPhone has always been a locked box. Adventurous owners may follow guides from iFixit to try to repair it themselves, but it’s a dangerous proposition. Remember, it was just earlier this year when we discovered that replacing the screen on an iPhone 13 would disable Face ID (something Apple eventually made one about face to face).

So Apple’s announcement earlier this week that it would start selling parts and tools directly to consumers and offer repair instructions was a huge surprise, and a move was immediately hailed as a victory for rights activists. “One of the most visible opponents of repairing access is reversing the course,” said Nathan Proctor, a senior Right to Repair campaign director at Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG). “Apple’s move shows that what repairers have been asking for was always possible.” iFixit was equally pleased, saying the move is “exactly the right thing for Apple to do.”

Both groups made reservations about their statements by noting a few catches; PIRG says Apple’s plans were not as comprehensive as the right-to-repair legislation being discussed in more than two dozen states, while iFixit wants to “analyze the legal terms and test the program” before it can say how much credit Apple is. deserves. But no matter what, it’s still a big deal. So what led Apple to this move?

Proctor told Engadget in an email exchange that he believes “the combined pressure from consumers, regulators and shareholders has changed Apple’s mindset.” But he was also quick to point out that there was pressure coming from within Apple itself. “We saw from some leaked emails from 2019 that many within Apple never wanted to be hostile to repairing the way Apple has been at times,” he said. You’ve probably seen that [Apple co-founder Steve] Wozniak called [out] practice, but leaked emails show internal concern that they did the wrong thing. “

Apple has made some other films recently that show that potential government control and oversight can be the driving force behind change in the company. In 2020, Apple finally let users set different browser and email apps by default on iPhone and iPad, and Siri has become wiser about learning your preferences for different music apps when you ask it to play tunes.

While it’s likely that Apple’s thinking about government pressure, this change may also just be part of the company listening to its users and correcting some mistakes it’s made over the last five years or so. Take the new MacBook Pro, perhaps the biggest “mea culpa” Apple has ever offered; the company reversed its trend of pursuing thin and lightweight design at all costs and instead actually made both the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros thicker and heavier than their predecessors. The company also added backdoors that it had previously removed, killing the unpopular Touch Bar and generally making a laptop that made it seem like they were listening to consumer feedback. The same could be said about its new home repair program.

A worker repairs an Apple Iphone mobile phone at a workshop of the Oxflo company, which specializes in the repair of damaged European smartphones, which will be resold and provided with a warranty as part of an environmentally responsible approach, in Lusignac, France, 20. June 2019 REUTERS / Regis Duvignau

Regis Duvignau / Reuters

Apple’s move this week can also be seen as an extension of a program the company launched last year when it began delivering spare parts and training to third-party workshops that met Apple’s qualifications. Of course, this is not the same as making it easy for everyone to perform repairs, but opening up access means that the repair landscape for Apple products has changed markedly in the last few years.

However big a change this new plan is, Proctor and PIRG see this as a first step, something Apple will have to keep up with and expand to truly meet what rights activists believe consumers deserve. “I think Right to Repair knows what it wants and it will be really hard to convince us to settle for anything less than an open market for repair,” Proctor said. “If they had taken this step years ago, we might have to settle, but we have momentum and we will strengthen the repair as much as we can. I think most legislators agree: this is “Only one company and a limited program. The floor was raised, but we are not near the ceiling yet.”

iFixit has a similar view on the situation. “[Apple] groundbreaking glued-in batteries and proprietary screws, and now they’re taking the first steps on the road back to long-lasting, repairable products. iFixit believes that a sustainable, repairable world of technology is possible, and hopes that Apple will follow up on this commitment to improve their repair capabilities. “

As for what’s to come, it sounds like Apple is committed to making this just a first step. The company said repair options would initially focus on commonly repaired modules in the iPhone 12 and 13, such as the screen, battery and cameras, but it says more options will come in the following year. We do not know if Apple will ever give activists who have the right to repair everything they want. It seems unlikely that Apple will make an iPhone where you can just open it and throw a new battery in, just like the old phones.

Apple can often be a bell for the rest of the industry – just look at how quickly other phone makers dropped their headphone jacks. So it is possible that we will see some other large consumer electronics companies take similar steps. “I think other companies will follow suit,” Proctor said. He also noted that Google had just released software that allows a replacement screen on the Pixel 6 to be properly calibrated to work with the on-screen fingerprint sensor. [for] access to repair. “If that happens, we’ll probably remember Apple’s hub as a major catalyst for these changes – provided the company follows up on its new approach and makes it easier for owners to repair a wider range of its products.

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