This week, Apple rolled out its Self Service Repair Store. Consumers and independent stores can now order spare parts and rent company-authorized tools to repair select iPhones.
This comes after President Joe Biden issued an executive order in July promoting consumers’ “right to repair” of their own electronics, and Congress is also looking at it.
That’s the subject of our recurring ‘Quality Assurance’ segment, where we take a second look at a big tech story.
Nathan Proctor leads the Right to Repair campaign for the US Public Interest Research Group. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.
Nathan Proctor: Right now, just starting with a few repairs for the three latest iPhones, you can get all the necessary materials that Apple would use in their authorized facilities to make the repairs, and an independent store can order those too. There are some limitations there that are important. But this is the first time they’ve actually been able to get those official Apple parts and tools.
Kimberly Adams: Let’s say I want to use this new kit from Apple. How does this process work?
proctor: It feels a bit complicated, even for a dedicated do-it-yourselfer. You have to order a specific part, which basically comes pre-coded on your phone. So you have to order it through this special process. They will also mail you about £70 worth of tools that you rent to complete the repair. And then you have instructions, and you can walk through the repair. And I’m not sure how many people would do that. But I’m on a lot of repair shop bulletin boards 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.
Adams: However, how well does this resolve the right to repair concerns surrounding these phones?
proctor: In all fairness, other companies don’t have nearly as much in the way between you and your repair. Both Samsung and Google have announced that they will partner with iFixit, which is somewhat like the do-it-yourself headquarters on the web, to sell spare parts directly to consumers, along with official documentation and instructions and all the special tools needed. And there is very little restriction on who can buy them and how they can make those repairs. I think the main drawback of the Apple system is this digital parts association that they do when the phone is associated with a specific part. And I think this program proves that more can be done, but also proof that more needs to be done.
Adams: Apple, Google and Samsung are on their way to releasing information that was considered company property, and they had this stuff pretty closely guarded. Why is this happening now?
proctor: I mean, I think it’s a sign that the sort of class action around the right to repair is breaking through, right? So in the last few years there have been over 27 states that have had legislation to give consumers access to parts and tools and information to fix things. The Biden administration issued an executive order in July, followed shortly after by the Federal Trade Commission, which issued new guidelines against repair restrictions. And then both the shareholders of Google and Apple filed resolutions to push the companies to make these changes, so I think it’s coming from all sides.
Adams: Some individual states have passed their own right to reparation laws, both the House and Senate have enacted legislation. As you mentioned, there is regulatory pressure. What are you looking for now, in terms of federal action on the right to repair?
proctor: We’re hopeful that the FTC can take public action to really make it clear that certain types of basically monopolistic repair restrictions will not be allowed under current law. And I’m really excited about the opportunity to see some of that enforcement coming to big companies like Apple, and, you know, potentially other dominant manufacturers and other industries, whether it’s medical technology or agricultural machinery at John. deere. I think there are many opportunities for the FTC to force these companies to open up their repair markets.
Adams: Why is this the right time for repair?
proctor: 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 are told, “No, it’s impossible to fix. Here, let me give you the latest show models.” Meanwhile, electronic waste is the fastest growing part of our waste stream, and it’s very expensive to keep buying new things, especially when you know that the supply chain is facing all kinds of important barriers and the economy is tightening. People need to make the most of what they already have, and companies need to stop blocking us from fixing what we already have.
We’ve asked Apple to comment on criticism that its phone repair system is impractical. An Apple spokesperson referred us to the company’s online explanation of its service and repair program, adding that consumers should not rely on Apple tools if they “prefer an alternative.”
Related links: More insight from Kimberly Adams
If you’d like to read more about the program, Apple has an FAQ page with more details about what’s in those 70-pound tool kits.
And if, like me, you’re wondering how cost-effective this is, The Verge has a story on some of the cost of DIY repairs, which it says probably isn’t much cheaper than Apple fixing it. .
Finally, if you’d like to hear more about the right to repair, we’ve got some episodes we’ve released over the past year, including the complications of repairing something bigger, say your John Deere tractors. And one about the right to repair laws making their way through state legislatures.