At the end of 2021, Apple surprised us by announcing plans to launch a self-service iPhone repair program, and I was ecstatic.
I switched from Android to iPhone about a decade ago because iOS seemed to be the place to be if you wanted access to the biggest and most interesting walled park of mobile apps. But as much as I appreciate the iPhones I’ve carried since then, I’ve never really felt satisfied buying Apple products. The Cupertino-based company has built a reputation for designing devices that are both expensive and hard to repair, so the promise of being able to buy parts directly from Apple and follow official instructions to fix your iPhone sounded too good to be true.
And in some ways, it is. Apple finally launched iPhone self-service repair kits for the iPhone 12, iPhone 13 and iPhone SE 2022 in the US earlier this month, with a promise to expand the program to more countries and more products in the future. It’s a good start: the Apple Self Service Repair website is straightforward and easy to navigate, with well-illustrated repair guides that make the prospect of renting official Apple repair kits and unlocking your phone for a fix for something seem almost plausible.
And while Apple’s purchase of official tools and parts can be expensive, I appreciate that you have the option to rent tools and return old parts for a discount. I also like that Apple has committed to providing parts for at least seven years after a particular product comes out, or even 10 years for replacement MacBook batteries that Apple plans to offer through this program in the future, when it expands to M1-equipped Macs.
Heck, the fact that you can rent a tool kit from Apple that has everything you need to fix a particular iPhone model for a flat fee of $49 is, frankly, amazing. It’s a long overdue and very welcome step in the right direction, and one that the Cupertino-based company deserves to pay tribute to.
But come on Apple, you can do better.
How Apple’s DIY Repair Program Could Be Better
As welcome as Apple’s DIY repair software, it still has some glaring flaws. The folks at iFixit are DIY repair experts and are vocal advocates of the Right to Repair movement, and when Apple’s DIY program was launched, they quickly pointed out some major weaknesses. Notably, Apple currently requires you to provide a valid serial number for the appropriate device you want to repair before you can purchase parts for it.
Also, replacing parts like the battery, camera, or display requires you (or the repair shop) to run a proprietary part of Apple software called the System Configuration Tool to complete the repair process.
Together, these two requirements give Apple a great deal of control over how customers repair devices they’ve purchased, and control the company can only reasonably exercise to impede attempts to repair your phone. As nice as it is that the company has committed to providing parts for a particular iPhone for seven years (which, as iFixit points out, is also required by law in Apple’s home state of California), the fact that the company is not my desire to trust customers enough is to allow us to Purchasing spare parts without attaching them to a valid serial number kills my enthusiasm for this program.
And given that Apple has priced its gadgets and parts pretty high, according to iFixit, it’s actually a bit cheaper to actually go to an Apple Store and get someone else to replace your screen than to do it yourself, it’s hard to feel like you’re doing it yourself. The Apple Repair Program is a truly customer-friendly initiative. Instead, it’s more like Apple trying to throw a bone to the right-to-repair advocates and fulfilling the rhetoric of the California Right to Repair Act without really making it easier to fix its hardware.
This is a real disappointment to mention that the whole point of encouraging companies to sell devices that are really easy to repair is ultimately to make the world a better place by reducing e-waste. It would also be a world more customer-friendly because third-party repair shops would be in a better position to compete with Apple for the repair bill, which means lower prices when you drop your phone for the umpteenth time and need an expert to replace your newly broken screen.
And if you’re concerned about outsourcing anything on your phone to a third-party repair shop, that’s a fair concern — but we’ve seen that Apple’s iPhone repair technicians can’t be trusted with your sensitive data either, so it’s best to back up and reset your iPhone to factory standards before handing it over to a repair technician.
Of course, Apple still has plenty of time to refine and improve its repair program. The company has promised to expand the program later this year to include parts for M1 MacBooks, which would be a nice change from a company that stopped selling laptops with easily replaceable internals more than a decade ago.
I was so excited to finally be able to buy a MacBook with the confidence of knowing I don’t have to replace everything if the battery malfunctions or the screen cracks, but Apple’s disappointing presentation so far has undermined that enthusiasm. If I had to register my replacement parts with Apple and pay a lot for the tools to get the repair done, it would be cheaper to pay Apple to do it, I’m less enthusiastic about investing in a new MacBook.
You know what I’m excited about though – even a year after it came out – is the Framework laptop. Launched in 2021, the frame is designed from the ground up to be easily repairable. Everything from the screen to the webcam to the keyboard is replaceable, with clear labels and QR codes that take you straight to a page with repair manuals and links to order replacements for the part you’re looking for.
On top of all that, it’s an excellent device that’s as portable, slim and lightweight as Apple’s MacBook Air with the M1. The fact that the Framework team was able to design a laptop that rivals one of Apple’s best MacBooks while still being virtually user-repairable (not to mention significantly customizable, thanks to its unique expansion card system of hot-swappable ports) is a huge feat. I hope Apple copies it while they are working on their DIY laptop repair software.
Sure, we’d be sure to ask Apple to re-engineer their laptops from the ground up to be as easy to fix as a Framework laptop. But even just a few steps in the direction of the Framework will make life easier for millions of MacBook owners around the world.
Apple could start dropping the false requirement that customers place a valid serial number in order to purchase parts, for example, reducing the red tape and making life easier for everyone. The frame only allows you to buy any parts you want; You can even buy a replacement motherboard and build your own PC around it, without the need for a framework.
You can also partner with third-party repair champions like iFixit to sell you iPhone and MacBook replacement parts at a more affordable price. Valve appears to have done just that, by partnering with iFixit to sell parts for its popular new Steam Deck laptop.
But really, what I’d like to see is Apple turning into this new passion with more salvageable products in a vindictive manner.
The company has a reputation for designing beautiful, high-performance laptops that are an absolute bear to fix yourself. But now that the Right to Repair movement has gained momentum, we’re seeing Apple taking some promising steps in the right direction, redesigning the 2021 MacBook Pro with more salvageable internals (God bless those batteries) and launching this promising (if faulty) initiative. DIY repair. Apple just needs to keep going in the right direction. Fortunately, companies like Framework have already shown us the way.