I’ve spent the past four years learning how manufacturers use every trick in the book to thwart repair. Because as Tim Cook reported this week, repairing a device you already own versus upgrading to a new one hurts the short-term bottom line. That’s not news to us, but this is the first time that Apple has publicly acknowledged that repair hurts profits.
If you recall, Apple started 2018 with a good ol’ fashioned scandal: Batterygate. After years of reliability issues and speculation, Apple confirmed that they were intentionally slowing down iPhone performance in order to prevent battery power surges and unexpected shutdowns. Their failure to inform customers of their throttling hijinks didn’t go over very well. As a result, Apple was forced to admit that the battery inside your smartphone is a consumable. Their lie of omission: replaceable parts in the iPhone wear out, not the iPhone itself. And now, Apple has been forced to make another admission—their profit-first business model isn’t impervious to the inevitabilities of repair.
A quick glance at Apple’s 2018 anti-repair rapsheet shows that they’re playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole against repair, specifically third-party repair:
- In April, they sued an independent repair shop in Norway for violating their trademark by using refurbished parts. With that mentality, they could pretty much sue any repair shop out there and monopolize the entire market—so it’s a good thing they lost.
- When they launched iOS 11.3 in response to Batterygate, it introduced a whole lot of software problems seemingly targeted at independent repair, including bricking some iPhones with aftermarket screens.
- This one legitimately keeps me awake at night: Their newest MacBook shipped with a hidden secret repair kill-switch that would effectively make your MacBook inoperable if it was fixed at an unauthorized repair shop.
- And most recently, Apple and Amazon partnered up to to kick all unauthorized Apple refurbishers off of Amazon marketplaces. In their agreement, Amazon agreed to let Apple hand-pick who is allowed to sell products on their site.
Behind the scenes, I’ve witnessed Apple lobby against the legislation that would make it easier for consumers to fix their phones. Their go-to argument is that unauthorized repair is too dangerous. And I don’t know about you, but I’d say it’s a hell of a lot more dangerous for me to change the tire on my car than swap the battery in my phone.
This past year, iFixit helped more than 120 million people fix their stuff. That number grows every year, proving that there’s a demand for repairable products and that people are more than capable of making the fix themselves. Three out of five of our most viewed guides this past year were for the iPhone 6. And as others have pointed out, people want to hold on to their iPhones longer. That’s a good thing—not just for consumers’ wallets and the environment, but also for Apple’s long-term reputation. Even if repair hurts Apple’s bottom-line in the short term, offering high-quality devices built to stand the test of time, that can be upgraded and repaired with relative ease, is something to be proud of.
i planned to upgrade my 6S this year, but after getting a screen, battery, AND home button replacement, i figured i could keep holding out. plus, i have a headphone jack and imessage and the same iOS as everyone else. not worth the $800 to me! https://t.co/fgEZJrGTJ0
— Ashley Carman (@ashleyrcarman) January 2, 2019
Longer-lasting devices also warrant increased repair options. Some iPhone owners had to wait months this year before Apple could replace their battery. When someone lives more than three hours from an Apple Store or can’t afford the price of a needed repair—much less the price of an Apple device in the first place—they might just stop buying Apple devices altogether. We hope that Apple can learn to embrace third-party repair. Or their next admission won’t just be about how repair hurts the bottom-line, but the inevitability of independent repair itself.