Once again, we are reminded that our friends at Apple, Inc., are speaking out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to repair. In the very same week that Apple heralded the introduction of its self-service repair program in the EU, the Cupertino company was accused of using software (among other things) to keep users from repairing its devices and using third-party parts to keep Apple devices working.
A complaint, brought by the French environmental group HOP (Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée—”The Stop Planned Obsolescence Program”) targets Apple’s practice of part serialization (also known as “parts pairing”), which ties the serial numbers of discrete components and peripherals of a product to a specific phone using embedded microchips. The use of parts pairing with frequently replaced components like screens, batteries, and cameras, “allows the manufacturer to limit the possibilities of repair, in particular for non-approved repairers,” HOP alleges.
The suit is based on a French law that prevents companies from deliberately shortening product life spans in order to sell more products (a legal barrier that doesn’t exist in the U.S.).
The case highlights a contrast: even as Apple stands up a “Self Repair Service” that offers select iPhone and Mac parts to users, the company’s overall stance on independent repair of its products is far more complex—and less hospitable. In the U.S., the company is a major financial backer of industry groups that are seeking to defeat state and federal right to repair laws. And Apple’s public statements on repair often sound sour notes.
The company’s self-service repair program, while a step forward, is far from “user-friendly.” Apple saddles device owners who wish to take advantage of the program with high part costs and puzzling options, like asking would-be fixers to make a $1,200 deposit so the company can ship them 70 pounds of professional repair equipment to do their repair. Even then, owners must defer to the company to get replaced parts—even Apple manufactured parts—“authorized” and clear annoying messages and avoid degraded functionality.
This is exactly the opposite of the “you can do it” ethos of the repair community, epitomized by sites like iFixit and grassroots organizations like Repair Cafes and Fixit Clinics.
Apple’s attempt to minimize the demand for repair is no accident. And by making it seem like something that can only be done by expert repair professionals, the company is preventing repair from becoming more mainstream. In short: there is money to be made in keeping repair obscure. Apple’s new “pro-repair” stance looks more and more like a veneer designed to avoid charges that it is anti-repair.
While the U.S. lacks a specific law against planned obsolescence, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been pushing back against problematic business practices under the leadership of Chairwoman Lina Khan. The Commission’s 2021 Nixing the Fix report called out Apple by name for a variety of anti-repair practices. Proposed state and federal right to repair laws would compel device makers like Apple to make parts, information, and software needed for repair available to owners and independent repair professionals.
- John Deere signs an MOU with the American Farm Bureau Federation: The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and agricultural equipment maker John Deere signed a memorandum of understanding on Sunday that will provide access to John Deere’s Customer Service Advisor software, which can assist with some kinds of equipment repairs. It’s unclear whether the arrangement will make it easier to repair Deere equipment.
- CES Worst in Show awards call out bad tech trends: The annual orgy of electronic stuff took place last week: the Consumer Electronics Show or CES. While the mainstream media went gaga over flat-screen TVs, check out the 2023 Worst in Show Awards, which highlight the least fixable, most privacy invading, cybersecurity challenged and most unnecessary stuff coming out of Las Vegas.
- Apple hikes battery replacements, up to $90 for newer phones: The Verge reported that Apple will increase the price of new battery installations for iPhones, iPads, and Macs on March 1st. The sudden price increase also illuminates the company’s larger strategy around repair, which is nominally to support Apple customers’ right to repair but make repairs both costly and difficult.
- NBC calls right to repair “a hot consumer trend in 2023”: Readers, you were into it before it was “cool.” The “it,” of course, is right to repair, which NBC identifies as a hot consumer trend in 2023, along with a rise in the purchase of secondhand goods. “As it stands now, consumers have very few options when it comes to repairing items like smartphones, TVs and other gadgets,” the article notes. “Manufacturers are guilty of using tactics like inaccessible product designs, unavailable replacement parts, and non-existent repair information to limit customers’ ability to repair products. But recent pushback against this type of manufacturing has coalesced around the phrase ‘right to repair.'”
- Expect e-waste from electric cars: While progressive states like California are promoting the transition to electric cars, there is a lack of infrastructure to deal with them at the end of their lives. Groups like the Lithium-ion Car Battery Recycling Advisory Group have submitted policy recommendations to change this.
- Louis Rossmann talks butchered NY bill: A new video from Louis Rossmann unpacks his concerns with the recently passed Digital Fair Repair Act—mainly that manufacturers will now be able to use “safety” as an argument to withhold parts from consumers.
- Repair can help deal with technician labor shortages: An opinion piece from No-Till Farmer argues not only that R2R will support farmers, but will also help the agricultural industry cope with labor shortages of technicians for tractors and other equipment.
- India standardizes charging ports: Reports are surfacing that India could make USB-C ports mandatory for devices starting in 2025. The Bureau of Indian Standards has taken its first steps in beginning this process.
- Governor Hochul got it wrong on cybersecurity and repair: Louis wasn’t the only one complaining. The group SecuRepairs, which represents IT and cybersecurity professionals who support the right to repair, published a statement calling out New York Governor Hochul for siding with electronics industry lobbyists in demanding the removal of language requiring manufacturers to provide keys needed to release digital locks to carry out repairs. (Note: F2R editor Paul Roberts is the founder of SecuRepairs.org)
- Two major antitrust developments for big tech: Two actions by the FTC are attempting to make it more difficult for companies to swallow up smaller ones. We know that when companies eat up smaller companies, they are able to create less competitive environments where they pass costs (social, environmental, or financial) onto consumers.
- Microsoft: The FTC is suing Microsoft to keep them from buying the $69 billion company Activision Blizzard, which would let it dominate the gaming industry.
- Meta: The FTC is also suing Meta over its acquisition of a virtual-reality (VR) fitness company. This is bigger than an exercise app and could set precedent for the company’s other endeavors in the VR world.
- Portland’s focus on repair culture: In its attempts to “go circular,” the city of Portland is focusing on educating and socializing repair – with the hope that leading with community will create lasting change.
- Canadian aftermarket players say R2R within reach: Automakers in Canada are optimistic that they will be able to pass a nationwide automotive right to repair by 2024.
- Unintended consequences of GPS trackers: As internet-connected devices become smaller and more easily concealed to the general public, there are many unintended consequences – with GPS trackers being the latest example.