By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
Apple last week announced a seeming concession on the right to repair. This is significant: the company has long been a vigorous opponent of the concept.
According to a company press release:
Apple today announced a new repair program, offering customers additional options for the most common out-of-warranty iPhone repairs. Apple will provide more independent repair businesses — large or small — with the same genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics as its Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs). The program is launching in the US with plans to expand to other countries.
There is no cost to join Apple’s independent repair program. To qualify for the new program, businesses need to have an Apple-certified technician who can perform the repairs. The process for certification is simple and free of charge. To learn more and apply, visit support.apple.com/irp-program. Qualifying repair businesses will receive Apple-genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics at the same cost as AASPs.
Over the past year, Apple has launched a successful pilot with 20 independent repair businesses in North America, Europe and Asia who are currently offering genuine parts for repairs. Today’s announcement follows Apple’s recent major expansion of its authorized service network into every Best Buy store in the US, tripling the number of US AASP locations compared to three years ago.
Nice to see Apple finally making some concessions on this issue. Critics will say, too little, too late, but better than nothing I suppose. I might hope that Apple might undertake a company-wide reconsideration as to how its design and other practices generate excessive waste (see for background and context, Rotten Apple: Right to Repair Roundup, and Design Genius Jony Ive Leaves Apple, Leaving Behind Crapified Products That Cannot Be Repaired, and Apple Spends Big to Thwart Right to Repair in New York and Elsewhere). But I shan’t hold my breath waiting for that to occur.
Here, the credulous take on the program, from Waste Dive, Apple will allow independent repair businesses to fix its devices:
Apple’s decision to allow more third-party repair shops to fix its products comes after criticism from consumers and “right-to-repair” activists over the company’s previous policy of encouraging customers to seek repairs only from authorized service providers or the company’s own technicians. Apple was previously opposed to allowing independent repair companies to fix its devices, and it has also admitted to using software to slow down its older devices.
The move comes as advocates and politicians, including presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, bring awareness to the need for consumer repair options. Apple’s expansion of its repair program appears to be an attempt to serve consumers while maintaining the integrity of its repair processes, but it also means that Best Buy – and now other businesses as well – have another reason to get consumers through the front door. Service offerings have been a key part of Best Buy’s appeal, and partnering with a large device provider like Apple increases the number of consumers it’s able to serve.
Jerri-Lynn here. Okay, a couple of points. First, I note that the repair program applies to iPhones only. What about those of us erstwhile customers who lack a smartphone, but need a repair on our MacBook – and incidentally spend lots of time in places where Apple has as yet a limited presence (see Mumbai may get Apple’s first retail store in India)? Does this change really help us much?
Second, third party repair technicians must still qualify as Apple certified technicians. This leaves the company in the catbird seat, as many repair shops are located far away from an Apple installation. How hard will it be to get the necessary certification? Who pays for what’s necessary to qualify? Bottom line: perhaps this seeming concession doesn’t amount to much, as few will qualify to receive it.
According to Apple’s requirements for The Independent Repair Provider Program:
The premises must be in a commercially zoned area, a residential address is not acceptable as a service location.
Participating service companies using iPhone genuine parts are required to have Apple-certified technicians perform the repairs.
Becoming certified to repair Apple products requires passing exams through an online Authorized Testing Center. Certifications are updated on a per product basis annually. The certification exam fees are waived for businesses that have been approved to be an Independent Repair Provider.
Detailed information about Apple Certifications preparatory courses and exams can be found here.
So, I ask you, what does it matter where the repair facility is located? This seems to me a means for Apple to exclude legitimate small, mom and pop repair businesses, rather than an arguable (bogus) justification of ensuring the quality of the repair. And I reiterate, this technician certification process also allows Apple ultimate control.
And, my last point, a positive one: right to repair pressure, such as the endorsement of the concept by both the Warren and Sanders campaigns, and the tabling of right to repair legislation in more than twenty states, has led Apple to make some concessions – even if it proves that there’s less to these than meets the eye. That’s nonetheless a good thing. Repairing rather than replacing devices saves consumers money. And, it reduces the amount of eWaste generated.
I reached out to Nathan Proctor, the director of US PIRG’s right to repair campaign, and he more or less agreed with my assessment of what Apple has done. “This is a crack in the dam, but short of the right to repair. It’s significant, because Apple has been a strong opponent of that goal. By making the latest concessions, the company has undercut some of its longstanding objections.”
“The real goal of the right to repair movement is to give people full control over their devices,” he continued. “But while this Apple move is welcome, we have much more work to do.”
By the way, I know from looking at comments on previous posts, some wonder why I continue to focus on Apple, a company that has in recent memory only increased prices, crapified its products, and treated longstanding customers with contempt. Answer: Apple is a big bellwether for tech practices. I don’t endorse – and actually deplore – many of its practices. But I pay attention, as it’s an indicator – albeit an imperfect one -of which way the wind is blowing.