Apple to start selling parts to the public?!
This is perhaps the most significant and shocking piece of news or headline as it relates to the mobile repair industry that we've come across since starting.
To summarise, Apple have announced a new program that will enable end users to purchase replacement parts, tools and manuals, so that they can repair their own devices. The program will be limited to iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 series' initially, with plans to introduce support for other models and MacBooks at a later date. There will be a limited range of replacement parts available - just screens, batteries and cameras to begin with. It looks like this will be rolled out in 2022 in the US initially, and in Europe shortly after.
On the surface this is a huge win for the Right To Repair movement. Electronics manufacturers have been making it increasingly difficult for consumers to repair their products by serializing parts to make them irreplaceable. Thus, when a part fails, the consumer is left with no choice but to pay an extortionate fee to the manufacturer for repair, or to buy a brand new device. What should be a £30.00 - £60.00 repair, is more frequently becoming a ~£1000 new phone. The end result is shorter product life-cycles, which means greater cost to the consumer, massive environmental damage & e-waste, and increased gains to large corporations at the expense of small businesses and the repair industry.
So surely this is a step in the right direction... But as with any move as unexpected and out of character as this, by a company like Apple, we remain sceptical - because it's is a complete U turn. It's still the same company, same board of directors, and same CEO as it was last week. This looks like a typical damage control PR stunt, with the aim to appease Right To Repair.
For years, Apple have been under scrutiny for their sly and deliberate actions to restrict reparability in order to maximise profitability. This is something that we've become very familiar and frustrated with over the years.
In more recent months, the pressure has really been put on Apple from all angles, with regard to reparability, their environmental impact, and data security. This pressure may have forced their hand, and has been a necessary play by Apple to keep US and EU regulators off their backs.
It seems too much of a coincidence that they introduce this new scheme just days after withdrawing their lockdown on iPhone 13 screen repairs, after pressure from Right To Repair. This is almost certainly a contingency plan that was in place and ready to go in the event that they were forced to remove the lock - which disabled Face ID on all replacement screens. This kind of program doesn't come together over night. This is months of planning.
Just a couple of years ago, we were excited and optimistic about Apple's Independent Repair Program, which enabled businesses to become Apple certified repair centres with access to genuine Apple parts. But unfortunately, the program was immensely restrictive. Approved centres could only offer a very limited range of repairs, and would be shut down if caught doing a repair that "wasn't allowed". Apple also took a huge commission for every repair, and wouldn't even allow shops to keep parts in stock, meaning expensive repairs and long turnaround times.
So how will this new scheme work? Who knows... Well, We think that the user will have to order parts via their Apple ID, so they can only order parts for their own registered devices. This will enable Apple to program new parts, to avoid compatibility issues - which is good. They will probably be selling full assemblies, rather than individual components - for example, if the keyboard on your MacBook breaks, you'll need to buy a full casing with keyboard, trackpad and battery, just to fix your keyboard. Alas, your replacement parts cost £250 instead of £60, but the job is quicker and easier. It could also be that the difference in price isn't worth it for consumers, i.e. buy the price-inflated parts from Apple and DIY, or pay an extra £10.00 to get it all done at the Apple store.
Whilst many of the basic iPhone repairs are fairly straightforward to someone with a propensity to fix things, this is not a game for amateurs to try and monetize. It may be that this scheme results in the emergence of many more bedroom DIYers advertising their services all over Facebook, until they're left with a friends £1000 phone that they've damaged and have no idea how to fix.
Apple previously stated that allowing the user to repair their device; themselves or by a third party; is unsafe. In many cases, this is true. The average person (or inexperienced/incompetent technician), will puncture batteries, break screens upon removal, blow backlights and mash connectors. For us, we're fairly busy with salvaging failed DIY attempts, so this might actually be a good source of business for repair centres.
This move, whilst it allows their customers to give it a go, offers no benefit to independent repair centres as far as we can see. Fingers crossed that China continue to create innovative repair solutions, and that the high quality aftermarket parts manufacturers and distributors continue to adapt.
For now though, this is all speculation, and we'll have to wait and see how it plays out over the next couple of years. If you've made it this far, thanks for joining us as we organise our thoughts on the news. Hopefully, you got something interesting from it.
Thanks for reading!
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