Apple announced Wednesday that it will start letting people repair their own products. The announcement marks a change in Apple’s repair policies and a major step forward for the reform movement. At the same time, the new software shows how Apple still wants to make these self-service repairs on its own terms.
The iPhone maker’s new approach is relatively simple. Apple will soon provide repair manuals for specific devices, and after reviewing them, customers will be able to order the tools and components they need to perform these repairs from a new section on the Apple website. At the start of the program, Apple will sell more than 200 different parts or tools to repair the iPhone 12 and 13 lineup. Apple says the program will eventually include Mac computers with M1 chips.
Wednesday’s announcement is a major turnaround for Apple. Historically, the company has typically offered repair tools and parts only to the 5,000 Apple Authorized Service Providers and 2,800 other independent repair shops that have Apple Authorized Technicians. Apple has a long time It has faced criticism from right-to-repair advocates, who want manufacturers to give customers the ability to repair their own devices, for this policy as well as for its practice of designing devices that can’t be easily upgraded or integrating certain components that only Apple has access to.
Dozens of countries have proposed right-to-repair legislation in recent years, laws that Apple has battled. For example, the company successfully convinced California lawmakers in 2019 that customers could start a fire if they accidentally damaged lithium-ion batteries in iPhones while trying to repair them. Apple has also suggested that the security and privacy of its devices can be compromised through unauthorized repairs.
Despite Apple’s best efforts, this right to reform movement has recently gained support in the White House. In July, President Joe Biden issued an executive order, among other things, directing the Federal Trade Commission to create new regulations for the right to reform. Later that month, the agency also announced that it would step up enforcement against “unlawful” restrictions on repairs, after investigating and documenting various strategies tech makers have used to make products more difficult to repair. Apple’s decision was announced on the same day as the major deadline for Apple’s Right to Repair decision Returning shareholders in September, a connection first reported by The Verge.
The Green Century — the sustainability-focused mutual fund that spearheaded the effort — has now reversed its decision, which would have prompted Apple to study the environmental impact of tough reform policies.
“We felt it was a big enough step forward,” Annalisa Tarizzo, an advocate for Green Century shareholders, told Recode. “We hope to continue engaging the companies we invest in on this issue because we believe it is really important and there are real risks to investors related to this issue.”
Tarizzo added that new guidance from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may have affected Apple’s timing. About two weeks ago, the agency repealed a Trump-era rule that made it easier for companies to reject socially informed shareholder decisions. Wednesday was also the deadline for Green Century to defend its proposal to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which Apple asked the agency to withhold.
So Apple’s concessions to some demands from right-to-repair campaigners appear to be an attempt to pre-empt any new regulations with its new reform program. But the company’s steps forward have some limitations. It totally discourages all users to start rooting in their iPhones and MacBooks. In the press release announcing the self-service repair, Apple said the program is for “individual technicians with the knowledge and experience to repair electronic devices” and that the “vast majority of customers” should visit an authorized repair shop. Meanwhile, customers who decide to repair their devices themselves under the new program will still need to purchase spare parts directly from Apple, which also sets the price for these components.
“This is not the open-source reform revolution that we have sought through our fight for the right to reform,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of sustainability at iFixit, said in a blog Wednesday. “If there is now an ‘official’ way to avoid warning messages and missing features when you need to replace a battery, camera, or screen, there is less incentive for Apple to help those using third-party parts, or even salvaged ones from other iPhones. By controlling the parts market, Apple can also decide when devices become obsolete.”
This isn’t the first time Apple has adjusted its strategy to ahead of potential regulations or legal action. In a proposed settlement with a class-action lawsuit representing software developers this summer, Apple said it would allow companies to tell iPhone and iPad users ways to pay for purchases such as subscriptions outside the App Store ecosystem. In September, the company also revised its rules for in-app purchases while the company was caught up in a controversial lawsuit with Epic Games. None of these app-related updates included Apple changing its policy of charging third parties in the Apple ecosystem heavily, while Apple’s own apps get a free ride.
Apple appears to be taking a similar approach with its new patch system. But while the company’s new program comes with a lot of caveats, the move is still a huge win for customers who don’t want to send their devices to Apple or look for an authorized repair shop. Soon, they’ll be able to swap out an iPhone screen or battery in the comfort of their own home.
Update, November 17, 4:20 ET: This article has been updated to report that Green Century Capital Management has canceled the shareholder’s right to reform proposal in the wake of Apple’s announcement.