Leaked Apple Training Videos Show How It Undermines Third-Party Repair

Eight leaked training videos show how Apple instructs its repair partners to buy expensive parts when cheap ones will do.
September 21, 2021, 1:00pm
Apple Store
Image: Apple screengrab
Screen Shot 2021-02-03 at 12
State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.

Leaked training videos Apple made for its authorized repair partners show how the company trains repair technicians to undermine third party companies and talk customers into buying more expensive first party repairs.

“I cracked the glass on my phone and I’m comparing costs. How much for just that part?” One man acting the part of the customer asks in one of the videos.

“I can show you the cost for just the part before we begin,” another man, playing the part of repair technician says.

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“Whoa,” the customer says, holding out his hands. “That’s way more than the shop down the street. Why is it so expensive here?”

“This quote’s for a genuine Apple part,” the technician says.

“What do you mean by genuine?” the customer asks, his hands making scare quotes. “I’d like to save some money. Aren’t they really the same part?”

After this, the technician launches into an explanation of why it’s best for people to replace broken iPhone parts with genuine Apple products. “A genuine Apple part has to pass AppleCare engineering criteria,” the technician says, explaining that a screen from Apple will be tested as if it had just come off the factory floor. “With a genuine Apple display, all the features you’ve come to rely on behave seamlessly...that’s not the case with third party displays.”

Some of the videos obtained by Motherboard appear to be final products while others seem to be in the process of being edited, with what appears to be scratch voiceover work and video and images that do not appear to be final. That said, the scripting and talking points in the videos closely match what Apple Authorized Service Professionals and third party repair professionals have been saying for years.

The training videos are meant to help Apple’s certified repair stores navigate a world where customers can get replacement parts far cheaper than what Apple charges for basic repairs. For years, Apple has made it harder for independent repair stores to fix phones, nudging customers to go to Apple stores instead. In response, there's been a rising right-to-repair movement that wants to make it easier for people to repair their own stuff. 

Andrey Shumeyko, a member of a community of Apple enthusiasts that seek, publicize, and trade any kind of information that Apple would like to keep under wraps, sent the eight videos with Motherboard. The videos are not public, as they are only intended for Apple store employees and authorized independent repair technicians (these are called Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASP). Shumeyko said the videos were stored on an Apple platform, where a bug allowed him to access them without having to provide a login.    

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AASP launched in 2016 as a way for some independent stores to make basic repairs to Apple devices. AASP stores must open their stores to unannounced audits by Apple, and face a mountain of restrictions on what they can and can’t fix.

In an introductory video about recent changes to how Apple works with repair partners, an Apple representative reassured AASP stores that it wants them to “service all products.”

“To strengthen the brand message we’re strongly encouraging authorized service providers to offer repair solutions for all products,” the representative said. “It’s important when customers see ‘authorized’ they know they can get support for any and all products sold in their country. This offers customers a trusted Apple repair experience performed by trained technicians using genuine Apple parts.”

AASP stores have long been restricted in what they can and can’t repair and it’s unclear from the training videos how much this is changing. Apple did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.

“Our location is only certified to repair iPhones in store, MacBooks get mailed to our service center, which is Apple authorized, and pretty much everything else—iPads, AirPods, watches—are sent to Apple for either a whole unit replacement...or a mail in repair where it’s either repaired by Apple or undergoes additional screening before being replaced,” one employee at an AASP store who asked to remain anonymous told Motherboard. According to the employee, what can be repaired and how it is repaired differs from store to store.

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Six of the eight videos are dedicated to training repair techs on how to deal with customers worried about the huge costs of repairing an Apple device. One three-minute video is dedicated to helping customers understand why a genuine Apple screen is often better than one from a third party. At one point, both phones show the calculator and a hand on the Apple side punches in some numbers. 

“If both screens were responding accurately, we’d see screen touches that yield the same results,” a voice over said. “Instead the third party screen is missing touches or registering them at different locations.” 

What’s important to note is that, although there are some inferior third-party parts, Apple is painting with a very broad brush here. There are many third-party repair companies that use only very high quality aftermarket parts, used authentic parts, or refurbished parts and are able to offer good repairs for a price that is much less expensive than Apple. Consumers should be empowered to make their own decisions about what repair services to use, but these videos show that Apple is invested in undermining the credibility of its competitors.

In another example, a finger on both sides of the divide inputs a phone number. The video claims touching the screen inadvertently during a call on a third party screen might make the phone drop the call. Later, the video shows frozen images of both phones and claims the battery on the phone replaced with a third party screen is draining faster but  it’s not clear that the pictures actually show a difference between the screens at all.

Fixing your own stuff or having an independent store do it can be much cheaper than going directly to Apple. Contrary to what Apple said in the training videos, the parts are often exactly the same. Factories will often overproduce Apple parts like screens then sell the excess to independent vendors. If color calibration is off or the light doesn’t get quite as bright as it did before, it’s often because Apple has software locks and calibration profiles it could release to make repairs easier but refuses to.

Every video in the training series is aimed at boosting the morale of Apple’s AASPs and training them to convince customers to spend more when they could spend less. 

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"As someone who works as an Apple Authorized repair technician, I see on a daily basis how many devices the manufacturer claims are unrepairable but that third party repair shops have shown time and again that they can solve, letting people recover precious documents and memories that, because of manufacturer restrictions, I am not allowed to help with,” an AASP told Motherboard on the condition we keep them anonymous because they fear retaliation from Apple.

“It's frustrating to watch people have to struggle with confusing situations when Apple tells them their device needs to be replaced while a non-authorized service provider could actually be more effective, yet Apple deliberately tries to dissuade consumers from seeking better solutions from third parties,” the AASP said. “This is why the right-to-repair is so important to me."

iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens said the training videos marked a distinct change in how Apple handles independent repair. “It sounds to me like they’re coming to grips with reality,” Wiens told Motherboard. “This strikes me as the kind of thing they should have been doing all along—educating their technicians that there is competition in the market and that they need to compete on the quality and merit of their repair rather than the monopoly practices they’ve been using.”

Nathan Proctor, the head of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Right to Repair Campaign, agreed. “I think it’s a sign of progress that the manufacturers, instead of locking them into having no choice, are just trying to win them over to their side,” he said of the videos. “Maybe Apple is preparing for a world where they can’t legally take away those choices anymore and they need to compete by convincing customers that it’s worth it to pay more for their product, service, or part. The goal of right-to-repair has always been that customers be able to have the freedom to make that choice.”

The right-to-repair has made incredible strides in the last six months. President Biden signed an executive order aimed at making it easier for people to fix their own stuff, the FTC has adopted a pro right-to-repair platform, and bills aimed at making it easy for people to fix their own stuff are working their way through various state and local legislatures.

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai contributed reporting.