Apple has announced plans to let customers repair their own phones in a monumental shift from its current repair policies. It is going to sell repair parts directly to the public, something that few phone manufacturers have done over the last decade. It will also make repair guides available to the public.
“Available first for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 lineups, and soon to be followed by Mac computers featuring M1 chips, Self Service Repair will be available early next year in the US and expand to additional countries throughout 2022,” it said in a press release.
According to Apple, the initial focus will be on screens, batteries, and cameras but will expand next year. Customers will have access to repair manuals and can then order Apple parts and tools online. After they’ve completed their own repair they can return the broken parts to an Apple store for store credit. Apple said it will offer more than 200 individual parts and tools to help repair iPhone 12s and 13s.
“Creating greater access to Apple genuine parts gives our customers even more choice if a repair is needed,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said in a press release. “In the past three years, Apple has nearly doubled the number of service locations with access to Apple genuine parts, tools, and training, and now we’re providing an option for those who wish to complete their own repairs.”
This is a massive change from Apple, who has long maintained a repair monopoly on its products and done whatever it could to prevent people from fixing their own devices. Apple initially disabled Face ID on iPhone 13s with independently repaired screens and has promised a software fix for the issue.
"This is a huge milestone for the Right to Repair. One of the most visible opponents to repair access is reversing course, and Apple’s move shows that what repair advocates have been asking for was always possible,” Nathan Proctor, the head of USPIRG's Right to Repair Campaign, told Motherboard in an email. “After years of industry lobbyists telling lawmakers that sharing access to parts, service tools and manuals would result in safety, security and intellectual property risks, Apple’s sudden change indicates these concerns were overblown. Right to Repair is breaking through.”
Since the inception of the iPhone, Apple has fought against consumer and independent repair. For years, Apple only allowed “authorized” repair companies to fix iPhones, which created a huge grey market for aftermarket parts and a bustling online culture for DIY repair guides that were created by staff and users on sites like iFixit. Apple has generally fought against independent repair; the company has sued repair companies that use what it has argued in court are “counterfeit” parts, has lobbied against right to repair legislation that would require Apple to do what it just announced it will voluntarily do, and has historically argued that fixing your own phone is dangerous.
Apple’s announcement may be in response to pressure from the right to repair movement, which has been led by companies like iFixit, independent repair companies, and consumer rights activists. The right to repair movement has won a few victories over the last year, with the Biden administration providing some repair protections in a recent executive order. The FTC has also signaled that it is considering taking action on repair monopolies.
“Apple has long claimed that letting consumers fix their own stuff would be dangerous, both to us and our stuff,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit told Motherboard in an email. “Now, with renewed governmental interest in repair markets—and soon after notably bad press for parts pairing—Apple has found unexpected interest in letting people fix the things they own. Looks like they finally realized what we’ve known all along: everyone’s enough of a genius to fix an iPhone.”
This move from Apple does not necessarily mean the right to repair movement is over, or that there isn’t still work to be done. John Deere and other tractor manufacturers promised similar access to repair parts and manuals in an agreement several years ago and then used it to argue that right to repair legislation was not necessary. But the version that tractor manufacturers offered was a watered-down version of what activists were looking for, and the ultimate rollout of its consumer repair program was slow and underwhelming.
Repair.org, an advocacy group that fights for the right-to-repair, greeted the news with joy but had some cautions. “We’re delighted to see Apple get on board with expanding access to their parts and tools directly to consumers. It’s a big step forward for one of the most dedicated opponents to Right to Repair, and frankly unexpected,” it told Motherboard in an email. “Holes remain. We don’t know if independent repair providers will be able to buy parts and service information. We don’t know if the pricing to consumers will make sense, nor if consumers will be able to use competitively priced parts from 3rd parties.”
“The list of parts and products remains very limited—and while the press release hints ‘more’ will be available over time, we all know that good intentions aren’t bankable,” Repair.org said. “Our inner cynic believes that Apple is making these concessions in a clear attempt to forestall legislation. The moment our pressure is off—they have no incentive to remain helpful. Further, legislation isn’t only about Apple—it applies to competitors as well—and into industries outside of consumer electronics. Victory feels great—but reminds us that this is one of the thousands of OEMs that abuse their customers with anti-competitive policies. We will continue until laws are passed that make it practical for all equipment owners to have fair and reasonable access to repair services of their choice.”
"As more and more manufacturers show that repair access is reasonable and doable, it should become clear to lawmakers that there are no more excuses,” Proctor said. “It’s time to give every American the Right to Repair, so everyone can fix all their products. That's the way it should be."
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.