Mario Tama / Staff
The new iPhone Pro Max 15 is a repair nightmare and it’s all thanks to parts-pairing. In its teardown of the device, iFixit praised the design of the machine but pointed to a “slew of software hindrances significantly overshadow any mechanical advancements in design.” It gave the phone a final repairability grade of 4/10.
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.
Apple has been making baby steps toward greater repairability of its devices, with the iPhone 15’s new chassis receiving particular attention before release. But according to iFixit, the iPhone 15 Pro Max has a “great design undermined by parts pairing.” In other words, software that locks down specific parts wrecks the promise of what could have been a more sustainable device. When the group tried to swap the cameras between two of the phones, the cameras stopped working, iFixit reported. “When we first encountered this problem last year, where the part was paired to its original device, we assumed that it was a bug that would be quickly fixed. Our trust was clearly misplaced.”If you wanted to replace the display, battery, or main camera on an iPhone Pro Max 15 yourself, you physically could but you’d be locked out by software. Each of these components contains a small bit of software with a serial number. If the DRM-driven system inside the device doesn’t recognize the serial number of a replaced part, it simply won’t work. Users have to purchase genuine Apple parts to get around this, third party parts—which are almost always cheaper—won’t work.After more than a decade of making its devices harder and more expensive to repair, Apple announced it was changing its tune a few years ago. It promised to sell repair manuals and genuine Apple parts to the public so they could make basic repairs themselves. It sounded good, but almost two years after the announcement it appears that Apple has used the move to hold onto its repair monopoly in a different way.
When The Verge went through Apple to replace an iPhone battery, the tech giant put a $1,200 hold on the journalist’s credit card and shipped them two Pelican brief cases with speciality equipment weighing a total of 79 pounds. iFixit can sell you tools that do the same thing for $32. It’ll come to your mailbox in a small envelope.But if you go the iFixit route, you still have to deal with the problem of getting the phone to recognize the new battery. Thanks to parts-pairing, that’s impossible right now without going through Apple. “Is it more repairable? Within Apple’s walled garden, sure. In the real world, not so much,” iFixit said in its video review. “This phone won’t accept salvaged parts, it complicates at-home repair, and it won’t be any fun for your local repair tech.”The situation extends beyond the iPhone. "We’ve witnessed analogous situations with MacBooks and iPads where the stranglehold on repairability is tightening, restricting the remit of repairs to Apple or forcing compromises on independent repairs,” iFixit said. So, Apple made its stuff mechanically easier to repair while doubling down on draconian software locks.“Apple is accustomed to designing great experiences. But their attempts to dictate how the repair market works have fallen completely off target,” Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit told Motherboard. “Repair and reuse require flexibility. The open market is vast, and the more adaptability that the hardware shows, the more opportunities for reuse there will be. Parts pairing is repair DRM. It's a short-sighted approach that needs to be walked back.”The right to repair has gained popularity in the United States and laws that would make it easier for everyone to repair their stuff is moving through various state houses across the country. Minnesota, New York, and California, and Colorado have all passed some form of the legislation. But it’s always a fight and lobbying groups connected to Apple and other companies frequently work to weaken the legislation. Companies like Apple don’t like right to repair requirements because charging customers hundreds of dollars to do basic repairs helps its bottom line. But the legislative fights are important and they can be won. The only reason the new iPhone is using a USB-C charger is because the European Union forced Apple to change the design.