For nearly a decade, Apple did not allow anyone besides its own Geniuses to repair iPhones. Even though the company has long had an "Authorized Service Provider" program to certify independent repair shops to work on Macs and other Apple products, the company never allowed any of these "authorized" companies to work on iPhones.
That changed in late 2016, when the company quietly began allowing a handful of smartphone repair shops to work on iPhones. But according to more than 10 people I've spoken with, including former Apple employees, as well as employees and owners of unauthorized independent repair shops and authorized repair shops, Apple's service program is barely a repair program at all.
Independent shops pay Apple a fee in return for "authorized" status, which gets them exclusive access to Apple training and guidebooks and the ability to buy parts directly from Apple. But authorized repair shops are only "authorized" to do a select few repairs; if a customer comes in with other easily fixable problems, the repair shop must ship the phone to Apple.
"If I became Apple certified, I would lose 75 percent of my opportunities"
"If the program worked well, I would have joined a long time ago," one independent repair shop owner told me. "The only thing they allow you to repair are screens and batteries. If there's a broken camera, you have to send it back. Broken charge port, send it back. If it's an iPad, you have to send it back. These are repairs that take minutes to do, and you have to send it out."
"If I became Apple certified, I would lose 75 percent of my opportunities to do repairs on things and would have to send that business to Apple for a small finder's fee," he added.
Apple-authorized service providers do not get access to the iPhone Calibration Machine, which allows Apple to re-key Touch ID sensors, making screen replacements much easier. "Right to repair" legislation being considered in eight states would make Apple's system obsolete. CompTIA, a trade organization that represents Apple, has repeatedly told legislators that such programs are necessary for manufacturers to offer customers "substantial choice" in the repair market and for manufacturers to "protect customers."
"What I do see a lot of is [unauthorized] third party repair shops who will do non-modular repairs using non-Apple parts," another person in the industry told me. "I've seen repairs like that go incredibly wonderful, and I've also seen phones get completely screwed up because the shop was sketchy and had no clue what it was doing and was using POS parts from China."
"What Apple needs to honestly do is permit these kinds of repairs," the person added. "As long as the consumer knows that when doing that that Apple relinquishes all responsibility, they really should authorize those repairs and give out parts."
Apple did not respond to a request for comment about the specifics of the program. It has not responded to any of my requests for comment on dozens of repair-related stories for nearly two years. I have heard frustration about Apple's service provider program in passing from right-to-repair activists and independent shop owners, but would like to learn more about the program from the people who are in it or who have decided that making the move wasn't for them.
I would like to hear your experiences with Apple's Authorized Service Provider program. Has it helped your business or hurt it? What repairs are you allowed to do? What conditions does the company put on you? Do you secretly do unauthorized repairs off the books? Do customers get pissed off at you when you tell them you have to mail their phone to Apple? What guidance and help does Apple give you? Here's how you can securely contact me .