Sabotage: Apple’s self-defeating Self-Service Repair program

From Sean Hollister’s “Apple shipped me a 79-pound iPhone repair kit to fix a 1.1-ounce battery” posted Saturday on The Verge:

Last month, Apple launched its Self-Service Repair program, letting US customers fix broken screens, batteries, and cameras on the latest iPhones using Apple’s own parts and tools for the first time ever. I couldn’t wait. I’d never successfully repaired a phone — and my wife has never let me live down the one time I broke her Samsung Galaxy while using a hair dryer to replace the screen. This time, armed with an official repair manual and genuine parts, I’d make it right…

I expected Apple would send me a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers; I own a mini iPhone, after all. Instead, I found two giant Pelican cases — 79 pounds of tools — on my front porch. I couldn’t believe just how big and heavy they were considering Apple’s paying to ship them both ways.

[Skipping a 12-paragraphs detailing a complex, error-code generating battery swap…]

It would be an understatement to say that Apple has a history of resisting right-to-repair efforts. Before the iPhone, replacing a battery was typically as easy as inserting a thumbnail to pop off your phone’s back cover; afterwards, phones largely became tricky to even open without specialized tools, which arguably pushed customers to replace their perfectly good devices when they might have only needed a new screen or battery. Also see: batterygate.

The more I think about it, the more I realize Apple’s Self-Service Repair program is the perfect way to make it look like the company supports right-to-repair policies without actually encouraging them at all. Apple can say it’s giving consumers access to everything, even the same tools its technicians use, while scaring them away with high prices, complexity, and the risk of losing a $1,200 deposit. This way, Apple gets credit for walking you through an 80-page repair, instead of building phones where — say — you don’t need to remove the phone’s most delicate components and two different types of security screws just to replace a battery…

I don’t think Apple expects anyone to seriously take it up on the offer of self-service repair kits. It stacked the deck in favor of taking your phone to an Apple Store, where it can tempt you to buy something new instead. The real victory will come months or years down the road, though. That’s when Apple can tell legislators it tried to give right-to-repair advocates what they wanted — but that consumers overwhelmingly decided Apple knows best.

My take: Kudos to Hollister for trying. If he hadn’t had a story to write, he confesses, he wouldn’t have.

12 Comments

  1. Fred Stein said:
    But do we see lots of broken screens like we did quite a few years ago?

    Were SmartPhones, not just iPhones, waterproof and rustproof back when replacing batteries and screens was easy?

    Apple has made iPhones far more durable. A trade off is making them harder to repair. Battery life keeps getting better too.

    10
    May 22, 2022
  2. Fred Stein said:
    Oops spell checker turn dustproof to rustproof.

    2
    May 22, 2022
  3. David Emery said:
    I dunno. Do you think an article that said, “Apple sent me the material to do a professional-level repair” would get as many clicks?

    7
    May 22, 2022
    • Kirk DeBernardi said:
      David E. —

      Aye…there’s the rub

      😉

      3
      May 22, 2022
  4. jlrratz@cox.net said:
    I rarely comment on posts, but this one drives me to do so. It’s another in a long series of “customers want X (better security, lighter products, right-to-repair,etc)” and media who bang the drum loudly in favor of these things then complain at Apple’s response and attempt to meet that request. With an automobile “right to repair” I don’t hear many people complaining about how complex and difficult it is to replace spark plugs these days compared to cars built in the 1960’s. Progress, for whatever reason, has its trade offs. If Apple were to simplify products to meet the media whine-du-jour, do you think these products would be worth buying?

    Point is, do they really want the ability to repair or do they want Apple to do it they way they want?

    (Yes, I realize these requests start at the customer level, but it’s those in the fourth estate that are rarely satisfied)

    10
    May 22, 2022
  5. John Konopka said:
    My experience in industry was that this idea of open systems, programmable systems, repairable systems was often discussed, but very few customers actually used any of them.

    We spent a fair amount of time to make a library of documented system calls so a customer could write their own software for our scientific instrument. I think one person actually used this.

    For the most part people just want their products to work, and when they fail they want an experienced person to fix them quickly and correctly for a fair price.

    There are a small number of people who like to tinker with things. Not many.

    If Apple could make it as easy to change batteries as changing batteries in a flashlight what would you give up to make that happen? The level of waterproofing? The case strength which could affect the shattering of the screen?

    Why should they make it easy to change the battery if it only needs it once in three years? Why make the glass super easy to change if most people don’t break the glass? It’s a tough call. Most of us, legislators included, work with a small sample size of users. Apple, Samsung and others deal with hundreds of millions of phones. With so much at stake I’m sure they have gamed this out.

    Apple laptop batteries used to be swappable. Back then you might only get an hour or two on a charge. I used to carry a spare when I traveled. Also, after a year or two the batteries might swell up and need replacement. Technology has changed. Batteries are much more reliable. The trade off is we take them to a service center in the relatively rare case that they fail.

    4
    May 22, 2022
  6. Rodney Avilla said:
    I expected Apple would send me a small box of screwdrivers, spudgers, and pliers; I own a mini iPhone, after all

    The assumption that the repair equipment is proportional to the size of what’s being repaired is probably about as superficial as one can get.
    “I am sorry doctor, but that robotic surgical equipment is way too large for my small Prostate “

    3
    May 22, 2022
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:
      Thank you, Rodney! Please see my comment below.

      0
      May 22, 2022
  7. Steven Philips said:
    There’s a fundamental disconnect in the concept of “right to repair” as noted on this site forever! And above. The only people who don’t seem to get it are politicians and “journalists”.(or certain companies with a “repair “ agenda.)

    0
    May 22, 2022
  8. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    I don’t know why the author claims he didn’t know the size of the repair kit. I just took a tour of Apple’s self service repair site selfservicerepair(dot)com. The process for ordering the kit and details about it, including what’s being shipped and how the deposit for the kit works, are clearly detailed and explained. But then it might not have made such an interesting “story.” Perhaps the angle (or slant) for the article was crafted before the parts and rental of the kit were ordered? Apple is complying with self-repair mandates and the company is providing all of the tools and equipment necessary to successfully complete a repair. I take a different approach. I always buy a case and AppleCare+ when ordering a new iPhone. In fact, it’s required for those of us on the Apple annual upgrade program to purchase AppleCare+. It’s billed monthly and we pay for only the time we have possession of the iPhone. In other words, if I choose to trade-in the iPhone after a year, I’m charged monthly for only the 12 months I have the iPhone. Still, Apple is complying with mandates and will certainly equip a device owner with all of the tools and resources one might need to successfully complete a repair. What’s wrong with that?

    1
    May 22, 2022
  9. Michael Goldfeder said:
    Apple produces the most sophisticated smart phone in the world and this individual was of the opinion that Apple ought to just send him directions to the local Dollar Tree with a voucher to purchase the highly crafted tools he would need to effectuate a repair? This isn’t a toy or model put together with airplane glue and jigsaw puzzle parts. I’m impressed with the materials and procedures Apple makes available for “self repair” so that this process can be undertaken by a novice who wants to have that Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame by writing a skewed article implying that Apple is making this opportunity unnecessarily burdensome and overwhelming for the basement keyboard warrior.

    IMO, Apple is providing everything that is used by their personnel when repairing a phone “In House.” Where all repairs ought to be done if it’s to be completed properly. This is reminiscent of the scene from the movie: “Apollo 13” when Ken Mattingly was in a mock up space capsule on the ground trying to solve a problem utilizing only the tools and resources available to the crew in orbit flying a bucket of bolts.

    The author of this hit piece is a clown!

    1
    May 22, 2022
  10. Rodney Avilla said:
    If he hadn’t had a story to write, he confesses, he wouldn’t have.

    That’s like the politician that says “ if I didn’t have something important to say, I won’t speak. “
    Wouldn’t that be nice if politicians only talked when they had something important to say? And not just because they like to, hear themselves speak?

    I can just see Hollister going to his boss at the end of the week and saying, “Sorry, no article this week. Couldn’t find a good story. Feel free to give me a new assignment next week.”

    0
    May 22, 2022

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