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Apple Offers Genuine iPhone Parts and Tools to Independent Repair Shops

After taking justified flak in the media for user-hostile actions toward independent hardware repair shops (see “Apple Continues to Harass Tiny Norwegian Repair Shop,” 10 June 2019) and even individuals who want to repair their own devices (see “Apple Starts Locking iPhone Batteries to Thwart Independent Repair,” 9 August 2019), Apple has seemingly reversed course.

The company has announced the Independent Repair Program, which will provide independent repair businesses, regardless of size, with the same genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals, and diagnostics for iPhone repairs as it gives to Apple Authorized Service Providers. After piloting the program with 20 repair business in North America, Europe, and Asia, Apple is launching the program in the United States with plans to expand it to other countries.

There’s no cost for repair shops to join the Independent Repair Program, although the application information notes that applicants must be established businesses in a commercially zoned area, and all repairs using genuine iPhone parts must be performed by an Apple-certified technician.

While Apple deserves praise for finally acknowledging that it needs the help of independent repair businesses to meet the burgeoning repair needs of the hundreds of millions of iPhone users, there are some caveats and questions to keep in mind.

  • iPhone only: The Independent Repair Program is explicitly only for the iPhone. It’s conceivable that Apple could expand it to other devices in the future, but the company may not want to encourage competition in areas where it feels it and Apple Authorized Service Providers can meet demand.
  • Common repairs only: In its description, Apple says that the Independent Repair Program will cover “a variety of out-of-warranty iPhone repairs, such as iPhone display and battery replacements.” It’s not clear what will happen if you take a broken iPhone to an independent shop and the problem turns out to be outside the scope of what the Independent Repair Program covers. Will the shop ship the broken iPhone to Apple for you? Will they tell you to do it? Or will they go ahead and repair the iPhone anyway, even if they can’t do it with Apple’s blessing?
  • Cost: In its coverage, iFixit notes that although batteries were priced reasonably during Apple’s pilot program, replacement screens for the iPhone XS Max were priced above Apple’s own out-of-warranty repair rate. That means shops will have to charge quite a bit more than Apple to pay for labor costs and overhead. Will this be a case of Apple allowing independent repair, but pricing it such that it won’t be able to compete on cost?
  • Right to Repair: Nothing Apple said in relation to the Independent Repair Program suggest that it would be designing its hardware with ease of repair in mind, or in such a way that individuals would be more able to repair their own devices. Having just spent 5 or 6 hours with my son Tristan disassembling and reassembling a dead 2011 27-inch iMac so we could bring its video card back to life by baking it in the oven, I can say with assurance that Apple doesn’t make things easy. (Our efforts paid off, and the iMac works once again!)

Unsurprisingly, Apple continues to frame the entire situation in terms of “safety” and “reliability.” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said:

We believe the safest and most reliable repair is one handled by a trained technician using genuine parts that have been properly engineered and rigorously tested.

It’s undoubtedly true that repairs are best made with properly engineered parts, but Apple’s rhetoric rings a bit hollow given that fires caused by Apple-genuine batteries caused the 2015 MacBook Pro to be banned by various airlines (see “Stop Using Your 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro,” 20 June 2019). (As an aside, read the comments on “FAA Warns Airlines about 2015 15-inch MacBook Pros,” 14 August 2019, for suggestions on what paperwork to bring with you if you need to travel with either an unaffected or repaired MacBook Pro.)

Regardless, the Independent Repair Program is absolutely a positive move for Apple, and we applaud the company for making it. But we remain somewhat troubled by Apple’s paternalistic tone and the implications implicit in it. Apple’s Williams said, “When a repair is needed, a customer should have confidence the repair is done right.”

That’s also true, but it’s none of Apple’s business unless Apple is doing the repair. If I choose to take my iPhone to an independent repair shop that is clearly not affiliated with Apple, the relationship is between that repair shop and me, and Apple is not a party to it. If I’m unhappy with the repair, it would be unreasonable to assume it was Apple’s fault in any way, and I’d take it up with the repair shop.

It’s just like with cars. Most of the time, I choose to have my Nissan Leaf serviced by a local independent mechanic who I trust more than the nearby dealer. I don’t need or want Nissan involved with general maintenance like having the brakes done. But for concerns related to the fact that it’s an electric car, I’d be happy to take it to the Nissan dealer so they could bring their proprietary tools and expertise to bear. (Happily, being an electric car with many fewer moving parts and fewer fluids, it hasn’t suffered from as many issues as the gas cars we’ve owned.)

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Comments About Apple Offers Genuine iPhone Parts and Tools to Independent Repair Shops

Notable Replies

  1. I agree with your take, Adam. It’s great they’re doing this for iPhone. Like you, I can only hope it will eventually also happen for Macs.

    To be honest, I’d be perfectly happy relying on Apple stores for Mac repairs. But as long as Apple keeps quoting this 5 day turn-around that’s just not realistic. If this is a work machine, you want to have it diagnosed and, if it can’t be fixed immediately, only bring it in once the parts have arrived and they’re ready to go. Then drop it off, pick it up a few hours later, done. Not five days later. If they don’t want to offer that level of service to regular paying customers (I’m aware it’s different for corporate accounts), they might as well let independent shops do it, who’d be more than happy for that kind of extra business.

  2. " That’s also true, but it’s none of Apple’s business unless Apple is doing the repair. If I choose to take my iPhone to an independent repair shop that is clearly not affiliated with Apple, the relationship is between that repair shop and me, and Apple is not a party to it. If I’m unhappy with the repair, it would be unreasonable to assume it was Apple’s fault in any way, and I’d take it up with the repair shop."

    But if you take that poorly repaired phone onto the A380 I’m flying on along with 500 others, and it starts a fire, suddenly it’s not just between you and the repair shop, is it? I find this “right to repair whether I know how to do it or not and with whatever parts I choose” thing very, very scary when we are talking about ignition devices like lithium batteries. And yes, I ran an un-authorized and then an authorized Apple service shop for many years and saw what terrible things people did or had done to their devices. YMMV.

  3. Apple has seemingly reversed course

    Or it’s possible that Apple’s course was never quite what the media and iFixit decided it was.

  4. Hey, nice to have you joining us, David!

    It’s true that a fire aboard a plane affects other people, but Apple is still not involved. This sort of thing happens all the time, and there haven’t been major media reports blaming Apple. Here’s the FAA’s list of 265 incidents involving lithium batteries since 1991. I count 10 instances of iPhones catching fire.

    And to return to the car analogy, people die all the time in car crashes, some of which are undoubtedly due to mechanical failures, but the manufacturers are never blamed unless the problem is somehow endemic to the model. Of course, car companies also issue recalls all the time to reduce the chances of that happening.

    Yes, that’s possible. I don’t believe it’s supported by the company’s actions, however, in suing the repair shop in Norway and tweaking iOS to identify even genuine Apple batteries that weren’t installed by someone with official Apple gear. Apart from the introduction of this program, I can’t think of a single thing Apple has done in the last few years that makes repair outside of Apple’s tight control easier.

    It seems more likely to me that this is another case where Apple decided the negative press, in conjunction with societal support for Right to Repair legislation and the company’s inability to keep up with iPhone repairs, led it to change its behavior.

    Apple is sensitive to negative press—it’s quite clear that the whistleblower report to the Guardian about Apple contractors listening to Siri recordings prompted the company to tweak iOS to request permissions, eliminate the use of contractors, and revise the grading program to protect user privacy.

  5. I’m not worried about Apple being blamed, I’m just worried about cheap crappy batteries or genuine Apple batteries carelessly installed putting other people’s lives at risk. I think some things that affect all of our safety are best done by accountable organizations. Using your car analogy, I have to go to a state authorized shop for an inspection once a year, although in between I can of course mod my engine control computer and do other dangerous things.

  6. True…but they’re not Apple. The haters in the media will blame Apple and only Apple if an iPhone or mob catches on fire on a plane…you know that’s true. Unjustified maybe…but true…

  7. Fair enough, and the new Independent Repair Program should make it easier for people not having do such repairs on their own.

    Apparently, only 15 US states require periodic safety inspections, mostly in the Northeast.

    Interestingly, although it would seem to be common sense that periodic safety inspections reduce accidents, there’s conflicting evidence to that effect.

    https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&gfns=1&q=do+periodic+car+safety+inspections+reduce+crashes

    Except we have 10 (sorry, I counted manually rather than just believing the search’s count of 23) instances of iPhone catching on fire on airplanes across multiple years that show this concern hasn’t played out yet.

  8. I’m in the same camp. Apple’s actions spoke a very clear language. Also, if this was truly Apple’s course all along why did they wait until they got hit with bad press to implement something they could have started years ago? My conclusion is they didn’t really want to. But faced with negative publicity they were forced to change course.

    That’s also why often times I think some bad publicity ends up doing Apple good, at least in the long run. This is no longer the 90s where they’re at risk of going under and we’d all be stuck in a world of pain with Windows and crappy PCs. Nowadays Apple is a super powerful global player that has no reservations flexing its muscles when it feels the urge. Some critical coverage and even a bit of bad publicity here and there is exactly what’s needed to reign in bad habits or every once in a while a misguided idea they float. I see that as a version of ‘tough love’ that ultimately will only make Apple a better company.

  9. It’s funny how when it comes to flying we’re always super strict and quick to call for an all-or-nothing approach.

    Roughly 90% of US drivers admit to at least occasionally speeding (NHTSA and insurance industry studies). And we all know perfectly well how that endangers other people’s lives. We also know that US traffic fatalities amount to 38,000 a year, basically two A380s crashing every week. Imagine what level of drama we’d see if that were to start happening. Yet when it comes to speeding, we tend to go with “yeah, well, whatever”.

    OTOH when it comes to flying and batteries we start acting like a bunch of ferrets on amphetamines. I refuse to play along. There needs to be some level-headed middle ground. I believe the level of scrutiny and inconvenience (and yes in fact, cost) has to be roughly adjusted to meet the level of danger. The number of fatalities due to Li ion batteries speaks a very clear language. And yes, I know of their potential devastation. As a physicist I’m actually well aware of the energy density in such a cell and yes, I have also seen the great FAA videos of what happens when such a cell starts a runaway and how it will continue to burn under water. I still prefer to remain rational about it.

    It is not Apple’s responsibility if somebody goes out of their way to install dangerous components into an Apple device. Consequently, it’s not Apple’s business to interfere with legitimate customer efforts to repair Apple devices through third parties. Especially not when the repair involves genuine parts and skilled labor.

  10. Also, if this was truly Apple’s course all along why did they wait until they got hit with bad press to implement something they could have started years ago?

    An article I read said that Apple has been testing this new system for nearly a year with 10 independent repair shops, and only just now opened it up to all, so this has been in the works for a while.

  11. The bad press about this topic didn’t start yesterday. That was already well underway a year ago. I have so far seen nothing to indicate Apple has been proactive here, looks quite reactive to me so far.

  12. I have so far seen nothing to indicate Apple has been proactive here, looks quite reactive to me so far.

    Why does that matter? I’m 100% sure Apple is doing this to negate the “right to repair” movement, but that doesn’t change that it’s a positive move, does it?

  13. No, the Independent Repair Program is absolutely a positive move. The debate was merely if it was a change in direction for Apple or if the company has actually been supportive of independent repair shops all along.

  14. They did exactly this for me at my local Apple Store. Unfortunately, once the part arrived and I dropped the computer off, it was still several days for the actual repair. :frowning:

  15. I was curious to hear Louis Rossman’s take, since he’s been hammering Apple over its repair policies, and generally hates Apple (he repairs MacBooks for a living, and as they say, familiarity breeds contempt).

    He actually praised them for it! It’s not perfect, but a big step in the right direction.

  16. tweaking iOS to identify even genuine Apple batteries that weren’t installed by someone with official Apple gear

    We’ve already had a long argument about that in the thread on that story – if Apple was trying to prevent third party battery installations with a really innocuous warning in the battery health section, they were doing it quite badly.

    Also, if this was truly Apple’s course all along why did they wait until they got hit with bad press to implement something they could have started years ago?

    Apparently, they did start testing it a while ago. And if it was earlier bad publicity that made them do this, why did they do the battery health warning?

    I think they don’t particularly care about the impact of their actions on third party stores and I think they’re very sensitive to exposing themselves to legal liability, but not that they’re going out of their way to screw over those third party stores.

    The ‘Apple hates third party stores and is trying to destroy them’ was a media narrative (helped along by iFixit), and so is the ‘Apple has seen the light of day because of bad publicity and changed course’ narrative.

    In a month or six months or a year, Apple will do something that hurts third party repair shops, and we’ll get a rash of ‘Apple’s backsliding’ stories.

    (Any bets on whether the next iPhone is more repairable than current models?)

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