Apple is notorious for its stranglehold on repairs and managing to weasel its way out of regulation by offering limited repairs through third parties—which Apple alone has the authority to choose. Right to repair activists have long called out Apple and many of its peers for restrictions that attempt to prevent independent repair shops from performing gadget repairs as well as strip consumers of their ability to choose how they want their devices fixed and by whom. Now, a new survey suggests that many independent repair outfits are performing in-shop repairs that Apple doesn’t.
The survey, conducted by consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG Education Fund in partnership with iFixit, asked iFixit Pro customers—repairers who pay a subscription fee for wholesale repair parts and bulk orders—to respond through an online form to respond to questions about their independent repair businesses. Of the 302 phone repair technicians who responded to the survey, 78 percent said they offered more repairs than Apple offers in-store. The study found that 41 percent of repairs done by respondents were processes that Apple will not complete on phones in its stores.
The findings cite Apple’s responses to questioning from Representative David Cicilline, who is chairman of the subcommittee on antitrust, regarding Apple’s repair program. The questions referenced related to Apple’s in-store repairs and those offered through its Apple Authorized Service Provider Program. These AASPs, Apple told Cicilline, “are permitted to conduct exactly the same repairs, both in terms of product and type of repair, that Apple Retail Stores conduct,” specifying that those in-store services for the iPhone included display, battery, speaker, and camera repairs.
That’s all well and good, but a customer who needs a repair in a pinch may not have immediate access to an Apple store or one of its authorized repair partners. And as the owner of that device, the decision should be theirs as to how they want their repair done. Apple severely impacts consumer choice by limiting the original equipment manufacturer parts, diagnostic tools, repair parts, and schematics it grants to repair outfits. It further puts consumers in a bind by requiring them to ship products in for repairs that it or its AASPs don’t offer in-store. Plus, Apple gets to determine how much repairs cost—another hit to consumers.
Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.
Nathan Proctor, author of the survey and head of U.S. PIRG’s right to repair campaign, said he was surprised to find that “such a large portion of repairs—41 percent of repairs done by the independent techs we talked to—would not be available at an Apple authorized location.” He also noted that wider access to repairs could lessen the need for people to so frequently repair their phones, one significant contributor to a growing e-waste crisis that impacts virtually every level of life on this planet.
Which brings us back to the right to repair. Access to necessary Apple parts and tools for independent repair shops means greater consumer control over their devices and electronics; more control over when and how a repair is performed; access to important device information that Apple intentionally bars users from viewing without Apple-approved software (such as battery health on newer iPhones); and could impact how frequently users replace their devices, a necessary and important step in responsible consumption.
Your move, Apple.