Apple’s self-repair program is great for customers, but it also gives the company a level of control that must be countered with right-to-repair laws.
Apple delivered arguably one of the biggest turnabouts in its product history last week, announcing that iPhone owners can now repair their smartphones on their own. And soon, the courtesy will be extended to M1 Macs. Apple will sell genuine parts via an official store and provide access to repair manuals as well. The latter is another significant move, as the company has also restricted third-party access to replacement parts and repair kits in the past.
It was only in 2019 that Apple finally allowed third-parties access to iPhone parts and then extended it for Macs in 2o20. Historically, the company hasn’t won many fans over its approach towards devices. From giving arguments like ‘repairing might be harmful to users’ to ‘chances of damaging the device,’ Apple has even gone to the extent of making internal videos discouraging third-party repairs. Apple’s status as one of the most prominent anti-repair law lobbyists is also well-known in the industry.
Because of Apple’s own history, its decision to launch a Self Service Repair program sounds so out of character. Apple hasn’t made things easy with the design of its products from a repairability perspective, with the latest example being a tricky iPhone 13 screen replacement that disabled Face ID if the process was done at a third-party repair outlet. Apple quickly rectified it, but it served as yet another reminder of where Apple stands. However, the U-turn towards launching a self-repair program might have less to do with a profound change of heart and looks more like a calculated move that saves faces and also avoids regulatory tussle. As pointed out by The Verge, Green Century Capital Management had filed a shareholder proposal that criticized the company’s repair policies. The day Apple announced its self-repair program was also a critical deadline for the shareholder resolution. More importantly, if Apple didn’t accept the proposal, the advocates representing it would have taken it before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
It Is Not All About Caring For Customers
There is no certainty whether the agency would have ruled in favor of or against Apple, now the resolution has been withdrawn following Apple’s announcement. The company initially filed a no-action request before the SEC so that the pro-repair proposal could be blocked and shareholders wouldn’t get to vote on it. But somewhere between filing the request and the deadline, Apple decided to change its tunes and launch a self-repair program before the SEC got involved. The right-to-repair movement has picked up steam in 2021. And with U.S. President Joe Biden signing an executive order backing repair reforms proposed by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Apple was definitely at a backfoot. But it was not just its home market where things were not going according to plan. The EU has been pushing aggressively towards stricter right to repair laws and has even asked Apple to ditch its precious Lightning port in favor of USB-C to make life easier for customers and for the sake of the environment as well.
After all, Apple used the same pro-environment logic to banish the charger from iPhone retail package last year, a move that hasn’t been well-received by buyers, even though it set an industry-wide precedent. This year, the company was forced to change the sacred in-app payment rules that guaranteed it a 30 percent cut and forced its in-house payments system on developers. Antitrust calls are already being debated in multiple markets, all at a time when Apple has tightened its control over its product ecosystem more than ever, thanks to its in-house M-series silicon that now powers Macs. With the announcement of a self-repair program just in the nick of time, Apple managed to not only avoid another headache but has also won the goodwill of millions of its customers. But there is more to the picture here than just Apple bending to the will of shareholders, right to repair advocates and millions of customers.
Now that Apple sells genuine parts directly to customers, Apple has a chance to tighten the rules around matching or serializing part numbers officially. Or in other words, third-party replacement parts might now show warnings or not work at all. Apple, on the other hand, can set the price for replacement parts and fill its coffers. With an official store for genuine parts, Apple now has absolute control over the supply, which means it might no longer feel the need to make a commitment towards providing replacement parts to Independent Repair Providers (IRPs) for a fixed duration after the release of a device. Apple’s announcement is definitely a positive move that benefits the company as much as customers, if not more. But that doesn’t mean right-to-repair reforms are not needed. Like other tech companies, Apple needs to be brought under uniform repair legislation so that the concerns like those mentioned above do not become a reality.
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