Right to Repair!


"Apple shipped me a 79-pound iPhone repair kit to fix a 1.1-ounce battery. I'm starting to think Apple doesn't want us to repair them."

The thing you should understand about Apple's home repair process is that it's a far cry from DIY. 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. [...]

But I wasn't done yet. The single most frustrating part of this process, after using Apple's genuine parts and Apple's genuine tools, was that my iPhone didn't recognize the genuine battery as genuine. "Unknown Part," flashed a warning. Apparently, that's the case for almost all of these parts: you're expected to dial up Apple's third-party logistics company after the repair so they can validate the part for you. That's a process that involves having an entirely separate computer and a Wi-Fi connection since you have to reboot your iPhone into diagnostics mode and give the company remote control. Which, of course, defeats a bunch of the reasons you'd repair your own device at home! [...]

Yeah, none of that surprised me. What surprised me was the price tag.

  • $69 for a new battery -- the same price the Apple Store charges for a battery replacement, except here I get to do all the work and assume all the risk.
  • $49 to rent Apple's tools for a week, more than wiping out any refund I might get for returning the old used part.
  • A $1,200 credit card hold for the toolkit, which I would forfeit if the tools weren't returned within seven days of delivery. [...]

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.

To me, those giant Pelican cases are the proof. It would cost Apple a fortune to ship 79 pounds of equipment to individual homes all over the country, even with corporate discounts. [...] It would cost us upwards of $200 just to return those cases to their sender. Yet Apple offers free shipping both directions with your $49 rental.

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36 Responses:

  1. Jon says:
    5

    If Apple didn't provide these tools, DIYers would complain that they weren't being allowed to do the repairs as well as Apple. And complaining about Apple subsidizing the shipping cost is just bizarre.

    I'm inclined to agree with them about making the phones easier to repair so they don't require such tools to begin with, but I wonder what that would do to the size & waterproofing.

    • dorukayhan says:
      2

      ...but I wonder what that would do to the size...

      It would of course cause bigger (most likely thicker) iPhones.

      Which would not hurt the thing's popularity in the slightest because Apple fanatics view every design choice made by their benevolent iOverlords as the next big thing. On top of that, other phone manufacturers would copy it like a herd in a futile attempt to look as pReMiUm as Apple, resulting in all smartphones on the market getting thicker.
      I wonder if any manufacturer would then dare to bring back the headphone jack, noticing how there's now far more than enough space in their phones to fit one?

      • granville says:

        For some reason I still check Daring Fireball every now and then and you're right about Apple's fanatics attributing genius to every random decision the company makes. The guy is also foaming at the mouth because the Dutch government wants to regulate app purchases. This must represent like a fraction of a percent of Apple's daily take but you'd think Hans and Joop are coming to confiscate furniture out of a blogger's house by how virulent they are in condemning it.

        It's a weird world, like visiting a land where everyone is lodged in the near past, like 2012.

    • granville says:
      1

      And complaining about Apple subsidizing the shipping cost is just bizarre.

      Not bizarre at all. The author is arguing that pricing something at a few hundred dollar's direct loss is a tell that they don't expect it to be widely adopted or even exist in a short time. I think they're right.

      There's a real issue here. PIRG publishes estimates of how many phones wind up in landfills and it's a gigantic number. For environmental reasons alone, these should not be "disposable" products and companies should not be modeling 2 and 3 year upgrade cycles.

      It's really unfortunate and it's eating the entire electronics industry, even in something where "vintage" is a positive, like musical instruments.

      • Jon says:

        He's already complaining about it costing too much. I still think it's bizarre to simultaneously argue that something is too expensive AND not expensive enough.

        And I'm inclined to share the point of view that not many people really want to fix their own phones themselves; mostly what they want is more options for third party repair & to not be forced to go back to Apple because Apple won't let anyone else do it.

        • jwz says:
          7
          Both things can be true!

          • What Apple is charging for this is too high for it to be useful (to discourage its use).
          • What Apple is charging for this is far less than it costs (showing that they don't expect it to be used).

          That both are true indicates what a farce this is.

          • Jon says:

            I guess; I'm just generally not sympathetic to arguments that look like the complainer will never be happy no matter what.

            Except in this case the alternative is to make phones that are more easily repairable & I'd be OK with things moving in that direction. And Apple has no-one to blame but themselves for being painted into that particular corner.

            • joe luser says:

              i'm sorry, jon, but you are coming across here as a "complainer" who "will never be happy no matter what."

              many of us who have been repairing our apple products for decades despite apple's best efforts to prevent that were very happy with this announcement, at first, and were prepared to be even more happy when it rolled out. and would have been very very happy if it had rolled out in any one of a dozen other plausible ways.

              right now, you can go to ifixit and follow their instructions for a battery replacement and be more-or-less successful at it and even if you buy all of their recommended and somewhat expensive tools -- only about 1/4 of which you really need -- it's still only going to cost about $75 and weigh in less than a pound. and after it's over you've still got them so you can fix your friends' phones too.

              the fact that the apple experience is so vastly different from that is as non surprising as it is non happifying.

    • Paul White says:

      Jon, did you, like, read the bit of the article where it mentioned the security bits in the screwdrivers Apple themselves supplied weren't even magnetized?

      The only things that seem 'useful' in this toolkit is the precut glue sheet and, to some extent, the calibrated presses. Both of which could be readily manufactured by third parties.

      • Jon says:
        2

        I read the bit about the screwdrivers, it didn't strike me as a big deal. I guess I'm just accustomed to that being a hit-or-miss proposition in general, so would have considered it a routine annoyance at most (and was the problem the screwdrivers or the screws?). I would be far more annoyed at having to call Apple to get them to authorize the battery that they sent; just authorize the goddamn thing before it goes in the box.

  2. I opined elsewhere that when it comes to right-to-repair, iPhone batteries are a distraction.

    It feels like you ought to be able to change the battery in your phone, right? It feels like changing the battery in your phone should be like changing the batteries in your D-cell Mag Lite.

    But your phone battery is not like a D-cell. It stores enough energy to burn down your house, if you let it get going. Like maybe by poking it with the end of a screwdriver while you're trying to get it out of the phone. And your phone, come to think of it, is not much like a Mag Lite. Maybe your intuitions about "changing a battery" are wrong.

    In any event, Apple's malicious compliance trick here is a distraction from issues like car manufacturers squeezing independent repair shops out of existence so that you have no choice but to go to the dealer's repair shop, which is maybe not a thing so far but I expect the car manufacturers are watching the story with farm equipment closely and with great interest.

    Yes it's stupid that phones are designed to be disposable. It's annoying as fuck that you have to fork out $60 for an Otterbox to protect your new phone, instead of the phone just being designed to withstand falling out of your pocket once in a while. But this shitty trick with the "repair kit" is not part of the war on your right to own literally anything and to define your attempts to repair things you bought as "illegal tampering."

    • Legooolas says:

      Like maybe by poking it with the end of a screwdriver while you're trying to get it out of the phone

      There's a reason that batteries which are intended to be replaceable have a hard plastic case rather than the soft (easily punctured) pouch you get in electronics where they don't want you replacing things.

      This doesn't stop them bursting into flames if they are mistreated physically or electrically, but it certainly makes it less likely that you'll accidentally stab through the thin outer casing and cause a fire whilst doing something which should be trivial like swapping a battery.

      • 1

        ...whilst doing something which should be trivial like swapping a battery.

        Why should swapping a battery be "trivial?" Should, here, is indicating pure value preference, not conformance with a specification.
        If you want your phone battery to be trivially swappable, you should anticipate phones that are very different from the current flagship models of every maker. The phone designers would have to abandon some core aesthetics. I personally would be happy with that but I know that I am interested in buying a lot of things that seem not to appeal to wider markets.
        • thielges says:

          Yeah, not every fix need be trivial.  Consider PCs: connecting a new keyboard is trivial as plugging into USB.  Upgrading SRAM on the other hand needs considerably more technical skill and effort, but still within the abilities of a DIY lay person.

          But receiving and returning 79 pounds of equipment alone is not trivial.  Following an 80 page repair procedure puts it over the top.  I'll prefer just go to my favorite indie repair guy who's shop is in the back of a local liquor store.  He will replace the battery for $40 while I shop for groceries next door.

        • Thomas Lord says:
          1

          "Why should swapping a battery be "trivial?" Should, here, is indicating pure value preference, [....]"

          Apple phones are an important subset of terminals on a life-critical telecommunications system.  Their choices to thwart self-help make that infrastructure significantly less robust.

          Apple phones are also leveraged by the companies "lock-in" practices to dominate and limit common access to human culture and human audiences.

          There is even the way that Apple's lock-in practices lead people to be personally less competent, more dependent on having and spending lots of money to survive, more dependent on a dominating power.

          So these Apple practices are not take-it-or-leave-it questions of individual values.  They are infringements on our collective resilience and individual freedom -- even for people who never buy anything from Apple.

    • Kyzer says:
      1

      It feels like you ought to be able to change the battery in your phone, right?

      Here's how I change the battery on a Samsung Galaxy S5 from 2014:

      1. Remove the plastic backplate with my fingernails
      2. Take the battery out with my fingers
      3. Put the new battery in
      4. Snap the backplate back in place

      Here's how I change the battery on a Fairphone 4 from 2021:

      1. Remove the plastic backplate with my fingernails
      2. Take the battery out with my fingers
      3. Put the new battery in
      4. Snap the backplate back in place
      We can't really stop people liking new stuff, but we can stop companies selling disposable electronics.

      We already did a solid by mandating a standard charging port and no charger included by default. Now the world has millions fewer useless chargers.

      The main thing that turns a phone into waste is that its battery has worn out and can't easily be replaced. Insisting on easily replaceable batteries could double the phone's lifespan.

      The next things down the list are that the charging port wears out, the onboard nvram reaches its maximum number of writes, and of course that the software "wears out", i.e. becomes unsafe to allow on the internet because of unpatched security flaws. It would be great if the manufacturer provided security updates for e.g. 10 years, but it would be vaguely OK if they just didn't get in your way if you wanted to replace their software with something that's still supported. Actively bricking devices when you stop supporting them is outright evil.

      • You know, I basically agree with you. I think the S5 was the last phone I owned that had a removable battery. "Fairphones" are news to me, I'm looking into that.

        Anyway we agree. But what we agree on is "not designing stuff to become trash," or "designing to be fixable," which is a separate issue from "right to repair."

  3. Dave says:

    But your phone battery is not like a D-cell. It stores enough energy to burn down your house, if you let it get going. Like maybe by poking it with the end of a screwdriver while you're trying to get it out of the phone. And your phone, come to think of it, is not much like a Mag Lite. Maybe your intuitions about "changing a battery" are wrong.

    One approach to this would be to design and manufacture the phone such that you don't need to go through these gyrations to change the battery.  I can kill myself with a car battery too, but you sure don't hear about people who choose to change their own car batteries doing that.

    But this shitty trick with the "repair kit" is not part of the war on your right to own literally anything and to define your attempts to repair things you bought as "illegal tampering."

    The subject of this post is "right to repair" and the definition for that from Wikipedia is

    Electronics right to repair is proposed legislation that would provide the practical means for electronics equipment owners to repair their devices.

    I understand the problem you're talking about in your comment and agree that it is an issue.  But being able to replace wear components in my phone of choice isn't some sort of tangential distraction, it is a worthy goal in and of itself.

    • haltiamreptar says:

      The real question is, "Is the battery really a wear item?"

      One could argue that the design life of the device is dictated by its battery, and if you look at the software support lifecycle, that seems to be a valid assumption.

      • jwz says:

        According to Apple, nothing in my iMac Pro is a wear item, because none of it is serviceable. Not the hard drive, not the RAM, nothing. That they quite explicitly design all of their products with enforced obsolescence, designed to be tossed into landfill as a single un-serviceable unit, does not excuse that.

        Saying "well but it's not a wear item" is tautological. Yes! You have correctly identified the problem!

        A "right" to repair a product that's effectively dipped in epoxy doesn't really do much.

        • > A "right" to repair a product that's effectively dipped in epoxy doesn't really do much.

          Yeah, which is why (with respect to iPhones &c) "right to repair" is not the correct argument to be making about what Apple is Doing Wrong. IMHO.

        • jwz says:
          Wow, I just looked into this, and apparently even the experts say you can't upgrade the hard drive in an iMac Pro. iFixit is silent on the topic, and EveryMac says:

          Officially, Apple does not consider the SSD storage in the iMac Pro models to be upgradable. Even upgrading the RAM is a challenging, complicated procedure. Consequently, EveryMac.com cannot recommend that one attempt to upgrade the storage themselves, as doing so would be difficult at best and may not even be possible.

      • Sam P says:
        1

        A battery is absolutely a wear item. Once upon a 2016 I had a LG G5 that had an easily and cheaply replaced battery. Press a button and the bottom bezel popped off, old battery slides out, new battery slides in, pop the bezel back on. No tools needed, expensive or otherwise.I don't follow the battery industry, but I'm guessing battery technology has not changed to the point where such a design is no longer possible. Design life is dictated by whatever part Apple or whoever decides has the shortest acceptable life span and can be made sufficiently difficult to replace, but there's no practical reason that has to be the battery. The reasons are purely profit based

  4. Lucy says:

    Ah yes, the Verge, the peak of tech journalism. And by "peak", I mean "absolute garbage".

    The article completely neglected to mention that the tool rental was optional - if you want to do it with nothing but a heat gun and an ifixit kit, you can, but the whole purpose of the big fancy toolkit is to make it as hard for a glue-sniffing dumbass (like the author of the verge article) to screw it up (which they still almost did, somehow)

    The only valid complaint I see in this article is the need to connect the phone to your computer and have Apple authenticate the battery remotely. That's just BS tbh.

    And while yes, Apple could (and should) make their phones more repairable, it'd be much more expensive to do so without giving up luxuries like water/dustproofing, and the average person doesn't care that much about the ability to repair their phone themselves, self-repair is still a niche compared to the userbase of these devices.

    • jwz says:

      it'd be much more expensive to do so without giving up luxuries like water/dustproofing

      Every $20 waterproof case in the world disagrees with you.

      • Lucy says:

        Sadly, it seems the trend is making phones as thin and light as possible. And from a quick google, it seems waterproof cases fall into two categories:
        1. bulky
        2. literal plastic baggies

        • jwz says:

          And... who invented that trend... and why...

          There was no fucking public outcry from people saying "this is nice and all but I wish it was thin enough to cut me." Obviously size isn't an issue, given how the phones are larger every year.

        • jwz says:

          In case I wasn't clear, the answer is Apple. Apple came up with that idea, absent any consumer demand. They decided that they were going to make "thin" be the cool new feature to differentiate otherwise-nearly-identical phones from year to year. Not small. Not light. Just thin.

          Nobody wanted this. It is fashion, not functionality, and it was fully manufactured.

          • Lucy says:
            1

            I would like to clarify I wasn't defending the trend - more stating that it is, in fact, the current trend.

            Powerful phones that double as blunt-force weapons should be a thing again.

    • granville says:

      the average person doesn't care that much about the ability to repair their phone themselves

      People keep saying this like it's a dunk. Right of Repair extends beyond what I can do with my own two hands. It means having a choice of who I pay to do it with their tools and their hands. Apple's onerous "authorization" requirements and the rapacious practice of "part pairing" are part-and-parcel of this discussion.

      Nearly every estimate I've seen suggests that Americans -- just Americans -- are throwing away more than 100 million mobile phones a year. A year! This is predictable consumer behavior in response to a manufacturer's design choices. Never mind what Apple "should" or "could" do, it's a matter of public health, and if this has been Apple's response to a matter of public health then they've lost the benefit of handling the matter themselves.

  5. prefetch says:
    2

    Classifying a battery replacement as a repair is a gross perversion of the definition of 'repair'. They themselves say it in black and white: "All rechargeable batteries are consumables and have a limited lifespan—eventually their capacity and performance decline such that they need to be replaced." It is a maintenance task. That they've redefined it as such and groomed generations of users to accept this is both awe-inspiring (outcome: trillion-dollar company) and horrifying (outcome: inspecting a new planet to move to).

    Replaceable li-ion batteries has been a solved problem for over twenty years. Yes, they contain enough energy to incinerate a house. They are also allowed onto planes by the scores every flight.

    The corporate repair service is still performed by humans, so the risks are merely moved elsewhere.

  6. prefetch says:

    Oh, now it all makes sense: The FTC Votes Unanimously to Enforce Right to Repair.

    They've got 18 months to come up with something equally diabolical for the EU's new USB-C-only laws.

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